The face of American higher education is changing. More than 1,000,000 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.
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 noncitizen before attempting to apply for federal financial aid.
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 financial aid, there are other options like obtaining a private student loan.
There are several student loan companies that offer loans to immigrants who meet basic eligibility requirements. A co-signer is required for most loans to immigrants. 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.
The student will be required to go through the loan application process and must submit his or her information, along with the financial information of the co-signer, if necessary. Rates for the loan will depend on the credit history of the student and the co-signer.
One Option for International Students: MPower Financing
One company offering loans to immigrants is MPower Financing, which offers student loans to immigrants and students from more than 190 counties. Eligibility for loans is limited to students who have demonstrated high career and academic potential and who have two years or less of school remaining before graduation.
MPower does not require a co-signer for any of its loans. It also does not ask applicants for a credit score. Instead it reviews credit reports to verify that applicants have a history of making payments on time and are in good standing. MPower has a partnership with a variety of schools across the U.S. to offer their loans.
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 from companies such as MPower Financing, you can find financing for your education.