Logo for: President's Alliance Higher Education & Immigration

State Data

Higher education in the U.S. benefits from the participation of immigrant and international students. First and second-generation individuals comprise 31% of all students enrolled in higher education, a growing figure that underscores the importance of immigrant-origin students in the classroom and our workforce.

All Students in Higher Education in District of Columbia42,000
First-Generation Immigrant Students3,000
Second-Generation Immigrant Students9,000
International Students11,457

Note: First-generation immigrants were born abroad and immigrated to the U.S. Second-generation immigrants are U.S.-born individuals with at least one immigrant parent. First-generation immigrants include undocumented immigrants. First-generation immigrants do not include international students on a visa.

International students comprise only 4 percent of all students in higher education, but provide significant economic, academic and cultural contributions that enrich learning, enrollment and funding opportunities for American students.

International Students in Higher Education11,457
Economic Contributions of International Students in the State$525.5 million
Jobs Supported by International Students in the State4,306
Optional Practical Training (OPT) Participants2,081

Note: Optional Practical Training participants are a subgroup of international students.

Immigrant residents, including undocumented immigrants and DACA-eligible residents, play an important role in the state's economy, contributing spending power and paying federal, state, and local taxes.

All Immigrant Residents in District of Columbia98,500
Immigrant Share of Total Population14.7%
Undocumented Immigrants in State14,500

Note: DACA-eligible residents are a sub-group of undocumented immigrant residents.

Higher education helps prepare all students, including immigrant and international students, to fill critical career and skills needs.

State Immigrant Workers Fill Critical Skills Needs
Share of STEM Workers Who Are First-Generation Immigrants21.1
Share of First-Generation Immigrants With a Postsecondary Credential30%

Note: First-generation immigrants were born abroad and immigrated to the U.S.

You can find additional state data, including by congressional district, in the following resources by immigrant population (AIC) and international students (NAFSA).

State Policies

Evaluating Access for Undocumented & Refugee Students

State policies in four key areas – in state tuition, state financial aid, professional and occupational licensure, and driver licenses – play an important role in expanding access to higher education and workforce development for undocumented students. The section below on in-state tuition also includes policies related to refugee students.

  • In-State Tuition & State Financial Aid Access and Affordability

    Comprehensive Access: Policies provide statewide access to in-state tuition and some state financial aid or scholarships for the state's resident DACA recipients and undocumented students.

  • Professional & Occupational Licensure Workforce Entry & Eligibility

    No State Policy: No policies identified that actively expand access to occupational licensure for individuals who do not have legal immigration status.

  • Driver Licenses & Identification Mobility

    Accessible: Policies provide the state’s undocumented residents with access to driver licenses and/or state identification regardless of their immigration status, but these are not REAL ID compliant.

Enacted Policies

 The District of Columbia (D.C.) provides eligible undocumented residents, including DACA recipients, with access to in-state tuition, some state financial aid, and driver licenses and state identification. D.C. does not appear to have legislation that extends occupational and professional licensure to undocumented individuals.

In-State Tuition

The District of Columbia (D.C.) Act 21-650, signed into law on January 26, 2017, allows certain undocumented students living in the nation’s capital to access in-state tuition. Students must meet certain requirements to access in-state tuition, including:

  1. Attended high school in the District of Columbia for 3 years, graduated from a high school in the district, or received the equivalent of a high school diploma in the district within the last 10 years; and,
  2. Submits one of the following:
    1. An official transcript from a District of Columbia public, public charter, or private school as evidence of attendance;
    2. A diploma from a District of Columbia public, public charter, or private school as evidence of graduation;
    3. A state diploma from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education; or
    4. An official certificate of completion equivalent to a high school diploma.
State Financial Aid

The District of Columbia (D.C.) Act 21-650 allows undocumented students, including DACA recipients, to access local financial aid.

Undocumented students must meet the same criteria required for in-state tuition under Act 21-650 to access the local financial aid.

The District of Columbia extends financial aid to both public and private postsecondary institutions.

Additional Financial Aid

TheDream.US is a national organization that offers scholarships to students with or without DACA or TPS attending eligible postsecondary institutions across the country. In the District of Columbia, the following institution is a TheDream.US Partner College:

  • Trinity Washington University (Private)
Professional & Occupational Licensure

D.C. does not appear to have legislation that affirmatively extends occupational and professional licensure to undocumented individuals.

D.C Professional Licensure Requirements & Business Registration

To learn more about  professional/occupational licensure requirements, review TheDream.US & Immigrant Finance Resource guide here

To learn more about state business and tax registration requirements, review TheDream.US & Immigrant Finance Resource guide here. 

The information in these guides is based on outreach to the state’s specific licensing boards and each state’s business and tax agencies from April to July 2023 and is subject to change. To get up to date information on requirements, individuals should verify with the appropriate state agency. 

Driver Licenses

Undocumented immigrants living in the District of Columbia (D.C.) are eligible to obtain a driver license. Act B20-0275, signed into law on November 18, 2013, allows undocumented residents to obtain limited-purpose driver licenses if they have lived in the district for at least six months, cannot receive a Social Security Number (SSN), and provide proof of identity, date of birth, and residency.

DACA recipients in D.C. are allowed to obtain a driver license or state identification card.

Proposed Policies

The District of Columbia is considering legislation to expand access to state financial aid for undocumented D.C. students.

State Financial Aid
District of Columbia Bill (B) 24-0619, also known as “DC ACHIEVES Establishment Act,” introduced on January 16, 2022, would provide grants to undocumented D.C. students for tuition and non-tuition expenses that are not covered by other financial aid. The proposal would allocate funds equivalent to the money a student would have received from the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant (DCTAG),  a federally funded grant program, and from federal Pell grants. Undocumented students are not eligible for those two federal programs. The bill would provide a grant amount of about $17,000 per student. Students must meet certain requirements to qualify, including:
  1.  On or after January 1, 2023, the eligible student:
    1. (A) Has graduated from a District secondary school;
    2. (B) Has obtained a recognized equivalent of a secondary school diploma;
    3. (C) Is a homeschool student who has completed a secondary school program.
  2. Except for homeschooled students, has attended a District secondary school for grades 9 through 12;
  3. Has not already completed a bachelor’s degree at an institution of higher education;
  4. Has been accepted for enrollment on at least a half-time basis into an institution of higher education;
  5. Was domiciled in the District for at least the 12 consecutive months preceding the start of enrollment at an institution of higher education or at the time of application to the DC ACHIEVES program; and,
  6. At the time of application to the program, the eligible student is:
    1. (A) Domiciled in the District;
    2. (B) 24 years old or younger;
    3. (C) From a family with an annual household taxable income of no more than 200% of the Median Family Income for the Washington Metropolitan Statistical Area;
    4. (D) Is a student without lawful status in the United States; and,
    5. (E) Intends to apply to an institution of higher education on at least a half-time basis.


The following narratives highlight stories of immigrant, refugee, and international students, alumni, and scholars, including in their own words or as shared publicly.

  • Narrative

    Student Narrative: Kai Martin

    Kai Martin is a graduate student at George Washington University and a technology specialist. She has made it her goal to make a difference in the life of students.

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  • Narrative

    International Student Alumni: Clarisza Runtung

    Clarisza shares her experience as an international student studying nursing. These posts share the stories and journeys of individuals whose daily work in key areas contributes or will contribute to U.S. communities and society.

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Effective Practices and State Resources

Spotlight on effective practices and policy, research, or community-based state resources.

  • Effective Practice

    The Refugee Health Navigator Program

    The Refugee Health Navigator Program was developed to address common barriers to health care and to increase health systems comprehension for refugees. Students from different programs at Georgetown University are paired together and matched to a newly arrived family working with a resettlement agency.

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  • Research

    Immigrant-Origin Students in U.S. Higher Education (Updated August 2023)

    The report’s findings reveal the growing proportion of first and second generation immigrant students in postsecondary education, the diversity of these students, and their importance for future U.S. labor growth.

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  • Research

    Report: Higher Education and Success for Undocumented Students Start with 9 Key Criteria

    Higher Education is the key to achieving social & economic mobility in the U.S. The Education Trust analyzed 9 criteria in the 15 states with the largest shares of undocumented college students to determine whether state policies are helping or hurting undocumented students’ ability to access & complete college.

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