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Undocumented Students Access to Financial Aid

Generally, undocumented students are not eligible for federal financial aid to help pay for the cost of a college degree or other forms of higher education. This does not mean that the students do not have other options, and these come mainly in the form of institutional aid and state assistance.

In California, undocumented students who meet certain criteria qualify to pay in-state tuition in California schools. This can make a big difference, with students saving thousands or tens of thousands a year in tuition costs. Undocumented students who attended a California high school for at least three years may be eligible.

Additionally, California provides undocumented students with an opportunity to borrow money to pay for their educational costs. This loan, known as a DREAM loan, has a relatively low interest rate and allows a student to borrow a maximum of $20,000. Students who receive scholarships and other grants and aid can use the DREAM loan to bridge any gap in aid and pay for their education in full, even though the student has to pay the loan back.

Undocumented students have to complete annual applications in order to apply for aid and certify their eligibility for paying lower tuition fees. This does require providing a lot of identifying information to the state and to the school the student is attending. This may make some undocumented students or their parents hesitate because of a fear that this information may be used to target them for deportation.

Generally, the information that students provide for student aid purposes is not shared with federal immigration officials. Additionally, several cities and schools in California have declared they are sanctuary cities and schools, and would not likely share this information with immigration officials except in serious circumstances, or where it is required by law.

Students who have registered under DACA, sometimes referred to as DACA-mented, are not eligible for federal financial aid in the form of either loans or grants. These students still have an advantage of being able to work in the U.S. legally, which could help them earn money to help them pay for the cost of tuition and room and board. DACA-mented students can also apply for in-state tuition and the DREAM loan discussed above.

The opportunities discussed above do not generally apply to students who are seeking to attend school in California under a nonimmigrant student visa such as a J-visa or F-1 visa. Students who are on a non-immigrant visa generally pay nonresident tuition rates, and are restricted in the forms of financial aid they receive. These students typically receive private or school grants and scholarships.

Contact Us for Legal Advice

If you are the parent of an undocumented student and are worried that enrollment in school could cause problems for the student and put him or her at risk for deportation, you need to discuss what legal options your child has with an experienced immigration attorney. Contact our multi-lingual staff to speak to an experienced immigration attorney from Strassburg, Gilmore & Wei, LLP, in Pasadena, California.