Can illegal immigrants work in NYC? If you or a loved one is an illegal immigrant in New York City, you might be wondering whether it’s possible to get a job and earn an income. The truth is, while there is some legal gray area, unauthorized immigrants can and do work in New York City. Read on for more information from Low Income Relief on the ins and outs of being an unauthorized immigrant working in New York City.
Can illegal immigrants work in NYC legally?
Whether unauthorized immigrants can work in NYC legally lies within a legal gray area. However, undocumented immigrants can and do work in New York City in many types of jobs.
First, it’s important to know that for employers, it is technically illegal for them to hire employees without papers. When an employer hires someone to work for them as an employee, they are required to collect an I-9 form, which provides proof to the employer that the person they are about to hire is authorized to work in the United States. If an employer fails to collect an I-9 form, or knowingly hires someone who is not authorized to work in the United States, they can face hefty fines.
However, in New York City, the legal burden falls on the employer, not the employee, if they are found to have hired an undocumented worker. Although it is not legal for them to do so, many employers pay undocumented workers “off the books” (in cash) so that there is no documentation tying them to the employee.
That said, there is an important distinction to be made between an employee and an independent contractor. While it is illegal for someone to hire an undocumented employee, there is no such law when it comes to independent contractors.
What is the difference between an employee and an independent contractor?
An independent contractor is someone who has gone into business for themself, and performs a specific type of work for a defined period of time. When someone chooses to hire an independent contractor, they are not required to request proof (the I-9 form) that the person they are paying is authorized to work in the United States. Instead, the independent contractor must provide an ITIN (individual taxpayer ID number). ITIN numbers are issued to people in the United States regardless of immigration status so that they can pay taxes.
While becoming an independent contractor might seem like an easy way around the legal gray area for employers who want to hire undocumented immigrants, it is not always an option. While employees are told by the employer how much they will be paid, as well as when and how they should perform their work, the rules are different for independent contractors. Independent contractors do the following, and more:
- Set their own rate of pay
- Decide when and how to perform their work
- Pays their own expenses for equipment
As an example, it is unlikely that a server in a restaurant or an office worker would be classified as an independent contractor because they would be paid an hourly wage set by the employer and must show up and leave at a specific time. However, a person who establishes their own house cleaning, writing, or tutoring business would more likely be an independent contractor.
In other words, if an employer hires an undocumented employee in New York City, they may face penalties, but it is less likely that an employee would face legal trouble. If an undocumented person establishes themself as an independent contractor, they may be legally hired in New York City.
Do undocumented workers have rights in NYC?
This question has a simple answer. YES! In New York City, undocumented workers have nearly all the same rights as those authorized to work in the United States.
According to the Office of Labor Policy and Standards, the office that upholds labor standards in NYC, employers may not:
- Pay workers lower wages or no wage because of their immigration status
- Harass or make fun of workers because of their nationality, religious beliefs or attire, accent, or immigration status
- Punish workers for speaking their own language
- Threaten workers about calling the police because of their immigration status
- Refuse to hire someone because of their nationality, religious beliefs, attire or accent
- Refuse to give the minimum required sick days
Undocumented workers are not typically eligible for unemployment benefits, but New York City has established an excluded workers fund for those who lost income during the pandemic, and were not eligible for unemployment due to their immigration status or because they had a nontraditional job.
Undocumented workers can retain legal help or sue their employers when their rights are violated. Workers cannot get in trouble with the law for reporting their employers. There are many legal services organizations in New York City that help immigrants for free or at a very low cost.
Where can I find resources for undocumented workers / illegal immigrants in NYC?
There are many organizations in New York City that help immigrants who have questions or challenges about employment in NYC. A few of them are listed below!
- Make the Road, NYC
- New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE)
- Legal Services NYC
- Catholic Migration Services
So, can illegal immigrants work in NYC? Yes! But as we’ve explained above, it can be complicated in the legal sense. Our best advice? Know your rights. We hope this information from Low Income Relief has been helpful!