5 Reasons Undocumented Immigrants Should Go into Tech

As our reliance on technology increases daily, so does the demand for workers in those fields.  This resource intends to bust common myths around the tech industry and to be a window into the many benefits that breaking into tech holds for the undocumented community. It is also meant to affirm the importance of entering the tech industry for the undocumented community. 

This is a resource created for and by undocumented individuals, most of whom are already growing and thriving in the tech industry. We recognize that stories like ours are not readily accessible. For us, it is important that you know that people without lawful immigration status working in tech exist, our community is growing, and we want to welcome you in! 

As undocumented individuals, we are no strangers to problem-solving, adaptability, and resiliency in a demanding environment. Through a series of conversations with other undocumented individuals in tech, we learned that tech is not only great for us – we are great for tech. In many ways, the immigrant experience sharpens skills that are critical to successfully enter and navigate the tech space. Companies are taking note of the valuable skills and brilliance that exists in the immigrant and undocumented community. Dozens of high-profile companies have publicly expressed support for Dreamers, and many others are actively looking to recruit more talented individuals with immigrant backgrounds.  

Below, we outline what exactly the tech industry is and how breaking into tech can be particularly beneficial to individuals who are undocumented, whether they hold temporary protections, like DACA and TPS, or not. 

What do we mean by the tech sector? 

For the purpose of this resource, we are defining the technology “tech” sector to be an industry centered on the creation and distribution of goods and services that are based on technology. These goods and services can be anything from software (e.g., Microsoft Word) and hardware (e.g., a desktop monitor), to information technology like the algorithm Facebook uses to determine what shows up on your news feed. It is important to note that the technology sector extends much further beyond household names like Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple. While these are the most prominent companies, there are thousands of small and mid-sized companies that don’t make the headlines but are excellent places to work. 

While coding or computer programming is a key role in the tech sector, it is only one of many potential avenues to enter into tech. You don’t need to be a software developer and you don’t even need a technical background to break into tech. In fact, you’d be surprised to know how many things you DON’T need to enter the tech industry. You can find some of them below. 

You don’t need to be good at math or computer science. Contrary to popular belief, working in technology is not limited to being a software developer and writing code. You don’t need a computer science degree, or a degree in a technical field like math or science at all. Like any other company, tech companies require all different types of skill sets and occupations to run effectively. For example, while a company like Apple requires hardware engineers and software engineers to create the iPhone and all its functionalities, they also need designers to think through the end user’s experience and marketing experts to hash out how to reach target consumers and cultivate a leading edge with competitors. Additionally, like any other company, Apple requires human resources personnel to support its ever-evolving staff, accountants to perform financial management, and communications experts to set the company’s public relations strategy. For any company in the tech sector, there are many roles and occupations that sustain it – and each role is a potential foot-in-the-door to breaking into tech. See below for some examples of common, in-demand, and non-technical occupations that could land you a job in technology.

Popular non-technical jobs in tech (see here for more)

  • Designer
  • Sales manager
  • Human resources
  • Product manager
  • Copywriter
  • Social media manager
  • Digital strategist
  • Search engine optimization manager
  • Web content master 

You don’t always need a degree. Whether or not you possess a college degree, dialing in on the right set of skills is crucial to landing your dream tech job. With all the free and low-cost learning resources available today, obtaining a college degree is not always necessary to gain the right skills. Completing specialized programs such as bootcamps or earning a certification can help you get those skills.

You don’t need to live in Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley is often thought of as the global epicenter of technology, but cities like Austin, Atlanta, Portland, Boston, and New York are also established, bustling tech hubs. Due in part to the COVID pandemic, tech companies are now leading the way in offering fully remote employment. This is great news for people who live in rural or suburban areas, where technology companies may not be as present. As technology companies decentralize, job roles that can be performed from anywhere are becoming more common. 

Why should undocumented immigrants go into tech?

1. Working in the tech sector is open to everyone, regardless of immigration status

Whether or not someone is a recipient of temporary protections through programs like DACA or TPS, anyone can work in technology, regardless of immigration status. Companies cannot knowingly hire a worker who does not have employment authorization. However, there are other paths to earning income through technology beyond formal employment by a tech company, such as becoming an independent contractor or creating your own business. Below is a general overview of some of the most common options available to undocumented individuals who want to earn income through working in tech.

Becoming an employee of a tech company is an option for most people who have a valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD). This includes individuals who are recipients of DACA, TPS, or DED. There are a few different types of employment classifications, including full-time, part-time, seasonal, and temporary. Each variation comes with its own set of benefits, responsibilities, and tax implications, but generally speaking, an individual with legal authorization to work in the U.S. can be hired by a tech company without the need for sponsorship.

Engaging in independent contracting does not require immigration status, work authorization, or a Social Security Number. Independent contractors control where they work and for whom they work. Independent contractors usually work across different clients and determine their own rates. Tech companies may bring on independent contractors as a way to outsource and manage fluctuating demands for projects. Contractors are not eligible for unemployment and workers compensation and are responsible for administering their benefits and self-employment tax. Visit spark.immigrantsrising.org to learn more about becoming an independent contractor and the forms required by the IRS.*

To learn more about classifying workers visit the IRS, Understanding Employee vs. Contractor Designation or FLSA, 6-point list of conditions for classifying workers.

*We strongly advise anyone considering an LLC to seek guidance from an attorney regarding any potential immigration consequences

Whether or not you’ve started a business, maintaining an entrepreneurial spirit is oftentimes a necessity in navigating the experience of surviving and thriving as an undocumented immigrant. According to the New American Economy, there are more than 823,000 undocumented entrepreneurs in 2019. 

Starting a business is a viable option for individuals looking to work with tech companies or looking to leverage technology to grow their business. Starting a business means you get to be your own boss, determine your hours, and pay yourself a salary or pay yourself a percentage of the profits. Visit spark.immigrantsrising.org to learn more about options and requirements, and see if this is the right path for you.*

*We strongly advise anyone considering an LLC to seek guidance from an attorney regarding any potential immigration consequences

2. Proximity to tech is proximity to possibilities

Breaking into tech turns into much more than landing a job for many people. Breaking into tech has the potential to expand your idea of what is possible and can have a profound and positive impact on your career trajectory. Simply landing a job in tech opens doors to networks, resources, and opportunities concentrated in the tech industry that are valuable in and of themselves. This can lead to personal and professional growth that is not limited by a job or degree (or lack thereof), which can even extend beyond the tech industry. For many undocumented immigrants, landing a job in tech can be a truly life-changing experience and propel us to places and spaces beyond our wildest dreams.

Whether you hold a technical degree, non-technical degree, or no degree at all, your career horizons can only be deepened and broadened with experience in the tech industry. 

You don’t need a degree to land a job in tech. When it comes to technical jobs, tech employers are generally more concerned with their hires having the right set of skills, rather than a specific degree. This means that you don’t need to go to college to get a 2 or 4-year degree to land a job in tech. For example, say you want to land a software engineering job. Because there are tons of free and low-cost resources available online around learning to code, you don’t need a formal computer science degree to get a job. You can watch YouTube videos, try an online coding platform, learn from professors at top universities for free, or you can make a long-term investment in your career and complete a coding bootcamp or similar program. Many of these options offer certification upon completion which can boost your resume and help you stand out among other candidates. With dedication, practice, and the right support, you can develop the skills needed to land your dream tech job, without the need for a college degree. 

Leverage your non-technical degree to land a job in tech. While this is not exclusive to the tech industry, there are opportunities to enter into non-technical roles in the tech industry, even if what a person formally studied seems unrelated at a glance. For example, a person trained in business may have a strong foundation for a career as a product manager (PM), since PMs often interact with business analysts and have to make product decisions that impact business strategy and outlook. Similarly, someone who studied psychology might make a great UX researcher, given their ability to observe and understand human behavior.  

There are opportunities to pivot your career within a tech company. Once you land your first job and gain some experience, you may discover new interests. Fortunately, at that point, you are now connected to a network of smart people like yourself who you get to work alongside, providing you a front-row seat into what it means to carry out the new job you seek to obtain. From this vantage point, you can explore what other opportunities there are within your company. For example, an employee in a small startup may find themselves taking on multiple roles and responsibilities due to the nature of startups. Getting to wear different hats is a good entry point into exploring career options in technology. Moreover, while entry-level positions in the technology sector may sometimes offer a linear career trajectory progression, early-career experience may introduce you to new roles that may prove equally or more exciting than your current path. Once you’ve demonstrated your abilities at your current role within your company, it may be easier to pivot roles within it, rather than start the job hunt all over again. Keeping an eye out for what interests and excites you about the type of roles you get to interact with is always a good idea. Opportunities to grow and pivot in your career may present themselves where you least expect them.

If looking to advance your career in other sectors, tech talent is in demand in every industry. Working in tech, you become accustomed to adapting and problem-solving in a demanding and fast-paced environment. Often adopting new tools and learning new skills, in large part because this is the nature of the work in most tech companies. 

Similarly, businesses in all industries are adapting to new technology, going digital, and changing their business models, and they are investing in tech talent.

Technology has become so vast that it has developed into standalone sub-fields within other sectors. For example, financial technology, or FinTech has really grown over the last several years. There are many more subfields at the intersection of tech that continue to see strong growth, including EdTech (education technology), PropTech (property technology), and FoodTech, to name a few. Experience in and proximity to tech can be the first step into entering these growing sub-fields.

3. Tech Perks

Tech companies are well known for their generous compensation packages, as well as employee and office perks. Among many others, key benefits for undocumented individuals in tech include immigration-related benefits, considerate work from home benefits in light of the COVID pandemic and the shift to remote work, and flexible location and lifestyle options.

Some technology companies have been public about how they show up for their undocumented employees. Several high-profile tech companies, including Google, Microsoft, and Spotify, have engaged in public efforts urging legislators to pass permanent protections for undocumented immigrants like DACA recipients and TPS holders. These and other companies extend their support internally to their staff via benefits related to their immigration status. For example, following the rescission of DACA in 2017, Microsoft publicly denounced the move to end the program and pledged to support its DACA employees by paying for legal counsel. Like Microsoft, many tech companies have been known to provide additional benefits for their undocumented employees, such as financial assistance for immigration-related expenses (i.e. DACA renewals, etc.), additional mental health resources to deal with immigration-related stress and anxiety, and know your rights trainings, among other benefits and initiatives. 

Before the pandemic, competitive tech companies were known for luring in top talent with fancy perks and grand office spaces. For example, Googleplex, the corporate headquarters of Google, is one of the most famous of the bunch. Pre-COVID pandemic, Google employees enjoyed a host of office perks, including free meals at work, on-site gyms with free workout classes, and even on-site massage therapists. 

With the migration to working from home, many companies have had to rethink their approach to “office perks.” The essence of some perks remains the same. In some companies, on-site access to food has been replaced by food delivery reimbursements. On-site gyms are now online fitness classes and fitness equipment reimbursements. Childcare stipends are now memberships to childcare service providers. Still, the COVID pandemic has pushed some benefits to evolve and better meet the needs of employees who face a different set of challenges working from home. After noticing that employees did not take time off on their own accord, some companies that generously offered unlimited time off now have periods or days of mandatory time off. Others have strengthened their time-off policy by allocating days off for mental health or parenting reasons. Offering meditation and life coaching are other options that companies have turned to mitigate the mental health concerns of working from home during a global pandemic. In any case, the technology industry, which has historically been known for its generous benefits packages, continues to be a leading sector on this front, even through the move to remote work.

One of the greatest benefits of working in the tech industry is that many jobs can be done remotely. Since the start of the COVID pandemic, technology companies have been leading the way in shifting to fully remote employment opportunities. Companies like Microsoft are now allowing some employees to work remotely permanently. An increase in remote employment opportunities is welcome news for undocumented immigrants who live in rural or suburban areas that may lack the presence of technology companies. Likewise, this is great news for those who want to work in tech while being close to loved ones who live in areas with no tech companies. 

Additionally, moving to remote jobs has also meant that the hiring process itself has also gone virtual in many companies. This may be helpful for those who prefer virtual interviews over in-person. This also helps alleviate travel to distant offices and work locations for in-person interviews. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, median wages in high-tech industries are generally higher than median wages in non-high-tech industries. In other words, a designer or engineer is likely to earn more working at a software company, than they are working the same job at a local school or nonprofit. It is no secret that salaries for jobs in the tech sector are extremely competitive. Whether you break into tech through a technical or non-technical role, financial stability is a key piece of the appeal.

4. The tech industry needs us

We want to reinforce that not only is tech great for us – we are great for tech. As undocumented individuals, we are keenly aware that the undocumented experience cultivates skillsets that are of tremendous value to technology companies. There is a lot of talent in our community and we know that the tech industry has only skimmed the surface of it, due in part to the structural and systematic barriers that prevent undocumented individuals from breaking into tech in the first place. There are many reasons why our skills, talents, and voices are needed within the tech industry.

The technology industry holds a lot of power, not only because of its lucrative nature, but also because of the immeasurable footprint technology has on our world, our society, and human behavior. A tool like Google’s search algorithm has the power to determine which search results a user will receive when they type in a simple search query. While this may seem like a simple, less than noteworthy fact, tools like Google search are increasingly becoming more precise when it comes to feeding us the information we are looking for. When this is done at scale, technology has the power to impact our behavior and even our sense of truth. Technology is one major factor in the fueling of disinformation, social media echo chambers, and mental health issues. Technology like facial recognition software or even soap dispensers have the power to recreate and further ingrain human bias and inequities into society. Because these tools have tremendous power to shape our world, it is important that individuals from marginalized identities, like undocumented folks, get to have a seat at the table and shape technology companies and products they create. 

Studies have shown that diversifying a workplace has a positive impact on company financial performance. Diversity is important not only because it is good for business, but because reducing barriers to entry into the tech industry for historically marginalized communities is simply the right thing to do. This includes queer, Black, latinx, and indigenous communities, as well as women and trans folks. While progress to diversify the tech sector been far from perfect, many tech companies are invested in diversifying their workforce, and hiring undocumented individuals is a critical piece of the process. 

5. Working in tech allows you to give back to your community and use technology for social good

Landing a tech job can advance the positive social impact you have in the world. Through developing skills, experience, and connections in tech, there are countless opportunities to give back to your community and leverage technology for social good. This can look like working at a social venture or developing tools for good. This can also look like using technology to bring innovation to organizations that serve a local or global community need. Whatever the role may be, there are countless opportunities to give back to your community and the world by working in tech. See below for some examples!

Today, a solid grasp of technology is essential to any non-profit undertaking. Whether helping undocumented students access scholarships or training immigrants to start their own business, knowing how to leverage the power of technology is a must. To remain effective, any nonprofit must adapt to new technology to accomplish their missions. For this reason, working in the tech sector can equip you with skills and knowledge that will lend you an edge in driving impact at a nonprofit organization.

A prime example is this platform—Informed Immigrant is a website that serves as a national resource hub for the undocumented community. To deliver information at the right time to the right audiences, the team that manages informedimmigrant.com needs to have a solid understanding of how to reach immigrant audiences online who are looking for resources (digital marketing strategy), how to measure the value that these resources have for their users (data analytics), and who their users are and what their needs are (user research). 

Many of the roles necessary to sustain a for-profit corporation are also found in the nonprofit sector. The scale, demands, and pace of a job in the tech industry can cultivate you into an excellent asset in the nonprofit space.

Several tech companies are known for leveraging their expertise, resources, and power to drive social impact initiatives. Working at a company that leverages technology for social good can be personally rewarding and give you the opportunity to have a social impact. 

Some tech companies’ mission and values are based in creating social impact. In other words, what they sell is their ability to drive social change through their technology products. For example, change.org – well, it’s in the name! Their tag line is “The world’s platform for change.” Change.org is one of many companies in the world of political mobilization. Within minutes, you can use their website to start a petition to advance a social cause. Companies like this leverage technology tools built in-house to create change. While change.org ultimately makes revenue through their technology tools, they continue to drive social change. 

Other companies sell products that are not primarily driven by social change, yet they may incubate social change initiatives within specific branches or teams. For example, Google.org is the charitable arm of Google. While Google sells a slew of technology products (search ads, cloud computing, etc.), Google.org is a specific entity within Google that drives social change through various initiatives and focus areas. Many other tech companies have this type of social impact branch – you can find some examples below!

Whether it is incorporating technology to support the work and efforts of community-based organizations and nonprofits, working in social impact initiatives within a tech company, selling services for social good, or developing technology to bring social change, there are great opportunities to make a difference working in tech.

As undocumented immigrants in tech, we know that for every one of us who is able to enter there are many others who are equally as talented and capable that deserve the opportunity to break into tech. Part of the motivation behind this resource is just that – to lift as we climb, and make sure that others who happen to be undocumented are aware that it is very possible to not only break into tech, but to thrive through it. Once in the tech industry, you can support others in getting their foot in the door and help them learn from your experience. You will be surprised by how much valuable knowledge, wisdom, and access you can provide to others.

Where can I start? 

Join a tech community.

Start building connections. Most networks are super friendly and open to answer any questions. Sign up for their slack group, follow them on twitter, join their Facebook group. Some communities that you might identify with:

Find a mentor.

Whether you are starting your education or you are ready to get a job, a mentor can be the catalyst to your success and provide you with inside information about the tech industry. 

Ask questions and don’t limit yourself.

Ask a friend, a teacher, or google for help. Reach out to a community that you trust and connect with others. Do some research and stay curious. The possibilities are endless. 

Adapted from https://www.informedimmigrant.com/resources/employment/undocumented-immigrants-in-tech/#accordion__heading-Mentorship-is-a-key-way-to-give-back-and-maintain-the-doors-of-the-tech-sector-open-for-our-community

By Anna Smith de Yoma
Anna Smith de Yoma