Student Aid for non- US Citizens

Student aid is an eminent feature of the US economy with about $150 billion being provided by the US Department of Education to help over 15 million students every year in the form of grants, student loans and work- study programmes. Grants are a type of financial help that do not require a repayment, except for a case when the borrower owes a refund due to withdrawal from school.

There are several types of grants available such as Federal Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants, Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants and Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants. Student loans on the other hand are a type of financial help that need to be paid back with interest after the student starts working. The US Department of Education offers two types of loans, namely, William D. Ford Federal Direct loan and Federal Perkins Loan program. The third form of financial aid is a Work- study program which is a work program by which a student can earn and pay for his education expenses. Such a program is available to undergraduates, graduates and students of professional studies.

Financial Aid for Non-US Citizens

A  very popular doubt relating to federal student aid is that whether these are available to non- US citizens or not. The answer is that most non- US citizens can qualify for federal financial aid provided they meet certain eligibility criterion. The assumption or myth that one would not get a loan just because he/ she is a non- US citizen is completely wrong.

Let’s understand what it takes to avail a financial aid if the individual is in need but not a US citizen. First of all, anyone who is permanently residing in the US is eligible for federal financial aid even though one is not a US citizen. Permanent residence can be proven by having a Permanent Resident Card, Resident Alien Card or Alien Registration Receipt Card or Green Card. Other than this commonly accepted non-citizenship, an individual would qualify for financial aid in the following situations:

  • An individual who is a US national, including natives of Swains Island and American Samoa can avail the aid. 
  • People with Arrival- Departure Record (I-94)  issued by US Citizen and Immigration services with the status of a ‘refugee’ or ‘Cuban- Haitian entrant’ or ‘asylum granted’ or ‘conditional entrant’ which is valid only if issued before 1st April, 1980 or a ‘Parolee’ (an individual should be paroled for at least an year and evidence must be provided from the US Citizen and Immigration Services to prove the intention to stay in the US permanently and become a US resident or US citizen). 
  •  If victims of human trafficking want to avail the benefits of financial aid programmes, hey need to provide their T- Visa or their parents’ T-1 Visa along with a certification from the US Department of Health and Human Services. 
  • Eligible non- citizens for financial aid also include battered immigrant qualified aliens, who are victims of abuse by their permanent resident or citizen spouse. Children of people designated under the Violence against Women Act are also eligible for such help. 
  • Citizens of the Republic of Marshall Islands, Republic of Palau and Federated States of Micronesia can also qualify for federal financial aid. 

It would be important to note here that the citizenship of a student’s parents does not matter while taking out financial aid from the US Department of Education. The documents required by non- citizens carry an expiration date. If a permanent resident’s green card has expired, it dos not necessarily imply that he/ she would not be able to avail help. They can get their card renewed and apply for help. However, on expiration of the resident status itself, the student would no longer be eligible for financial aid. For Cuban- Haitian entrants, the eligibility exists even though the documentation has expired. 

There are some situations in which the student has certain documentation but not the ones required by the US Department of Education. Such a circumstance creates confusion in the minds of the students. People who just have ‘Notice of approval to apply for permanent residence’ or who are on a J-1 or J-2 Exchange Visitor Visa or an F-1 or F-2 student Visa or people with G-series Visa are not eligible to obtain a federal financial help.

People who have Deferred Action for childhood arrivals are also eligible for college or student aid but not for federal student aid. The student needs to complete the FAFSA which is an application form that needs to be completed and submitted for any federal financial aid to be availed. It is the first step towards such programmes. This can be done either online or offline by downloading a copy of the form, completing it and then submitting it. It is quite easy to complete the FAFSA, especially if you are filling it online.

Scholarships and other financial aid for non-US citizens

For people who are not US citizens and do not qualify for federal financial aid by any means can still be eligible for various scholarships and other financial aids. The applicant needs to correspond with the country’s embassy or consulate to learn about the plans available to him/ her. US Department of Labour also offers for free online scholarship search where an individual might get a suitable offer. The student should also check with the college or school that they have chosen to study in whether they offer any scholarship o student grants et cetera. Students are also advised to check with the official website  of US Department of Education. 


Student aid plans are indeed made available by the federal government either directly or indirectly through the institutions to most people in need of financial help. All that is required on behalf of the students is awareness and clear understanding of the options available. Such provisions for non- citizens who night be in need financial assistance is a sign of good policy making and evolution of reforms over the years. It is not difficult with such provisions to earn a college degree with ease if only one is truly dedicated to achieve one.