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How Undocumented Immigrants Can Obtain State-Sponsored Financial Aid and California Resident Tuition


by Jennifer A. Grady, Esq.

What is the California Dream Act?

Assembly Bill 540, passed in 2001, allows qualifying non-resident California students to pay resident fees at California’s colleges and universities.  AB 540 students include: (1) undocumented students; (2) students who are U.S. citizens, but who are not residents of California; and (3) usually dependent students whose parents are not residents of California.

The California Dream Act, authored by Assembly Member Gil Cedillo (Los Angeles), became law through the passage of two Assembly Bills, AB 130 and AB 131 in 2012.  Assembly Bill 130 allows students who meet AB 540 criteria (California Education Code 68130.5(a)) to apply for and receive non-state funded scholarships for public colleges and universities.

AB 131 allows students who meet AB 540 criteria to apply for and receive state-funded financial aid such as institutional grants, community college fee waivers, Chafee Grant, University of California Grants, State University Grants, Board of Governor’s fee waivers, and Cal Grants for attendance at public and private colleges.  They may also obtain private scholarships administered by California public colleges.

Cal Grants provide free money for college that does not have to be paid back. Students may receive up to $12,192 annually for up to 4 years of college.  The amount varies depending upon the college of attendance, and is limited to qualified schools.  For a list of all eligible Cal Grant schools for the 2013-14 academic year, click here.  Para aprender más sobre las becas Cal Grant, mira este vídeo.

The California Dream Act Application is not an application for federal financial aid.  Students eligible to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) must file the FAFSA online at www.fafsa.org.

Who Qualifies for the California Dream Act?

If a student meets the criteria below, and files an affidavit as specified, he or she will be exempted from paying nonresident tuition at the California public colleges and universities.  The California Dream Act Application can only be completed by AB 540 students who meet the following qualifications:

  1. Students who cannot file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA); and

  2. Students who attended at least three full years in a California public or private high school; and

  3. Students who graduate from a California high school or attained the equivalent prior to the start of the college term (for example, a High School Equivalency Certificate from the California GED Office or the Certificate of Proficiency resulting from the California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE); and

  4. Students who, if they are without lawful immigration status, have or will file an affidavit with the college or university where they are attending, stating that they have filed an application to legalize their immigration status, or will file an application as soon as they are eligible to do so.  The affidavit is then filed with the college they attend.

What Are the Application Deadlines?

California Dream Act Applications should be submitted as soon as possible, but the March 4, 2013 deadline for the 2013-2014 school year has already passed.  Start planning now to ensure eligibility for the 2014-2014 school year.

How Will This Affect Immigration Status?

California Dream Act Application information is not shared with federal databases.  Student and parent information is protected by the same privacy and information security laws and safeguards as all other state financial aid applicants.

The recent federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) does not prevent students from applying for California Dream Act financial aid.  California students who have applied for or received approval for Deferred Action should complete the California Dream Act Application, not the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Learn more at http://www.uscis.gov, http://www.e4fc.org, or http://www.weownthedream.org.

At this time, neither the California Dream Act, nor DACA, provide a path to Legal Permanent Residency or Citizenship.

What Is the Federal DREAM Act?

The Federal DREAM (Development Relief and Education of Alien Minors) Act is a proposed law that would legalize the immigration status of undocumented youth and was first introduced in the Senate on August 1, 2001.  This bill would provide conditional permanent residency to certain immigrants of good moral character who graduate from U.S. high schools, arrived in the United States as minors, and lived in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment.

If the applicants were to complete two years in the military or two years at a four-year institution of higher learning, they would obtain temporary residency for a six-year period.  Although the University of California Residence Policy and Guidelines for the 2013-2014 Academic Year states that federal lawmakers plan to unveil a federal DREAM Act in 2013, to date, the federal DREAM Act has not been passed into law yet.

Do  You or Your Child Qualify?

In order to determine if you or your child qualifies for the California Dream Act, and to explore the potential paths to a GreenCard or citizenship for you and/or your child, please contact The Grady Firm, P.C. for a complimentary consultation at (323) 450-9010, or fill out our Contact Request Form.  In addition, The Grady Firm recommends meeting with a qualified financial planner to determine the best ways to save for college and pay for a higher education.

Have you been able to benefit from the California Dream Act?  Share your experiences below.

Learn more about the California Dream Act.

Para aprender más sobre Ayuda Financiera en California.

Disclaimer: The information in this Article does not constitute legal advice.  Please consult with a qualified attorney who can assess the facts that are particular to your case.


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