SpaceX accused of discriminating refugees, asylum seekers in hiring process

The U.S. Department of Justice sued SpaceX on Thursday, alleging that Elon Musk's Hawthorne-based space company discriminated against refugees and asylum seekers in its hiring practices.

According to the lawsuit, between 2018 and 2022, SpaceX "wrongly claimed" that "export control laws" limited their hiring to only U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. As a result, refugees and asylum seekers were discouraged from applying for jobs at the company, according to the complaint.

Export control laws typically focus on protecting U.S. national security and furthering national trade objectives. They bar the shipment of specific technologies, weapons, information and software to specific non-U.S. nations. 

But the Justice Department noted that the term includes not only U.S. citizens, but also permanent U.S. residents, refugees, and those seeking or granted asylum.

The Department of Justice began its investigation into Musk's company back in June 2020, when the department's Immigrant and Employee Rights Section received a complaint of employment discrimination from a non-U.S. citizen.

"Our investigation found that SpaceX failed to fairly consider or hire asylees and refugees because of their citizenship status and imposed what amounted to a ban on their hire regardless of their qualification, in violation of federal law," said the Department of Justice in a statement.


Additionally, the Department of Justice found in their investigation that SpaceX "recruiters and high-level officials took actions that actively discouraged asylees and refugees from seeking work opportunities at the company."

Out of more than 10,000 hires, SpaceX hired only one individual from September 2018 to May 2022, who was an asylee and identified as such in his application, according to the lawsuit.

Prosecutors added that the jobs in question were not limited to those that require advanced degrees.

SpaceX hires for a variety of positions, including cooks, crane operators, baristas and dishwashers, in addition to information technology specialists, software engineers, business analysts and rocket engineers, according to officials.

The government is seeking back pay for asylees and refugees who were deterred or denied employment at SpaceX due to the alleged discrimination, as well as policy changes to ensure the company complies with immigration laws.

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

City News Service contributed to this report.