An estimated 22.6 million of the 43 million foreign-born residents in the United States aren’t citizens, according to the Center for American Progress.
So, how many would be eligible to receive federal student aid?
If you have a green card, a visa, or no papers at all, you might be wondering what the answer is.
Who is eligible for federal student aid?
The bottom line is that if you’re not a U.S. citizen, you must be a U.S. national or a permanent resident holding a green card. It doesn’t matter if your parents aren’t any of the above.
U.S. nationals are natives of American Samoa and Swains Island. Natives of other American territories — Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands — are full-fledged citizens.
There are four more groups of noncitizens who might be eligible for federal aid. You might be among them if:
- You’re a refugee with an Arrival-Departure record, also known as an I-94 form
- You or a parent were victims of human trafficking and have a visa
- You’re a battered immigrant-qualified alien
- You’re a citizen of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, or the Republic of Palau
To be eligible for financial aid, you might have to provide proof from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that you intend to become a permanent resident in the U.S.
Who is not eligible for federal student aid?
That leaves everyone else out. If you’re not a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen, you can’t receive student loans from the government, let alone grants and work-study opportunities.
This even applies to approximately 790,000 beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA, which President Obama’s administration initiated in 2012, gives many undocumented immigrants the ability to legally attend school, find work, and live in the U.S.
Although DACA students have Social Security numbers, they’re not eligible to receive federal aid for a college education. This helps explain why just 10,000 of the estimated 65,000 DACA students who graduate high school each year end up graduating college, according to the nonprofit Educators for Fair Consideration.
Other students who aren’t eligible for federal aid include:
- Those approved to apply for permanent residency but have not yet been granted it
- Those with an F-1, F-2, J-1, J-2, G-series visa (which includes international students)
On the bright side, ineligible students do have other ways to finance their way through college.
Ineligible noncitizens have other aid options
Even if you’re likely ineligible for federal financial aid, you should still talk to your high school’s college counselor or the financial aid office of your prospective college to learn about your options. They can also advise you on filling out the FAFSA.
The FAFSA will ask for your residency status and your Social Security number. If you identify as an eligible noncitizen, your information might be checked against a database run by the Department of Homeland Security.
It’s important to fill out the FAFSA because it helps you determine your Expected Family Contribution. This is the amount of money you could afford to pay out of pocket based on your income information.
With a Social Security number, DACA students can complete the FAFSA. If you’re in this group, you can receive a Student Aid Report even if you’re ineligible for the aid itself. The report could help you apply for state- and college-based aid as well as private scholarships.
Other undocumented students might be told to skip the FAFSA altogether.
Checking with your high school’s or college’s rep can help you navigate your options if you’re barred from receiving federal financial aid. This is because you still might be eligible for aid from your state and your college.
1. State- and college-based grants
At least 18 states allow undocumented immigrants to receive in-state tuition rates, and at least six offer state-based financial aid to them, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Although your college or university will have the details on its benefits, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) is the go-to resource for learning more about your state’s offerings.
The NASFAA’s clickable map of the U.S. leads you to state-run websites with links and information pointing toward grants, fellowships, and scholarships. Each opportunity should list the application requirements, which might include living within the state for a specific number of years and graduating from one of its high schools.
If you’re an undocumented student in Oregon, for example, the map would direct you to the state’s Office of Student Access and Completion. For DACA students, that site lists four grant opportunities in addition to instructions on securing in-state tuition and other college-specific aid.
The College Board also offers a repository of resources for undocumented students. Although it was created in 2012, it’s still recommended reading if you live in one of the dozen different states covered.
2. Privately-funded scholarships
Scholarship search engines and tools can also be great resources for students in need. The CareerOneStop scholarship finder tool, for example, returned 128 scholarship results for a keyword search of “immigrant.”
Here are additional online scholarship resources specifically for immigrant students:
- Educators for Fair Consideration
- Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
The DOE also recommends contacting your country’s embassy, consulate, or local government to see what it offers. You might find, for example, that your home country offers international student loan options that compete with American private lenders.
As is always the case, rack up as much gift aid as possible before resorting to loans.
Navigate the financial aid maze by asking for help
Every student — no matter where they come from — must find their way through the financial aid maze.
One pathway in that maze becomes blocked when you’re deemed ineligible for federal financial aid. So, it’s important to remember that there are other routes to consider. Just don’t forget to ask for directions.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2019!
|1 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.
* Application times vary depending on the applicants ability to supply the necessary information for submission.
2 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
Information advertised valid as of 4/1/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.
3 Important Disclosures for Discover.
* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.
4 = Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
5 Important Disclosures for SunTrust.
Before applying for a private student loan, SunTrust recommends comparing all financial aid alternatives including grants, scholarships, and both federal and private student loans. To view and compare the available features of SunTrust private student loans, visit https://www.suntrust.com/loans/student-loans/private.
Certain restrictions and limitations may apply. SunTrust Bank reserves the right to change or discontinue this loan program without notice. Availability of all loan programs is subject to approval under the SunTrust credit policy and other criteria and may not be available in certain jurisdictions.
SunTrust Bank, Member FDIC. ©2019 SunTrust Banks, Inc. SUNTRUST, the SunTrust logo and Custom Choice Loan are trademarks of SunTrust Banks, Inc. All rights reserved.
6 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Additional terms and conditions apply. For more details see LendKey
7 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
A government loan is made according to rules set by the U.S. Department of Education. Government loans have fixed interest rates, meaning that the interest rate on a government loan will never go up or down.
Government loans also permit borrowers in financial trouble to use certain options, such as income-based repayment, which may help some borrowers. Depending on the type of loan that you have, the government may discharge your loan if you die or become permanently disabled.
Depending on what type of government loan that you have, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness in exchange for performing certain types of public service. If you are an active-duty service member and you obtained your government loan before you were called to active duty, you are entitled to interest rate and repayment benefits for your loan.
A private student loan is not a government loan and is not regulated by the Department of Education. A private student loan is instead regulated like other consumer loans under both state and federal law and by the terms of the promissory note with your lender.
If your private student loan has a fixed interest rate, then that rate will never go up or down. If your private student loan has a variable interest rate, then that rate will vary depending on an index rate disclosed in your application. If the interest rate on the new private student loan is less than the interest rate on your government loans, your payments will be less if you refinance.
If you don’t pay a private student loan as agreed, the lender can refer your loan to a collection agency or sue you for the unpaid amount.
Remember also that like government loans, most private loans cannot be discharged if you file bankruptcy unless you can demonstrate that repayment of the loan would cause you an undue hardship. In most bankruptcy courts, proving undue hardship is very difficult for most borrowers.
8 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|4.24% – 13.24%1||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.07% – 11.32%2||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.84% – 13.49%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.50% – 11.35%*,4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.25% – 13.25%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|6.08% – 7.22%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|3.95% – 9.81%7||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.45% – 12.42%8||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|