Rights of Non-US Citizens


Being able to exercise certain basic freedoms is one of the most fundamental aspects of having american citizenship. However, even non-citizens have certain rights and privileges within our borders. Non-U.S. citizens include people with temporary legal status, such as those with tourist or student visas, people who overstay their visas, undocumented immigrants who enter without legal status, and other lawful permanent residents with citizenship in other countries.

Constitutional Rights

  • If arrested, non-U.S. citizens have the right to remain silent and not answer questions until an attorney is present. When facing criminal charges, they have a right to receive free representation. However, individuals charged with immigration violations are not entitled to have an attorney appointed by the court.


  • Regardless of legal status, non-U.S. citizens have the right to receive a free public education-up to high-school level. Students can attend junior colleges, vocation schools and universities but can’t receive federal financial aid. Thus, many students pay the cost of tuition without receiving scholarships.

Work Authorization

  • Some non-U.S. citizens have the to right to work. For instance, a person with an H-1B visa will receive an employment authorization document to establish that he can work, whereas a lawful permanent resident does not have an employment authorization document and must display his permanent resident card. While undocumented immigrants do not have the right to work in the U.S., some obtain jobs by providing false documents, such as a fake driver’s license or U.S. passport. Alternatively, employers who pay cash might not request proof of work authorization.

Driver's Licenses

  • Upon passing necessary requirements, non-U.S. citizens that are in this country legally have the right to obtain a driver’s license. Each state establishes its own laws about driver’s licenses. Many states have tightened requirements for driver’s licenses by not issuing licenses to non-U.S. citizens with limited or temporary status. For example, a person with a visa valid for less than six months cannot receive a license in Texas.


  • Non-U.S. citizens who are in the U.S. legally can own property, though usually restrictions apply. For instance, the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act provides federal guidelines when non-U.S. citizens purchase property. Each state also can enact its own limitations about property ownership.


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