Note that the situation for student loans has changed due to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak and relief efforts from the government and many lenders. Check out our Student Loan Hero Coronavirus Information Center for additional news and details. In addition, this report was accurate as of June 27, 2020, but immigration policies may change — see the end of this report for where to go to get further information.
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Melisa Boutin did everything right. Looking for a better life, she emigrated from St. Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean to the U.S. She became a legal citizen and planned to obtain a bachelor’s degree, but financing her education was challenging.
“Because I graduated [from high school] outside of the United States, it was difficult completing financial aid and application forms,” she said.
Whether you are an immigrant who is an official U.S. citizen or a FAFSA-eligible noncitizen, it can be challenging to secure financial aid for college. Here are some facts to be aware of, including specific challenges you may face, and how you can tackle them.
- Federal financial aid for FAFSA-eligible noncitizens
- 3 financial aid issues you might face
- Where else to get help
- Applying for financial aid
If you are an eligible noncitizen in the U.S., you may be able to qualify for federal assistance to pay for school by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
However, it’s important to understand that not all legal non-citizens qualify for financial aid for school. They must meet specific guidelines to be FAFSA-eligible noncitizens.
You are eligible to receive federal financial aid as an eligible non-U.S. citizen if you meet one of the following criteria:
- You are a permanent resident with a Form I-551, I-151, or I-551C (Permanent Resident Card, Resident Alien Card, or Alien Registration Receipt Card), also known as a green card.
- You are a U.S. national (this includes natives of American Samoa or Swains Island)
- You are a conditional permanent resident.
- You are another kind of eligible noncitizen, such as one with documentation from the Department of Homeland Security that designates you as a refugee, asylum recipient or Cuban-Haitian entrant, or are eligible for indefinite or humanitarian parole.
- You are a citizen of the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands or the Federated States of Micronesia. There are limits to this: Citizens of the Republic of Palau are eligible for Pell Grants, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants and work-study. Citizens of the Federal States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands are eligible only for Pell Grants.
- You or your parent hold a T nonimmigrant status, or T-visa, for victims of human trafficking.
- You are a “battered immigrant-qualified alien” whose citizen or permanent resident spouse has abused you, or you are a child of a person designated as such under the Violence Against Women Act.
If you meet any of those criteria, not only may you take out federal student loans, but you may also receive federal grants and work-study opportunities to help reduce your college costs. Federal Student Aid notes that, when filling out the FAFSA as an eligible noncitizen, you must enter your eight- or nine-digit Alien Registration Number on the FAFSA. If your status changes to U.S. citizen, be sure to contact the Social Security Administration to update your status.
While you may be eligible for federal student aid as an immigrant with citizenship or not, actually applying for and receiving that financial aid may be more complicated than you’d think.
It sounds pretty straightforward: You complete the FAFSA and get federal loans or grants to pay for school. But in reality, it’s not always so simple. There are a number of issues that could prevent you from even filling out the FAFSA to start with.
Here are three of the most common financial aid problems you might face as an immigrant, and what you can do to solve them.
When you complete the FAFSA, the form prompts you to answer questions about your household size, whether you file as independent or dependent on your taxes and your family’s adjusted gross income (AGI), which is verified using your tax forms from the previous year.
For Boutin, that was a problem. “Where I come from, there are no income tax returns,” she said. “So I had no way to enter that information.”
And because her parents were overseas, Boutin didn’t have easy access to their information. She had to find a workaround. She resolved the issue by asking her aunt, with whom she lived, to add her to the household as a dependent. With that change, Boutin could file her tax return as a dependent.
What you can do
If your parents are overseas or if you don’t have a tax return, you can still submit the FAFSA after indicating that you have special circumstances. However, you might need to submit additional documentation; contact the financial aid department at your school to see exactly what’s required of you.
It might also be a good idea to look for additional sources of school funding, advised Grace Toapanta, a college organizer with the Florida Immigration Coalition. “I would guide students to scholarships from private organizations,” she said. “Federal aid needs more documentation and can be more complicated. Private institutions are more flexible and more willing to help.”
For Latino students, Toapanta recommends the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF). The website specifically notes that “The MALDEF Scholarship Resource Guide is a free, informative resource guide for students, parents and educators with an extensive list of scholarships, including many that do not inquire about immigration status.”
Students from all countries can use scholarship search engines to find money for school. Some scholarships are specifically designed for immigrants.
Toapanta said some students who are in the country legally forgo federal financial aid for immigrants to protect their undocumented parents.
“They are asked to list their parents’ income [if they are a dependent student], and that opens up dangers to them,” she said. Because of these concerns, some students who are immigrants choose not to submit the FAFSA.
What you can do
When submitting your FAFSA, it’s important to weigh the risk with the benefit of your education. Federal Student Aid notes specifically that it does not ask about your parents’ status on the FAFSA form. However, there may be red flags raised by certain questions that are asked. For example, dependent students with undocumented parents may wonder how they should fill out their parents’ Social Security numbers, or their income information.
Immigration enforcement agencies have not requested FAFSA parent or student information in the past. However, the Department of Education can legally give immigration and law officials FAFSA information, according to the ACLU.
While the situation can be difficult, Toapanta said there is a solution. “If [students] are over 18, I recommend that they declare themselves as independent,” she said. “That way, they don’t have to put their parents at risk.”
As an independent student, you only have to list your own income and household information — not your parents’. However, you should understand that it may not be easy to declare yourself as independent if you are under age 24. You might qualify as independent if you meet one of the following criteria:
- You are 24 or older by January 1 of the school year for which you are applying for financial aid.
- You are working toward a master’s or professional degree.
- You are married or separated, but not divorced.
- You have children who receive more than half of their support from you.
- Your parents are deceased or you were in foster care during any time since you turned 13.
- You are serving on active duty in the U.S. military.
- You are homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless.
- You are an emancipated minor.
- You are a military veteran.
For many students, going to a public state university is a much more affordable option than going to a private school. However, some immigrants have trouble qualifying for in-state tuition, even when they live in the required area.
“I had one student who was struggling to get into Polk State College [in Florida] and he was denied in-state tuition,” Toapanta said. “To qualify, the state said he had to have completed three years of high school in Florida; he had only completed one.”
What you can do
First, make sure you know your state’s requirements for attending a state school as a resident. Some states require you to live in the state for a year or more to qualify as a resident student, while others may require just six months. You can find out by contacting your state’s department of education or your intended school.
If you fall short of their requirement, you might still be able to find a workaround. “I recommend students [in this situation] write letters to the dean,” Toapanta said. “Explain your hardship and your situation, and some schools will be willing to help.”
In the case of the student mentioned above, Toapanta said this approach was effective. “He collected letters of support from the community and wrote a letter,” she said. “The dean decided to waive the requirement for that student.”
Appealing directly to the school doesn’t always work, but it can be a smart approach to try and qualify for in-state tuition.
If you’re struggling to navigate through the federal financial aid system, there are other resources that can help, including:
- National College Access Network (NCAN) member organizations: NCAN’s mission is to help underrepresented students achieve success in college. You can visit its website here.
- Your intended school: If you have a school in mind, consider reaching out to its admissions office. Many schools have advisors who specialize in working with recent immigrants and first-generation students. Some even offer special scholarships and other financial aid programs.
- Your regional MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) office: Besides offering scholarships, MALDEF has regional offices that offer programs and resources for immigrants and their families. They also offer an extensive guide to educational scholarships. Their focus is on the Latino community, although their resources are helpful for immigrants from other nations. You can find its website here.
- If you are not a U.S. citizen or a FAFSA-eligible noncitizen, you will not be able to get federal financial aid. However, Federal Student Aid notes that there are some scholarships and other aid you may be able to get. They advise that you check with your country’s embassy or U.S. consulate to see what they might offer. You can also try the U.S. Department of Labor’s free online scholarship search, or the Education USA They also advise that you talk to the school you plan to attend to see if there are any aid options for students like you.
Finding and applying for financial aid as an immigrant, whether you are a U.S. citizen or a FAFSA-eligible noncitizen, can be challenging. Depending on your circumstances, tackling the FAFSA can seem overwhelming. But by researching what you’re eligible for and identifying solutions to common issues, you may get the financial help you need to pursue a degree. You also might consider outside grants and scholarships, or private student loans, to help fund your education.
If you still need to submit your FAFSA but don’t know where to begin, read our guide on filling out and filing the FAFSA.
Rebecca Stropoli contributed to this report
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2021!
|0.99% – 11.98%1||Undergraduate|
|1.13% – 11.23%*,2||Undergraduate|
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|1.50% – 11.33%4||Undergraduate|
|1.12% – 11.23%5||Undergraduate|
|1.15% – 11.01%6||Undergraduate|
|3.80% – 9.36%8||Undergraduate|
|* 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.
1 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.
Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a first year graduate student borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 7.10% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $141.66 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $16,699.21. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.
Information advertised valid as of 8/9/2021. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Approved interest rate will depend on the creditworthiness of the applicant(s), lowest advertised rates only available to the most creditworthy applicants and require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.
2 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
3 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.
4 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Ascent loans are funded by Bank of Lake Mills, Member FDIC. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions. Certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. For Ascent Terms and Conditions please visit: AscentFunding.com/Ts&Cs.
Rates are effective as of 10/01/2021 and reflect an automatic payment discount of either 0.25% (for credit-based loans) OR 1.00% (for undergraduate outcomes income-based loans). Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. For Ascent rates and repayment examples please visit: AscentFunding.com/Rates.
1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions, please visit AscentFunding.com/Cashback. Cosigned Credit-Based Loan student borrowers must meet certain minimum credit criteria. The minimum score required is subject to change and may depend on the credit score of your cosigner. Lowest APRs are available for the most creditworthy applicants and may require a cosigner.
5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 10.66% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.12% to 11.23% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 10.90% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.10% to 11.34% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.08% to 10.86% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.05% to 11.29% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 10.66% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.20% to 11.23% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 4/1/2021. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (>www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.15% – 11.01% (1.15% – 10.24 APR)Fixed interest rates range from 4.18% – 11.70% (4.18% – 10.83% APR).
Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 10.66% (1.89% – 10.41% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.64% – 11.23%% (4.64% – 10.95% APR).
Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 9.22% (1.89% – 8.50% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.38% – 10.44% (4.38% – 9.72% APR).
Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 8.02% (1.89% – 7.72% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.28% – 9.24% (4.28% – 8.94% APR).
Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.97% – 7.06% (1.97% – 7.06% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.94% – 8.58% (4.94% – 8.58% APR).
Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.44% – 9.58% (4.44% – 9.52% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.40% – 12.83% APR).
Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.53% – 7.03% (3.53% – 6.76% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.98% – 10.09% APR).
Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable Rates are based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of June 1, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.09%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%.
Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.
Lowest Rate Disclosure: Lowest rates require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate degree (where applicable), and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer. Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision on our website including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/Promissory Note, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank participating school.
Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
7 Important Disclosures for Funding U.
Funding U Disclosures
Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are made by Funding University which is a for-profit enterprise. Funding University is not affiliated with the school you are attending or any other learning institution. None of the information contained in Funding University’s website constitutes a recommendation, solicitation or offer by Funding University or its affiliates to buy or sell any securities or other financial instruments or other assets or provide any investment advice or service.
8 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. If you choose to complete an application, we will conduct a hard credit pull, which may affect your credit score. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.