An immigrant worker is a person who originates from outside the U.S. but now works and likely resides in the U.S. Many immigrant workers come to the U.S. through an arrangement with an employer before their arrival.

Those persons may have a labor contract that helps them get a visa to legally work in the U.S. In these situations, an employer sponsors the immigrant to enter the U.S. and work for the employer. This process may require an alien labor certificate.

Other immigrant workers who are already in the country or are coming to the U.S for non-work related purposes may choose other paths to obtain legal status in order to perform authorized work. For example, immigrants eligible for a green card through marriage to a U.S. citizen or as a family member of a U.S. citizen may legally work after obtaining the green card.

Many types of jobs are available to immigrant workers including:

  • Skilled work that requires a certification or specialized training and experience;
  • Professional careers including doctors, lawyers and professors;
  • Business and managerial careers;
  • Religious clergy or leadership positions; and
  • Manual and technical labor.

Because immigrant workers are non-citizens, they may be subjected to certain employment and immigration laws. These may differ depending on the area of work and the state.

Do Immigrant Workers have the Same Rights as Working Citizens?

In most situations, immigrant workers are entitled to the same rights as citizens. However, some conditions of an immigrant worker can affect their access to certain jobs such as language requirements and access to a lawful working visa.

Immigrant workers have the same rights as citizens when it comes to the following work situations:

  1. Workplace Safety: All workers regardless of their citizenship status are entitled to a safe working environment including having the right to training and information regarding specific hazards in their job.
  2. Minimum Wage and Overtime Pay: If jobs performed by citizens are subjected to minimum wage and overtime pay laws, then immigrant workers performing the same job are also entitled to such wages.
  3. Free from Discrimination and Harassment: Immigrant workers are protected the same as citizens when it comes to workplace discrimination and harassment. Additionally, immigrant workers are also protected from discrimination and harassment arising from their immigration including race, ethnic background and in some cases their spoken language. It is also illegal for employers to discriminate against immigrant workers in hiring and firing decisions simply because they are immigrants.

What Happens if an Immigrant Worker’s Rights are Violated?

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the primary government agency responsible for many violations. If an immigrant worker has been the subject of discrimination or unlawful labor practices, one can file a complaint with the EEOC. The agency may investigate and has a variety of tools to end the discrimination or other workplace danger including the use of fines against the employer and shutting down an employer’s operation.

Immigrant workers may also sue the employer for workplace violations. In successful cases, a money damages award may result for loss wages or unlawful termination. Another result may be forcing the employer to change corporate policy to correct the problem.

Immigrant workers who file EEOC claims or who provide truthful information to the EEOC once a complaint has been filed cannot be punished by the employer for starting or assisting in the investigation. Such actions as firing or cutting hours and pay is illegal if the employer does so only to punish the worker for participating in an EEOC investigation.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Immigrant Worker Rights?

An employment lawyer or immigration lawyer can be helpful in explaining your rights as an immigrant worker. They can help you find the appropriate legal action for your situation and file the necessary claim or petition.