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 Washington339,000
First-Generation Immigrant Students45,000
Second-Generation Immigrant Students74,000
International Students23,100

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 Education10,388
DACA-Eligible Students in Higher Education2,189
Undocumented Students Graduating High School Each Year2,000

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 Education23,100
Economic Contributions of International Students in the State$830.3 million
Jobs Supported by International Students in the State6,415
Optional Practical Training (OPT) Participants7,585

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 Washington1,149,267
Immigrant Share of Total Population14.9%
Undocumented Immigrants in State263,406
DACA-Eligible Residents in State24,435
Spending Power of DACA-Eligible Residents$546.1 million
DACA-Eligible Residents Federal Tax Contributions$98.7 million
DACA-Eligible Residents State and Local Tax Contributions$94.6 million

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 Immigrants30.90%
Share of Nurses Who Are First-Generation Immigrants17.9%
Share of Health Aides Who Are First-Generation Immigrants27.3%
First-Generation Immigrant Faculty and Staff in Colleges, Universities and Professional Schools18,999
Share of First-Generation Immigrants With a Postsecondary Credential46%

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

    Accessible: Policies allow undocumented individuals to obtain occupational licensure in one or more professions regardless of their immigration status, provided that they meet all other requirements.

  • 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

Washington provides eligible undocumented residents, including DACA recipients, with access to in-state tuition, state financial aid, driver licenses and state identification and occupational and professional licensure to undocumented individuals.

In-State Tuition

Washington House Bill (H.B.) 1079, signed into law on January 15, 2003, allows eligible undocumented students, including DACA recipients, to access in-state tuition. Students must meet certain requirements to access in-state tuition, including:

  1. Completed a full senior year at a high school in the state and earned a diploma or received an equivalent (GED);
  2. Resided in Washington for at least three consecutive years as of the date the person received a diploma or GED;
  3. Continually lived in Washington since receiving a diploma or GED; and,
  4. Filed an affidavit verifying that they qualify to pay resident tuition and will seek legal permanent residency when legally permitted to do so.

Washington House Bill (H.B.) 1488, signed into law on March 22, 2018, provides certain individuals admitted to the United States as refugees with access to in-state tuition.

Refugee In-State Tuition: Refugees are eligible for in-state tuition after meeting residency requirements pursuant to RCW 28B.15.012 and its implementing provision WAC 250-18-020.    

State Financial Aid

Washington provides undocumented students, including DACA recipients, with access to state financial aid.

Washington House Bill (H.B.) 1817, signed into law on March 13, 2013, authorizes DACA recipients to access state financial aid by applying for State Need Grants. DACA recipients must complete all of the following requirements:

  1. Completed a full senior year of high school and obtained a diploma or the equivalent at a Washington high school;
  2. Lived in Washington for at least three years before receiving a diploma or the equivalent;
  3. Continuously lived in Washington from receiving a diploma or the equivalent until being admitted to an eligible institution of higher education; and,
  4. Been granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Washington Senate Bill (S.B.) 6523, also known as the Real Hope Act, signed into law on February 26, 2014, provides undocumented students without DACA access to state financial aid.

Washington Senate Bill (S.B.) 6561, signed into law on April 2, 2020, permits undocumented students to apply for state loans.

Washington State extends financial aid to both public and private postsecondary institutions.

Professional & Occupational Licensure

With Washington state governor’s Jay Inslee signing the H.B. 1889 on March 13, 2024, licensure boards in the state of Washington will no longer be allowed to deny an applicant from obtaining a professional license or certification for lacking citizenship or lawful presence. Additionally, this legislation allows an applicant to provide an ITIN, instead of a social security number. This change in the state’s legislation becomes effective July 1, 2024.

For the full list of licenses and certifications impacted by this legislation please visit the Washington State Legislature website. 

Washington 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 Washington are eligible to obtain a driver license. House Bill (H.B.) 1444, signed into law on May 17, 1993 and effective as of July 25, 1993, allows individuals to obtain a driver’s license if they can provide proof of Washington residency and meet other requirements, regardless of the individual’s immigration status. House Bill (H.B.) 5008, signed into law on May 16, 2017, specifies that undocumented immigrants can access standard driver’s licenses, not enhanced driver’s licenses that are REAL ID compliant.

DACA recipients in Washington are also allowed to obtain a driver license or state identification card.


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

  • Narrative

    Alumni Narrative: Anisa

    A Somali refuge becomes the director of the Seattle clinic where she was cared for as a child.

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Effective Practices and State Resources

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

  • Effective Practice

    Washington State University’s Health Navigator Program: Pairing Nurses and Newcomers

    Washington State University College of Nursing students in Spokane, WA, in collaboration with IRC-Spokane staff, serve as health system navigators by assisting with medical and dental appointments and providing training on insurance and health access issues for newly arrived refugee families

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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.

    Continue Reading
  • Research

    Undocumented Students in Higher Education

    The new estimates show there are more than 408, 000 undocumented students enrolled in postsecondary education, representing about 1.9 percent of all postsecondary students. This estimate represents a decrease of 4.2 percent from 2019, when 427,000 undocumented students were enrolled.

    Continue Reading