Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Financial Aid
What Is DACA?
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a junction where immigration law runs into education rights. According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), on June 15, 2012, the Department of Homeland Security released the policy known as DACA.
In short, DACA is an immigration measure that potentially benefits certain young people who do not have lawful immigration status. Homeland Security believes that children who entered this country with adults and did not have the requisite intent to break immigration laws should not have to live in the shadows.
Benefits of DACA do not include permanent residency (a “green card”). DACA recipients may one day receive this benefit, but the future of immigration reform is uncertain. DACA recipients qualify for work authorization and, for a certain period of time, will be exempt from deportation. (For full eligibility criteria, visit USCIS.) Since DACA carves out certain rights and not others, it is critical for DACA college students to know how this policy impacts financial aid.
DACA and Paying for College
As the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators details, when determining how to pay for college, DACA students should consider the following guidance:
- In-state tuition: Learn if your state allows DACA students (or undocumented students) to pay in-state tuition rates at state schools.
- Federal financial aid: DACA students are not eligible to receive federal financial aid.
- Complete the FAFSA: Although DACA students are not eligible for federal financial aid, according to the United We Dream Reference Guide for DACA Recipients, they should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Schools will use the FAFSA to consider DACA students for other available forms of financial aid, such as need-based scholarships.
- State financial aid: Most states do not provide financial aid to DACA students; however, DACA students may contact the school’s financial aid office to learn more.
- Private student loans: Some private loan lenders may lend to non-citizen students. However, these lenders will usually require the non-citizen student to have a credit-worthy co-signer who meets citizenship requirements, among other criteria. DACA students should contact individual lenders to learn the eligibility guidelines.
- Scholarships: Sources of scholarships include outside organizations, such as non-profits, and school-specific opportunities. DACA students should consider contacting their embassy or consulate, which may have information on possible scholarships from one’s home country or other sources.
- Alternative plans: If the traditional 4-year, full-time track is not financially feasible, DACA students may want to consider attending lower-cost community colleges or going to school part-time. Since DACA students receive work authorization, a blended work-study plan is an option.
DACA students researching how to pay for college will need to understand this special immigration policy. While DACA students fall into the category of non-citizens, note that for federal student aid purposes they are not considered “eligible non-citizens.” In addition, any benefits that undocumented immigrants receive also apply to DACA recipients but not the other way around. DACA students may also want to consider contacting immigration reform non-profits, such as the Immigration Advocates Network for additional guidance on benefits and rights under DACA.