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Jan 21, 2021 | Rommel H. Ojeda

How to Start a Business if You Are an Undocumented Immigrant

Also read our Guide of Resources for Immigrants

Due to the high demand of questions we received from our readers through WhatsApp, we compiled a step by step guide of the elements needed to start a business. While this guide can be a blueprint to planning your business plan, we recommend seeking legal advice at the appropriate party listed below each category. This guide is for anyone, regardless of status, who resides in the state of New York. 

There is no federal or state law that prohibits an immigrant who has no legal immigration status from starting his or her own business. However, employing a person without legal status is against the law which could result in fines, and, sometimes, criminal arrest. 

Before starting your business it is recommended to develop a business plan, seek out advice, and understand the industry in which you plan to do business in. Here are some resources to help you create a business plan: Register for Business Planning Courses, Business Advice Courses, Writing a Business Plan

Once you have developed a business roadmap, these are the necessary steps recommended by New York City to start a business:

Choosing a legal structure to start a business:

The business structure affects how much you pay in taxes, the ability to get funding, the paperwork you need to file, and personal liability. It is the established entity that you will do business with. 

These are the four main business structures: 

  1. Sole Proprietorship: A sole proprietor is someone who owns an unincorporated business by himself or herself. This structure gives you complete control of your business and it means that your business assets and liabilities are not separate from your personal assets and liabilities. You can be held personally liable for debts and obligations of the business. This structure can be a good choice for low-risk businesses and owners who want to rest their business idea before forming a more formal business. Note: banks are sometimes hesitant to lend to sole proprietorships.  (Here is a list of the benefits of being a sole proprietor. Link.)
  1. Partnership: A partnership is a business structure when two or more people do business together. There are two kinds of partnerships: Limited Partnerships (LP) and Limited Liability Partnerships (LLP). Limited partnership has one partner with unlimited liability, and and all other partners have limited liability. Partners also share the expenses, labor, skill, profit and losses of the business. Note: Partners are not considered employees.
  1. Limited Liability Company: an LLC lets you take advantage of the benefits of both the corporation and partnership business structures. LLCs protect you from personal liability in most instances. Your assets won’t be at risk in case the LLC faces bankruptcy or lawsuits. Note: Members of LLCs are considered self-employed and must pay self-employment tax contributions towards Medicare & Social Security. (Benefits of LLC. Link.) 
  1. Corporation: Corporations are companies that are separate from their owners. These types of business structures can be held legally liable and generally takes the same deductions as a sole proprietorship to figure its taxable income. Corporations are the highest protection for owners from liability— however, the cost of a corporation is higher than other structures, and it is more complex. There are five types of corporations: C Corp, B Corp, S Corp, Close Corporation, and Nonprofit Corporation. Please see link for more details on each type of corporation. 

For free legal advice regarding business structures and more, click here.

Also Read: Health Care Access for Immigrants in New York

Register Your Business:

Sole Proprietors and General Partnerships can file for Business Certificates at the appropriate County Clerk’s Office. 

Bronx: 854 Grand Concourse, Room 118. Bronx, NY 10451

Brooklyn: Supreme Court Building 360 Adams St, Room 189 Brooklyn, NY 11201

Manhattan: Supreme Court Bldg 60 Centre St, Room 103B New York, NY 10007

Queens: 88-11 Sutphin Blvd, Room 106 Queens, NY 11435

Staten Island: 130 Stuyvesant Place Staten Island, NY 10301

To determine whether the name you wish to use for your business is available, you can complete a name search at the County Clerk’s office: Here is the link


Corporations, Limited Partnerships (LP) and Limited Liability (LLC) must file a Certificate of Assumed Name with the NYS Department of State: 

NYS Department of State

Division of Corporations, State Records and Uniform Commercial Code

One Commerce Plaza  99 Washington Ave. Albany, Ny 12231

There are some limitations when filing a name at the NYS Department of State. No business name should be identical to other LLCs, Corporations and LPs. Here is a list for things to consider when choosing a name for your business. Link

For free legal advice on registering your business, click here

Also Read: Mental Health Resources for Immigrants in New York

Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN)

An Employer Identification Number (EIN) is a unique nine-digit number that identifies a business for tax purposes. The EIN is needed to open business bank accounts, apply for business licenses and file your tax returns. 

Applying for an EIN is a free service offered by the Internal revenue Service (IRS). You can apply online, fax, mail, or via phone. Here is the link where you can apply for an EIN. 

Note: EIN services are free. Do not apply with websites or organizations that charge a fee. 

Also Read: Guide on how to get free legal help for immigrants NY State.

Registering for a Sales Tax Vendor (Certificate of Authority)

For businesses that sell tangible personal property (products) or taxable services in the state of New York, you will need a Certificate of Authority— the certificate of authority will allow your business to collect tax on sales. Here is a list of some good and services that are taxable: 

  • tangible personal property (unless specifically exempt);
  • gas, electricity, refrigeration and steam, and telephone service;
  • selected services;
  • food and beverages sold by restaurants, taverns, and caterers;
  • hotel occupancy; and
  • certain admission charges and dues

(source: NYC.GOV)

For more information contact: NYS Department of Taxation and Finance 

Getting Insurance for Your Business

While different business structures provide protection against certain types of liabilities (e.g., separate personal liability from an LLC), a Business Insurance will protect you from unexpected costs— accidents, natural disasters, and lawsuits.

There are many types of insurance that can be bought for a business. Assessing which one will work best for you will depend on the number of assets and the protection that you are looking for. The Small Business Administration has compiled a list of steps you should consider before buying insurance. Here is the link

The information above lists the primary steps that will help you start your business. Once you have registered your business you will need to define your financial needs, look for incentive programs and find start looking for a place to operate. Like buying insurance, these steps vary depending on the type of business that you will operate. For example, someone selling products or services online will not have to look for a storefront to rent, but might have to look for storage. 

NYC business created a step by step questionnaire to further help you determine which permits, and licenses you will need. 

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