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Employment Discrimination Against Immigrants: Overview

Despite America's origins as a nation of immigrants, newcomers may still face a number of challenges when integrating in a variety of areas of everyday American life, including discrimination in the workplace. New waves of immigrants sometimes face opposition from established employers or co-workers who may be averse to, or simply fear, change.

In order to ensure equality in the workplace, Congress has granted protections to workers with valid authorization to work as part of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The INA and other federal and state laws protect workers from national origin discrimination in four key ways.

For more information, see FindLaw's Employment and Discrimination sections.

Employers Must Treat All Employees Who Are Authorized to Work Equally

One protection for workers is the INA's requirement that employers treat all workers with valid work authorizations equally. This means that an employer cannot make hiring, firing, or compensation decisions based on whether the worker is a citizen or based on what stage of the immigration process a worker might be. Non-citizens with valid work authorizations generally include:

  • Permanent Residents
  • Temporary Residents
  • Asylees
  • Refugees

The only exception to this rule is that, in order to be protected from citizenship discrimination, permanent residents must apply for citizenship within six months of eligibility.

National Origin Discrimination Against Immigrants Prohibited

Additionally, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects numerous workers against different types of discrimination, including national origin discrimination. At the federal level, the Act is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). States also have their own agencies for enforcement.

Employees who feel they have been treated differently because of their place of birth, skin color, accent, or ancestry can file a complaint with the EEOC if their employer has 15 or more people. Note that sometimes, English-only rules are appropriate for a workplace.

Employers May Not Force Prospective Employees to Produce Extra Documentation

As anyone who has ever been formally hired knows, new employees need to produce documentation to prove that they are allowed to work in the United States. For many U.S. citizens, a passport is sufficient but there are many different combinations of identification that can prove the ability to work in the U.S. Under the INA, an employer is limited to these documents. In other words, they cannot insist that their employees produce volumes of additional documents when beginning a new job.

Employers Can Not Retaliate Against Employees

As with so many aspects of employment law, an employer cannot retaliate against an employee for filing a discrimination complaint, complying with a government order, or contesting an illegal company policy. An act of retaliation may come in the form of a termination, harassment, demotion, cutting of hours, or some other kind of adverse treatment.

Are You an Immigrant Experiencing Employment Discrimination? Get Legal Help

Workers' rights have always been a hot-button issue in this country, particularly when it comes to the intersection between immigration and employment law. If you or someone you love is experiencing discrimination in the workplace, you have options. Since immigrants may be new to the U.S. legal system, it may be helpful to explore those options with a local employment law attorney.

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Contact a qualified employment discrimination attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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