How to get School Grants for Legal Immigrants

Legal immigrants who are attending school in the United States might need help with educational expenses. But school grants for legal immigrants aren’t a sure thing. Depending on the immigrant’s citizenship status and the grants generally available at any given time, there might be restrictions that take the immigrants out of contention for grant consideration.

Federal grants

There are many federal grant and loan programs for students, but school grants for legal immigrants are harder to come by. To qualify for federal educational grant money, immigrants generally must:

  • Be an U.S. citizen or national
  • Have asylum status
  • Be from Cuba or Haiti
  • Be a refugee
  • Be a lawful permanent resident
  • Be a humanitarian parolee

It’s best to look into the specific federal grant you’re considering to see what qualifications are placed on that grant for legal immigrants. Because these are federally funded grants, there is little wiggle room – students should have up-to-date paperwork and should be prepared to provide backup documentation.

There are also specific criteria placed on students whose parents are undocumented. If the parents are undocumented, but the student is a U.S. citizen (was born in the United States, for example), the student is eligible for federally funded student aid.

Some legal immigrants can quality for Pell Grants. These grants, which are based primarily on need, are issued by the government and can sometimes cover more than 50 percent of a student’s financial obligations. There are specific requirements that a legal immigrant must meet in order to receive a Pell Grant and these are similar to the requirements for general federal grant money, as well as the requirement that the student show financial need and have a specific educational plan.

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State Laws

School grants for legal immigrants might come in the form of state funding that helps students who are specifically attending a state university or community college. Some states have passed laws that allow legal or illegal immigrants to register as residents so they can qualify for grants, scholarships and in-state tuition rates.

Each state has a different law concerning this, however, so students should check into the laws in their state before proceeding.

Some states have specific programs for legal immigrants, which can help to provide funds or help students find where they can access funds on their own. For example, Latino College Dollars: Scholarships for California’s Latino Students, helps Latino students in general find scholarship dollars, but also offers tips for finding scholarships that don’t require U.S. citizenship. While the guide is specific to California, it can offer useful tips and resources to students outside California.

Private Scholarships

School grants for legal immigrants can also take the form of private scholarships. While many scholarships require a U.S. social security number to apply, some do not. The scholarships that don’t require a social security number to apply are ideal for legal immigrants.

Most of the scholarships that legal immigrants can apply for are funded by special interest groups. That is, if you are a legal immigrant from Mexico, groups like the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Scholarship foundation can help locate grants and scholarships that will be ideal for legal immigrants in the United States.

Another resource for scholarships is the college you are attending. There are many specific resources available right at the school level. Counseling offices can help students discover and highlight grants and scholarships that they might be eligible for, whether they have citizenship status in the U.S. or not.

Legal immigrants in the U.S. should keep their immigration paperwork up to date and available. Most of the school grants for legal immigrants will require a certain amount of paperwork beyond the norm and students should be prepared for the paperwork requirements.

Other Places to look for Grants

If you are majoring in an academic speciality that is generally under-represented by minorities, you might be able to apply for a grant that will help you continue your funding in that speciality. For example, the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grant helps students who are studying engineering, science or maths and who are minorities. To qualify, students must also be eligible for the Pell Grant, but once that qualification is out of the way, the competitive grant can provide up to $4,000 a year for schooling.

If you are from an area with a high number of minority students, you might be able to find small school grants that are funded by local groups seeking to improve the educational development of minorities. Sometimes these are funded by local charity groups, community service groups and even individual foundations.

Students who are not minorities but who are legal immigrants can also find school grants. These students can visit the academic department of their university where they are studying to find out if there are any grants specific to their major. That is, if a specific academic area is poorly served by students from a specific country, there might be grants available to encourage schooling in that subject area.

There are many school grants available for legal immigrant students who are studying at the graduate level. If students are studying law or medicine, in particular, they might be able to find a number of grants that will help further their schooling.

Some of these grants might be available through the American Bar Association or the American Medical Association. Generally speaking, grants have different citizenship requirements, so students should consider their specific citizenship status before applying for the grants they are interested in.

Finally, students should look to their home country for grants. Many times governments offer educational grants for students studying abroad. These might be traditional grants or they might be similar to a loan. Particularly if students are studying in a subject matter important to the country where they are from, grants might be available to further studies in the U.S.