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Newcomer Students

Provides information and resources to support local educational agencies serving newcomer students and their families.

Newcomer is an umbrella term for foreign-born students who have recently arrived in the United States. Newcomer students may include, but are not limited to, asylees, refugees, unaccompanied youth, undocumented youth, migratory students, and other immigrant children and youth identified by the local educational agencies (LEAs). Newcomer students come from many different countries and diverse cultural backgrounds. These students come to school with various levels of educational experiences and speak a variety of languages, which may or may not include English. As newcomer students enter into a new education system, they may experience different academic, language, and social-emotional challenges from those of U.S. born students.

As educators, it is vital to acknowledge the strengths and abilities newcomer students bring, as well as recognize and assist newcomer students as they navigate these challenges. It is important for LEAs to identify ways to support newcomer students and their families to ensure the students receive the appropriate services and resources to benefit their success. It is also essential to build partnerships with parents, local communities, and organizations to ensure that newcomer students experience a positive school climate.

Newcomer students are protected under federal laws to access a free, accessible, and appropriate public education, regardless of home language or immigration status. Successful local programs serving newcomer students are based in sound educational theory, are implemented effectively with adequate resources, and are proven effective in overcoming language barriers.

Definitions and Data


The table below provides general definitions of terms that may be used to describe newcomer students.

Term Definition
Asylees Asylees are individuals who, on their own, travel to the United States and subsequently apply for or receive a grant of asylum. Asylees do not enter the United States as refugees. They may enter as students, tourists, on business, or with “undocumented” status (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [HHS], n.d.a).1
English Learner (EL) An individual (A) who is aged 3 through 21; (B) who is enrolled or preparing to enroll in an elementary school or secondary school; (C)(i) who was not born in the United States or whose native language is a language other than English; (ii)(I) who is a Native American or Alaska Native, or a native resident of the outlying areas; and (II) who comes from an environment where a language other than English has had a significant impact on the individual’s level of English language proficiency (ELP); or (iii) who is migratory, whose native language is not English, and who comes from an environment where a language other than English is dominant; and (D) whose difficulties in speaking, reading, writing, or understanding English may be sufficient to deny the individual (i) the ability to meet the challenging state academic standards; (ii) the ability to successfully achieve in classrooms where the language of instruction is English; or (iii) the opportunity to participate fully in society.2
Immigrant Children and Youth (for the purpose of Title III, Part A)

Immigrant children and youth are individuals who (a) are aged three through twenty-one; (b) were not born in any state (each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico); and (c) have not been attending one or more schools in the United States for more than three full academic years.3

Migratory children (for the purpose of Title I, Part C) A child is considered "migratory" if the parent or guardian is a migratory worker in the agricultural, dairy, lumber, or fishing industries and whose family has moved during the past three years. A "qualifying" move can range from moving from one residence to another or across school district boundaries due to economic necessity.4
New American An all-encompassing term that includes foreign-born individuals (and their children and families) who seek to become fully integrated into their new community in the United States (White House Task Force on New Americans, 2015).1
Refugee A refugee is a person who has fled his or her country of origin because of past persecution or a fear of future persecution based upon race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2015).1
Student with limited or interrupted formal education (SIFE/SLIFE) Students in grades four through 12 who have experienced disruptions in their education in their native country and/or the United States, and/or are unfamiliar with the culture of schooling (Calderón, 2008).1
  1. Unaccompanied Minors or Youth (federal and state use)
  2. Unaccompanied Children (UC) (federal and state use)
  3. Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) (federal use)
  4. Unaccompanied Undocumented Minors (UUM) (state use)

A child who has:

  • No lawful immigration status in the United States;
  • Not attained 18 years of age and
  • No parent or legal guardian in the United States, or no parent or legal guardian in the United States available to provide care and physical custody.5

Children who enter the country without their parent/legal guardian and for other reasons have been separated from their parent/legal guardian also fall under this definition.6

Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM)

The URM program is administered both at the federal and state level. At the state level, the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) administers the URM program by providing culturally responsive child welfare, foster care, and independent living services to unaccompanied refugee youth. Youth in the URM program have one of the following immigration statuses:

  • Refugees;
  • Cuban/Haitian entrants;
  • Asylees;
  • Victims of human trafficking who have an Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) eligibility letter;
  • Non-citizen victims of domestic violence and other serious crimes who have been granted a U-Visa from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, and meet all other eligibility requirements, or;
  • Minors who have received Special Immigrant Juvenile Status while in ORR’s custody.7


Data for each of the newcomer terms from the table above can be found in the links below. Currently, there is no data collection for SIFE at the federal and state level.

English Learner Data
The web page provides general English learner data collected by the California Department of Education (CDE).

Foreign Born External link opens in new window or tab.
The U.S. Census Bureau website provides a variety of data regarding the foreign-born population in the United States.

Title III Immigrant Student Demographics
This web page provides immigrant student data collected as part of the requirements of Title III, Part A, of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The CDE conducts an annual data collection on the number of immigrant students enrolled in California's public and private schools.

Refugees and Asylees External link opens in new window or tab.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security website provides an annual report along with downloadable Excel data files regarding refugees and asylees that arrive in the United States each year.

Unaccompanied Children Information External link opens in new window or tab.
The HHS website provides general data regarding unaccompanied youth who have been referred to the ORR for care and to help find a sponsor in the United States. The ORR is within the Administration for Children and Families, an operational division of the HHS that manages the Unaccompanied Children Program

1 U.S. Department of Education. Office of English Language Acquisition. 2016. Newcomer Tool Kit External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF)
Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as amended by the ESSA, Section 8101(20)
20 United States Code (U.S.C.) Section 7011(5)
4 CDE. 2020. Overview of Migrant Education in California
5 6 U.S.C. Section 279(g)(2)
6 HHS. 2021. Unaccompanied Children Frequently Asked Questions External link opens in new window or tab.
CDSS. 2021. Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program External link opens in new window or tab.

Newcomer Program

Each newcomer student’s background and experience coming to the United States is unique and multifaceted. Newcomer students may meet more than one of the newcomer terms listed in the Definition and Data tab. For example, it is possible for a newcomer student to be considered a refugee, students with interrupted formal education (SIFE), and an English learner. Therefore, it is important that LEAs offer a high-quality newcomer program at the school or district level to ensure that newcomer students are given opportunities to acclimate to the American education system and culture, while receiving all of the necessary support and services to be successful. The newcomer program is intended to help bridge the educational and social-emotional experience of students and to support newcomer students and families during, at a minimum, their first year of schooling in the United States.

When creating a newcomer program, LEAs may consider ways to align the program within existing frameworks, policies, and the local control accountability plan (LCAP). One of the existing policies that would be effective in the development of a newcomer program is the California English Learner Roadmap: Strengthening Comprehensive Educational Policies, Programs, and Practices for English Learners (CA EL Roadmap), which consists of four principles. Principle One of the CA EL Roadmap focuses on the need for asset-oriented and needs-responsive schools. The program should be developed with an asset-oriented and equity lens that values and builds upon the students’ diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, while providing rigorous coursework aligned with the state academic standards and specifically the English language development standards to support students’ academic progress consistent with Principle Two of the CA EL Roadmap (Intellectual Quality of Instruction and Meaningful Access). There should be a collaborative effort between the local newcomer program, the LEA, and community-based organizations to be able to offer a wide range of services to meet each student and their family’s needs.

The following guidance lists various components, frameworks, and other resources to assist LEAs in the development and implementation of a newcomer program:

Program Team

The LEA identifies the staff members that will need to be involved in the development of the newcomer program. There may be an initial core team that will gather and analyze the data, which will lead to expanding the team to include essential staff members to help implement the program. Principle Three of the CA EL Roadmap provides guidance on the system infrastructure to support a newcomer program.

Newcomer Student Data

The program team considers the different data sources for newcomer students to help in the development of the newcomer program. The data will come from a variety of sources. Some data may be from existing data sources such as the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS), enrollment, or the student’s cumulative folder, including when available, assessment results.

Other data will come from new sources in order to gather all of the necessary information to assist in the development of the newcomer program. LEAs may consider developing an initial interview questionnaire to use when meeting with the student and their parents/guardians to gather more information about the student’s background, experience with education, home life, daily routine, hobbies/interests, cultural and/or religious practices, and any other information that the school needs to consider in order to support the student.

When collecting student data, LEAs should abide by federal and state laws regarding student data privacy. For more information, see the CDE Data Privacy web page. Please note that LEAs should not ask questions pertaining to immigration status for newcomer students.

Program Goals

The program team sets goals for the newcomer program by reviewing and analyzing the newcomer student data. A recommended approach to setting goals is by using the SMART method, which stands for the following:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

The SMART method is a tool that has helped LEAs set goals in other areas such as the LCAP and the School Plan. For more information about the SMART method, reference the Goal tab on the CDE Planning for the LCAP and School Plan web page.

Program Requirements

The program team establishes requirements for the newcomer program. The team may use the newcomer student data to determine the following when creating program requirements:

  • Student eligibility
  • Program timeline for exiting or transitioning from the newcomer program
  • Academic coursework
  • Language and cultural support (for example a course on survival English)
  • Wraparound services provided by LEAs and their community-based system of care to support students and their families’ needs, which may include, but are not limited to social-emotional health, special education services, counseling and legal services, and more. See the National Wraparound Initiative External link opens in new window or tab. website for more information.
Program Location

The program team explores facility options available at the local level to determine which one of the options is most appropriate to support newcomer students. It is possible for a newcomer program to be located at a stand-alone site or within an existing school site depending on the number of newcomer students the LEA is serving and the geographic size of the LEA.

Participation Timeline

A newcomer program is an optional short-term program, with entrance and exit criteria (see Program Requirements above), to help newcomer students transition to another language program or a general program at a traditional school setting. It is not intended to be a long-term or permanent program that separates or segregates newcomer students from integrating with the general student population. Newcomer students may elect to participate in the newcomer program for either the full school day or part of the school day. The newcomer program is provided during a protected time during the regular school day, including any supplemental time such as Saturday school, before and after school, intersession, summer school, and any other extending learning time.


One approach to implementing a newcomer program is to use the California Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework. It is an integrated, comprehensive framework for the LEA to align academic, behavioral, and social-emotional learning in order to serve the whole child. It involves family and community engagement, administrative leadership, integrated education frameworks, and inclusive policy and practice.

The MTSS framework helps LEAs provide universal support to all students by creating a positive and inclusive school environment that welcomes all students, while providing supplemental support and intensified support to newcomer students. For more information, training, and other resources about the California MTSS framework, see the CDE MTSS web page.

Family Engagement

Families play an integral part in their child’s education and academic success. A newcomer student’s family may include, but is not limited to, their parents, caregivers, sponsors, and guardians. It is important to recognize that family engagement may involve immediate or extended family members depending on the student’s situation. To support family engagement, the following two resources are available for LEAs:

This is a research-based framework developed by the U.S. Department of Education and the Southwest Educational Development Lab. Version 2 of this framework was recently released in 2019. The framework supports schools to address challenges, essential conditions, as well as policy and program goals to build effective partnerships between educators and families to support student and school improvement.

This family engagement toolkit was developed by the CDE in 2017 and is grounded in the concepts from the first version of the Partners in Education: A Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships. This toolkit provides key questions and equity questions for LEAs to consider, along with tools and examples.

Ongoing Support

The program team considers the ongoing support, such as language support or social-emotional services, that students will need as they transition out of or exit the newcomer program. The ongoing support will ensure that these students have a smooth transition into the regular school setting and continue to thrive personally and academically. Principle Four of the CA EL Roadmap provides guidance on program alignment and coherency within and across systems to provide ongoing support to newcomer students.

The program team and LEA also consider the ongoing support, such as professional development for staff members and educators who will be serving students who are transitioning out of or exiting the newcomer program. The team evaluates and explores new funding sources and professional development in order to build capacity and sustain the newcomer programs. Newcomer programs may also be implemented in partnership with other state, federal, or private organizations. These programs may have specific guidelines and components than what is listed above.

Funding Programs

General Information

Funding Sources to Support Newcomer Students
This web page provides a list of various funding sources LEAs may use to support newcomer students and their families.

Title III

Title III, officially known as the Language Instruction for English Learner and Immigrant Students, of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides funding to supplement instructional programs and services required by state and local law and regulation. Title III funds supplement English language proficiency (ELP) programs to ensure that English learner (EL) students, including immigrant children and youth, attain ELP and meet the same challenging state academic standards that other students are expected to meet.

Each year, the U.S. Department of Education provides funding authorized under Title III, Part A, to each state education agency based on the number of EL and immigrant students enrolled in the state. Eligible LEAs in California apply to the California Department of Education (CDE) for Title III funding. To see if an LEA received Title III funding during the 2019–20 fiscal year, reference the directory available on the CDE Title III EL & Immigrant Program Allocations web page.

For the purpose of Title III, "immigrant children and youth" is defined as an individual who is aged 3 through 21; was not born in any state; and has not been attending one or more schools in any one or more states for more than three full academic years. LEAs that received a Title III immigrant education subgrant may use the subgrant funding in a variety of ways to supplement and enhance the opportunities for immigrant students and their families (ESSA Section 3115[e]). This may include, but is not limited to:

  • Family literacy, and parent/family outreach and engagement
  • Recruitment of personnel, including teachers and paraprofessionals
  • Provision of tutorials, mentoring, and counseling
  • Identification, development, and acquisition of materials, software, and technologies
  • Instructional services needed by immigrant students
  • Other instructional services needed by immigrant students
  • Activities coordinated with community-based organizations, institutions of higher education, or other entities to assist immigrant students and their families which may include, but are not limited to:
    • Social-emotional and mental health services
    • Translation services
    • Afterschool and summer programs
Additional information about Title III is available on the CDE Title III web page. For frequently asked questions (FAQs) about Title III EL and immigrant student programs, see the Title III FAQs web page. The CDE also provides examples of authorized and unauthorized uses of Title III funds which are available on the CDE Title III Authorized Use Scenarios web page.


The following resources are available to support teachers and LEAs serving newcomer students and families:

CDE Resources

Supporting Resilience in Schools
The web page provides information and resources for educators, parents, and communities working with students who have experienced trauma. It includes a toolkit, training for educators, strategies, a self-care assessment, and many other resources.

The web page provides information and background on the migrant education program in California. It includes migrant education forms, a directory of offices providing services, frequently asked questions (FAQs), program calendar of events, Parent Engagement Modules Series, and other resources.

Binational Migrant Education Program
The Binational Migrant Education Program is an international program between the Secretary of Public Education of Mexico and the CDE. The web page provides information about the Binational Migrant Education Summer Session, transfer documents, free textbook distribution, and consular office contacts.

Homeless Education
The link above provides information and resources regarding homeless children and youth and their right to enroll, attend, participate fully, and succeed in school.

Special Education
The web page provides information and resources to serve the unique needs of persons with disabilities so that each person will meet or exceed high standards of achievement in academic and nonacademic skills.

Foster Youth in California Schools
This web page provides information, resources, and educational outcomes for foster youth students regarding the Foster Youth Services Coordinating Program, education rights, partnerships with the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) and nonprofit organizations, FAQs, and more.

Title III Immigrant Student Demographics
The web page provides data collected about Title III immigrant students enrolled in California's public and private schools.

Afghan Newcomers (PDF)
This guide provides general statistics and information about Afghan newcomers resettling to the U.S. It also provides a list of things to consider and resources to assist LEAs serving Afghan newcomer students and their families.

Assembly Bill 2121 FAQs
This web page provides responses to FAQs regarding Assembly Bill 2121, which amends California Education Code to expand existing law to include migratory children and students participating in a newcomer program.

Unaccompanied Minors FAQs
This web page provides information and responses to FAQs regarding unaccompanied minors.

External Resources

Newcomer Toolkit External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF)
The Newcomer Toolkit published by the U.S. Department of Education includes five chapters addressing the following topics related to newcomer students: demographics; safe, inclusive, and thriving school environment; social, emotional, and mental health needs; high-quality instruction; and establishing partnership with families.

Welcoming, Registering, and Supporting Newcomer Students: A Toolkit for Educators of Immigrant and Refugee Students in Secondary Schools External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF)
This toolkit was developed by the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Northwest. The toolkit provides information on research-based practices, policies, and procedures on welcoming, registering, and supporting newcomer students and their families. The toolkit also includes information on building educators’ capacity to support newcomer students.

Information on the Rights of All Children to Enroll in School: Questions and Answers for States, School Districts and Parents External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF)
This questions and answers PDF from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice provides information to assist states and school districts with meeting their legal obligations of creating and ensuring inclusive, welcoming, and non-discriminatory enrollment policies and practices at the elementary and secondary school levels.

California Department of Public Health External link opens in new window or tab.
The California Department of Public Health web page provides program information, data and statistics, and other resources from the Office of Binational Border Health and Office of Refugee Health.

California Department of Social Services External link opens in new window or tab.
The CDSS Refugee Programs Bureau (RPB) web page includes RPB contact information, calendar and events, reports and data, refugee resources guides, funding information, and more.

California Newcomer Network External link opens in new window or tab.
The California Newcomer Network is a collaborative learning community of educators with the common goal of sharing and gaining information, knowledge, and experiences related to newcomer students. This network provides opportunities to develop personally and professionally in implementing best practices for supporting newcomer students.

Californians Together – Support for Immigrant and Refugee Students External link opens in new window or tab.
Californians Together Support for Immigrant and Refugee Students web page includes a guide for California educators and schools, classroom lesson modules for different grade spans, and more. It also includes resources in Spanish to support families of immigrant students during COVID-19.

Center for Applied Linguistics External link opens in new window or tab.
The Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) promotes access, equity, and mutual understanding for linguistically and culturally diverse people around the world. CAL also offers professional development services where participants can learn effective strategies to increase newcomer students' inclusion and learning in the classroom and beyond. For more specific information about CAL’s professional development, visit their Newcomers Your School: Cultural Connections and Instructional Strategies External link opens in new window or tab. web page.

Colorín Colorado External link opens in new window or tab.
Colorín Colorado is a national organization that provides information and resources to educators and families related to English language learners. The link above is to the Colorín Colorado’s Special Population: English Language Learners web page, which provides articles, videos, booklists, FAQs, guides and toolkits, research and reports, and other resources related to English learners who are also newcomer students, students with interrupted formal education, unaccompanied minors, refugee students, and from other special populations. 

Migration Policy Institute External link opens in new window or tab.
The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, nonprofit think tank. The MPI website includes data, publications, and information on a variety of topics related to immigration, migration, and refugees within the U.S. and internationally.

National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition – Newcomer External link opens in new window or tab.
The National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition newcomer information includes a series of papers that focuses on academic supports, social and emotional supports, and programs for newcomer students.

National Wraparound Initiative External link opens in new window or tab.
The National Wraparound Initiative web page through the School of Social Work at Portland State University includes an implementation guide, trainings, webinars, a guide for parents, publications in English and Spanish, and other resources related to the wraparound approach.

Questions:   Language Policy and Leadership Office | 916-319-0845
Last Reviewed: Friday, December 01, 2023
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