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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 Rhode Island59,000
First-Generation Immigrant Students3,000
Second-Generation Immigrant Students13,000
International Students4,786

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.

The U.S. is home to more than 408,000 undocumented students enrolled in higher education. In their pursuit of higher education, undocumented students actively ready themselves to fill critical skill shortages and become better positioned to support their families, communities, and the U.S. economy.

Undocumented Students in Higher Education787
DACA-Eligible Students in Higher Education282
Undocumented Students Graduating High School Each Year<1,000

Note: Undocumented students are a sub-group of first-generation students.

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 Education4,786
Economic Contributions of International Students in the State$257.6 million
Jobs Supported by International Students in the State2,252
Optional Practical Training (OPT) Participants424

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 Rhode Island161,526
Immigrant Share of Total Population14.7%
Undocumented Immigrants in State20,582

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 Immigrants13.8%
First-Generation Immigrant Faculty and Staff in Colleges, Universities and Professional Schools5,537
Share of First-Generation Immigrants With a Postsecondary Credential50%

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

    Restrictive: Policies do not provide the state's undocumented residents with access to driver licenses and state identification, but DACA recipients can still obtain a driver's license or state identification card.

Enacted Policies

Rhode Island provides eligible undocumented residents, including DACA recipients, with access to in-state tuition and some state financial aid. The state does not appear to have legislation that affirmatively extends professional and occupational licensure to undocumented individuals, including DACA recipients.

Rhode Island does not provide undocumented residents with access to driver licenses and state identification.

In-State Tuition

Rhode Island’s Board of Governors for Higher Education amended the state’s Residency Policy on September 26, 2011 to allow eligible undocumented students living in Rhode Island, including DACA recipients, to access in-state tuition. The Rhode Island Student Success Act (2021-H. 5238), signed into law on July 12, 2021, codified the Board of Governors’ residency policy into law, extending access to in-state tuition to state residents regardless of immigration status.

Undocumented students must meet certain requirements to qualify for in-state tuition, including:

  1. Attend an approved Rhode Island high school for three (3) or more years and continue to live in Rhode Island;
  2. Graduate from an approved Rhode Island high school or received a high school equivalency diploma from the state of Rhode Island; and,
  3. File an affidavit with their institution stating that the student has filed an application for lawful immigration status or will do so when eligible.

Refugee In-State Tuition: According to Council on Postsecondary Education State of Rhode Island refugees are not eligible for in-state tuition until they obtain permanent residence status and meet the 12-month residency requirement. 

State Financial Aid

The Rhode Island Student Success Initiative, implemented in January 2019, provides the state’s undocumented students, including DACA recipients, with access to some state financial aid. Students must graduate from a Rhode Island high school and meet certain other requirements, including showing financial need, to be eligible.

The Rhode Island Promise Scholarship (RI Promise) program also allows Rhode Island students, including the state’s undocumented students, to pursue a tuition-free associate degree at the Community College of Rhode Island. RI Promise is a “last-dollar scholarship” that fills in the gap between other financial aid and the cost of tuition and fees. The pilot program is set to run from the fall of 2017 to the fall of 2020.

Rhode Island extends financial aid to both public and private postsecondary institutions.

Professional & Occupational Licensure

Rhode Island does not appear to have statewide legislation that affirmatively extends occupational and professional licensure to undocumented individuals, including DACA recipients.

Rhode Island 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 in Rhode Island do not have access to a driver license or state identification card.

DACA recipients in Rhode Island are allowed to obtain a driver license or state identification card.

Effective Practices and State Resources

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

  • 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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  • Effective Practice

    Higher Ed Guide to Tuition, Financial Aid, & Other Funding Opportunities for Undocumented Students

    An overview of in-state tuition, state aid, and other funding opportunities for undocumented students.

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