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The face of American higher education is changing. More than 1 million foreign students are currently enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities and that number is only growing.
However, some of these immigrants may not be naturalized citizens or lawful permanent residents. So, their financial aid options are limited.
Of the 43.7 million immigrants living in the United States as of 2016, 49 percent were naturalized citizens, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The remaining 51 percent were either lawful permanent residents, undocumented immigrants, or legal residents on temporary visas.
An immigrant does have a more difficult path to obtaining financial aid, but they do still have options, primarily in the form of private student loans.
On this page:
- Are Immigrants Eligible for Federal Financial Aid?
- Are Immigrants Eligible for Private Student Loans?
- Alternative Sources of Financial Aid for Immigrants
Are Immigrants Eligible for Federal Financial Aid?
The U.S. Department of Education strictly limits eligibility for federal financial aid, including student loans, to U.S. citizens and eligible non-citizens.
Non-citizens include (but are not limited to) U.S. nationals, permanent residents, and people who have been admitted as refugees, parolees, or whose asylum applications have been granted.
Anyone who is not a U.S. citizen should consult with their school’s financial aid office to determine if they are an eligible non-citizen before attempting to apply for federal financial aid.
>> Read More: How (and When) to Apply for Student Loans
Importantly, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FASFA, requires non-citizens to enter their alien registration number (commonly referred to as an “A number”) and social security number as part of the application process.
The requirement to have both of these numbers for the FAFSA will prevent many immigrants (both legal and illegal) from applying for federal financial aid, as these numbers will be checked against a U.S. Department of Homeland Security database.
In addition, applicants may have to provide proof from the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services that they intend to become citizens or permanent residents to qualify for financial aid.
Are Immigrants Eligible for Private Student Loans?
For non-citizens who are ineligible for federal student loans, there are other options like obtaining a private student loan.
For most lenders, a co-signer is required. This co-signer usually must be a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident who has lived in the U.S. for some set amount of time. However, there are student loan companies that offer loans to immigrants without the need for a co-signer.
Here are some of your options.
Lenders That Don’t Require a Co-signer
7.99% – 35.99%
$1,000 – $35,000
6 – 24 months
Stilt is a lender offering loans to visa holders, immigrants, non-U.S. citizens, and the underserved. While students can borrow funds from Stilt to cover college expenses, the loan itself is more of a personal loan than a student loan.
Stilt looks for current employment information, your education, financial behavior, defaults, collections, bankruptcies, and your credit score.
The lender is aware that some of this information isn’t going to be relevant to all applicants so it adjusts the way it weighs each based on your history. A co-signer is not required to apply.
Lenders That Require a Co-signer
1.49% – 12.99%
$1,000 – 100% of school-certified cost of attendance
5, 8, 10, or 15 years
College Ave is our top-rated student loan lender and offers loans to international students with a valid U.S. Social Security number. All international students will be required to apply with a qualified co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
Potential borrowers can prequalify for a loan without any impact on their credit score.
Alternative Sources of Financial Aid for Immigrants
For immigrants who are looking for other sources of funding, there are multiple options. A number of states allow undocumented immigrants to apply for state-based financial aid, and to receive in-state tuition rates. In addition, prospective students can check out the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators’ (NASFAA) website to learn about grants, fellowships, and scholarships in their state.
Other options include private scholarships, including ones that are specifically geared toward immigrants. There are a number of online scholarship search engines that allow students to search for scholarships and grants using specific terms, such as “immigrant.” In addition, immigrants may want to contact their country’s embassy, consulate or government to see if they offer grants, scholarships, or student loans to help them attend college.
While it can be more challenging to finance a college education if you are not a naturalized U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident, it is not impossible. By exploring your options, including private student loans, you can find financing for your education.
Author: Jeff Gitlen