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Tales from the Field: Recently Arrived Students from Outside of the United States

Many of our helpline calls involve cases with students who have recently arrived from outside of the United States. The role of the district liaison is to work collaboratively with the enrollment office/registrar in the district to assist the family with enrollment, school selection, and transportation. Often, the front office staff does not realize or understand the family/student(s) are doubled up and living in temporary housing. This tale is based on several calls we’ve fielded on the helpline over the past several months.

The Tale

A family with three children recently arrived from a country in South America. The family spoke no English and did not have an interpreter with them when they went to enroll the two oldest children in school. The district found a staff member who spoke their language and they were asked to provide a letter from the landlord attesting they could live there as well as numerous other documents required to prove their immigrant status. The family could not produce any of those records so left the school upset, frustrated, and ashamed. A family member found them an advocate who called us to inquire if they were McKinney-Vento eligible and asked for assistance in working with the district to smooth out the enrollment process.

Questions to ask:

  1. Is the Family McKinney-Vento eligible?

  2. Can a school district decline enrollment based on a lack of immigrant status documentation?

  3. What does a family need to provide to the district to register their children under McKinney-Vento?


  1. Review the McKinney-Vento Act and New York State guidance regarding families and McKinney-Vento eligibility. As always, you can find a wealth of resources on eligibility right here on our Determining Eligibility for M-V | NYSTEACHS and Immigrant Students | NYSTEACHS

  2. Review the SED memo from 2022: Educational Services for Recently Arrived Evacuees, Refugees, Immigrants and/ or Unaccompanied Children

  3. After reviewing the rules on eligibility, if you’re still unsure of what to advise, you are absolutely encouraged to call the helpline for assistance: 1-800-388-2014.

Question 1: Is the Family McKinney-Vento eligible?

Answer: Yes, based on the family living in temporary housing doubled up with another family, this family is McKinney-Vento eligible.

The McKinney-Vento Act defines “homeless children and youths” as individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. The term includes children and youths who are: sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason (sometimes referred to as “doubled-up”); living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to lack of alternative adequate accommodations; living in emergency or transitional shelters; or abandoned in hospitals; (Education Law §3209(1)(a); 8 NYCRR §100.2(x)(1); see also 42 USC §11434A(2)(B)(i); U.S. DOE’s Non-Regulatory Guidance, Question A-2,)

The McKinney-Vento Act provides a means to determine children's and youth’s eligibility. While this is a case-by-case determination, it is typical that students and families who have fled violence or natural disasters experience homelessness upon arrival to the United States. They may stay with family or acquaintances at first due to the loss of their housing and/or economic hardship. Even those living situations often collapse over time. Many families who receive resettlement services upon arrival also cannot sustain housing when that support ends in a few weeks or months.

  • As with all McKinney-Vento eligibility determinations, each situation should be evaluated individually, considering whether the student has a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.

  • Both immigrant and migrant children and youth are eligible for all McKinney-Vento services, including free school meals, if they lack fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. Immigration or documentation status does not affect McKinney-Vento eligibility.

  • The right to public education for immigrant children, including undocumented children, extends to preschool programs run by LEAs and/or state agencies. Families may enroll their children in Head Start and Early Head Start programs regardless of their immigration status.

Question 2: Can a school district decline enrollment based on lack of immigrant status documentation?

Question 3: What does a family need to provide to the district to register their children under McKinney-Vento?

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