Access to Public Education Guide

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The prevailing public perception is that Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) students excel in school and face few barriers. This “model minority” myth about AAPIs is misleading and results in policymakers focusing less attention on their needs. In particular, undocumented AAPI students are facing more difficulties than ever in exercising their right to public education and, for post-secondary students in California, in-state tuition. This problem is largely the case of a troubling increase in the number of public schools as well as universities and colleges denying undocumented immigrant students their educational rights because of a misinterpretation of the existing laws and often anti-immigrant sentiments.

(KRC’s youth deliver DREAM Postcards to Xavier Becerra’s office in the Summer of 2007) Education is a chief determinant of one’s success and quality of life. Census data shows that a high school graduate will earn $1.2 million in a 40-year span, compared to $2.1 million for a person with a Bachelor’s degree, and $2.5 million for a person with a Master’s degree. Dropouts are more likely to be unemployed, and for those who work, pay is low, advancement is limited, and health insurance is less available.

States who contribute significantly to elementary and secondary schools also see net returns; from a marked decrease in income inequities and poverty rates to a reduction in crime rates. According to research conducted by the University of California, Berkeley’s Survey Research Center, every dollar put into post-secondary education is expected to result in a net benefit of three dollars. For example, education enables states to earn more tax revenue and spend less money on social services and prisons due to reduced crime rates. Moreover, the failure to graduate results in tremendous economic losses for states as well as individuals; in 2002-2003 alone, dropouts cost California $14 billion in lost wages.

NAKASEC and its affiliates hold true to the belief that investing in the education of young people is the key to our nation’s prosperity and that access should be provided to all. This guide was produced in response to a growing number of cases that NAKASEC and its affiliates received of students being denied admissions to public education institutions and in-state tuition. Intended to help students, parents, and individuals who work and advocate for immigrant students, this guide provides an overview of the U.S. education system, information about California state law as it governs public education, and an in-depth analysis of current immigration laws that affect an immigrant student’s educational rights.


America is in the midst of a national crisis with immigration. Today’s immigration system is dysfunctional and unworkable with 12 million undocumented immigrants working and living in the shadows; millions more caught in the family immigration backlogs; employers unable to fill the growing labor demands with the current workforce alone; hundreds being deported daily; and thousands dying at the borders in their pursuits of better lives.

While Americans were awakened to the “immigration problem” following the mass mobilizations of immigrants in 2006, what is less widely known is the impact of the broken immigration system on Korean Americans and AAPIs. Korean American and AAPI families are commonly a mix of U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and non-immigrants who work, study and live in America. And various segments of our community have been most directly impacted by the failures of the immigration system.

Family sponsorship is the most common way Korean immigrants are admitted into the U.S. In 2004, 56% of Korean arrivals were sponsored by their families. Yet the current immigration backlogs has meant that U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents must wait years, sometimes even decades, in order to reunite with family members in the U.S. Most recent reports indicate upwards of 1.5 million AAPIs (including 77,000 Korean Americans) are caught in the family immigration backlogs. For example, a U.S. citizen parent petitioning for an unmarried adult son or daughter from Korea and China must wait approximately six years before s/he can immigrate to the U.S. A U.S. citizen petitioning for a sibling from India must wait approximately 11 years before s/he can immigrate to the U.S. If the sibling is from the Philippines, the wait is approximately 22 years. These backlogs, including the rise in naturalization backlogs, result in the lengthy separation of family members and contribute largely to the growing population of undocumented immigrants. In other words, many AAPI family members must choose between enduring the agony of waiting indefinitely to be reunited with family members or becoming part of the growing population of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Most AAPIs become undocumented by overstaying their visas.

Undocumented immigrant students generally enter the U.S. at a young age with their parents. Knowing no other home but the U.S., they grow up speaking English and become fully integrated into American society. With the exception of students who are denied admissions into K-12 educational institutions, most do not know they are undocumented until they begin looking for part-time employment or file post-secondary admissions forms. In realizing that they lack documentation or any way of legalizing their status, immigrant students see the road to their futures blocked before them.

Although federal and state laws clearly protect undocumented immigrant student access to public education (from K to 12 to higher education), these cases of admissions denials will continue until the immigration system is fixed. For this reason, public education access must be seen within the larger perspective of immigration reform. Until Congress passes just, humane and workable immigration reform laws enabling undocumented immigrant students to adjust their status, there will be governmental agencies as well as individuals who will carry out harsh enforcement measures that harm immigrant communities that include the criminalization of immigrants, raids at workplaces & homes, and the denial of basic rights, including the right to drive or attend public schools.

What kind of documentation  do you have?

U.S Citizen

Legal Permanent Resident
(green card holder)

Visa Holder
People with legal
status (other than LPR)
Documents  U.S. passport
 or birth certificate
Green Card


or pending application to USCIS


Can you get a Social Security Number (SSN)?

on visa type -B1,B2,F2,H4,J2,O3 are not eligible
Driver's Liscense
Can you get a driver's license?



if you are eligible for SSN you are eligible for DL.
but a few states have anti-discrimination policies that allow it.

Do you have the right to recieve education?

Yes Yes Depends
current B1/B2 visa
holders are not allowed


there is now law that prohibits
undocumented students from admissions

Financial Aid
Can you get federal/state financial aid for college?


Yes No No


Yes Yes Yes Yes
as long as you have a valid unexpired state ID or passport.

Can you travel outside the U.S?



but you need to have a current visa and passport.
If you leave, you cannot legally return, except when i) you qualify for a waiver, or ii) you are no longer subject to the 3 or 10 year bar.
Can you bring your family
abroad to the U.S.?

but with restrictions (waits are longer)



Can you be deported? 


if you break certain laws.
if you break certain laws
after DHS succeeds in proving that you are undocumented.
Can you vote?
Yes Yes Depends
on visa type.


Undocumented immigrant students in California face an uncertain future with one out of two unable to graduate from high school. Of those, less than half will go on to college and only fifteen percent will earn a degree. Why?

  • Denial of K-12 education: In spite of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Plyler v. Doe, guaranteeing the right to K-12 public education, many school systems in the country deny access to undocumented immigrant students as standard practice, either due to misinterpretation of this law and/or anti-immigrant sentiments (For more information, see “What Schools Can Do & Cannot Do” on page 12).
  • Denial of in-state tuition: Ten states including California, Illinois, and New York have adopted laws permitting qualified undocumented immigrant students to receive in-state tuition. Unfortunately, a significant number of these students forego higher education for financial reasons because their high school counselors/teachers and parents are not aware of such in-state tuition laws. Furthermore, public institutions of higher learning have wrongly denied in-state tuition to hundreds, potentially thousands, of qualifying students.
  • Denial of admission to post-secondary educational institutions: Undocumented immigrant students have been denied admissions to colleges and universities, because schools are interpreting federal law erroneously. For example, some California community colleges are expanding application of federal law, which prohibits current traveler visa (B1 and B2) holders from entering schools, to undocumented immigrant students who have expired visas. Recently, the North Carolina Community College System reversed its open-door policy that allowed undocumented immigrant students to pursue college degrees. This was despite a statement from the Department Homeland Security (DHS) which states that it does not require any school to determine a student’s status.
  • Lack of financial resources: Due to limited economic opportunities, more undocumented immigrant family members live in poverty. Students from low-income households must juggle an extra job(s) in order to contribute to the family income and finance their schooling. College-bound undocumented immigrant students have an additional hurdle because they are ineligible to receive federal government aid, such as Pell grants and loans, or state benefits such as Cal Grant awards.
  • Uncertain future: Many undocumented immigrant students struggle with understandable feelings of hopelessness or depression because of the tremendous barriers they must overcome to realize their educational goals. For those able to graduate, they face the prospect of being unable to work in the field of their study or choice. They also live in real fear of being detected by immigration authorities and subsequently detained and deported to countries that are unfamiliar to them. These feelings may inhibit a student from excelling or even lead them to drop out of school.


Based on the 2008 report from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), it is estimated that there are about 12 million undocumented immigrants. There is, however, no official national research data on how many undocumented immigrant students are in the U.S. The Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization, estimates that there are 1.8 million undocumented immigrants under 18 years of age living in the U.S. It also reports that 40% of those undocumented immigrant students live in California. The following is more information about undocumented immigrant students.

  • About 80,000 undocumented immigrants turn 18 years of age every year, but 16-20% drop out from high school. As a result, roughly 65,000 undocumented immigrant students who have lived in the U.S. five years or longer graduate from high school every year. In 2001, between 5,000 and 8,000 undocumented immigrant students in California graduated from high school.
  • Approximately 1.5 million of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. are AAPIs. One out of five Korean Americans are undocumented.
  • AAPI students make up 40-44% of the undocumented undergraduate population within the University of California system, and between 55-60% of them are AB540 recipients. Korean American undergraduate and graduate students make up over 50% of “potentially undocumented” recipients of AB540 among all AAPI ethnic groups.


Children regardless of their immigration status have the right to public education with limited exceptions.

  • Enrolling Your Child in School

The United States has compulsory school attendance laws. All children between the ages of five to sixteen are required to attend school in most states. For example, in California, children below sixteen years of age must attend school full time.


Elementary School
Kindergarten to Grade 5
Ages 5 to 10

Junior High School
Grade 6 to 8
Ages 11 to 13.
Secondary or High School
Grade 9 to 12.
Ages 14 to 18.
Post-secondary or Higher Education:
Community Colleges,Universities, or Trade Schools.

  • Kindergarten: Kindergarten attendance is not required by law in California, but parents have the right to enroll their children in public kindergarten once they have reached the appropriate age. Schools must admit children who have reached five years of age on or before December 2 of that school year. Admission must occur at the beginning of the school year or whenever a student moves into the school district.
  • Elementary School: In most states, including California, in order to enter public school at the beginning of the school year (September), a child must reach six years of age on or before December 2 of that year. Children enrolling in public school after completing one year of a private kindergarten may be admitted to first grade at the discretion of the district.

In order to enroll your child in a California school, you may need to present the following documents and no other substitutes :

Student medical records: Students entering kindergarten will need a total of five DTP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) immunizations; four polio immunizations; two MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) immunizations; three hepatitis B immunizations; and one varicella (chicken pox) immunization. Students entering seventh grade must show proof of three hepatitis B shots and a second measles (or MMR) shot;

Documents that show your child’s name & age: A birth certificate or passport, baptism certificate duly attested. When none of the foregoing is obtainable, an affidavit by the parent, guardian, or custodian of the minor or any other appropriate means for proving the age of the child; and

Proof that your child lives in the school district: School district residents must provide a current utility bill (such as gas, telephone, water, garbage, or cable TV), close of escrow papers, or recently signed rental/lease agreement (with name, address and telephone number of lessor). The parent/guardian must provide proof of residency as determined by the district, along with an Affidavit of Residence Form for each subsequent year.



The U.S. Supreme Court in Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982), invalidated a Texas law authorizing school districts to bar undocumented immigrant students from public elementary and secondary schools. The Court stated that undocumented immigrant students have the same right to free public education as U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents under the Fourteenth Amendment. Undocumented immigrant students are obligated, as are all other students, to attend school until they reach the age mandated by state law. Further, public schools and school personnel are prohibited under Plyler from adopting policies or taking actions that would

'What Schools Can Do & Cannot Do:

As a result of the Plyler ruling, public schools may not:

  • deny admission to a student during initial enrollment or at any other time on the basis of their immigration status;
  • assign a school-generated I.D. number;
  • allow participation in special programs including bilingual education, special education, Head Start, etc.;
  • be aware that they have no legal obligation to enforce U.S. immigration laws; and
  • provide language access services to Limited English Proficient families, such as interpreters for parent-teacher conferences.

Recommendations for Public Schools:

Public Schools should:

  • act to preserve the right of access to public education;
  • assign a school-generated I.D. number;
  • allow participation in special programs including bilingual education, special education, Head Start, etc.;
  • be aware that they have no legal obligation to enforce U.S. immigration laws; and
  • provide language access services to Limited English Proficient families, such as interpreters for parent-teacher conferences.


Currently, the Plyler decision stands as good law and prohibits the exclusion of undocumented immigrant students from public elementary and secondary schools; in the case of legal foreign students, however, the federal government expressly allows the exclusion of legal foreign students from public schools.

F-1 visas (student visas) In 1996, Congress passed a law that restricted legal foreign students with F-1 visas from admissions to U.S. public elementary and secondary schools. Under current federal law, students with F-1 visas are:

  • prohibited from attending public elementary schools or publicly-funded adult education programs;
  • limited to twelve months of secondary school attendance; and
  • required to pay the secondary schools the full, unsubsidized cost of education (The full, unsubsidized cost of education is the cost of providing education to each student in the

school district where the public school is located. Costs normally range between $3,000 and $10,000).

The above restrictions apply to these legal foreign students with F-1 status who:

  • need an I-20 to study in the U.S.;
  • leave the United States and want to return to continue their studies; and
  • want to transfer from a private school or program into a public school.

The restrictions do not apply to the following legal foreign students with:

  • another visa status, such as J-1 (foreign exchange), J-2 (dependents of J-1) , F-2 (dependent of F-1), L-1 (visa available to employees of an international company with offices in both a home country and the United States), M-2 (defendant of M-1 ), G-4 (visa granted to officers or employees of international organizations and members of their immediate families), or students whose parents are in the U.S. as diplomats or researchers;
  • F-1 status who attend private schools, training or language programs;
  • F-1 status who were attending public schools when the law came into effect on November 30, 1996; and
  • expired F-1 visas.

Special restriction on B visa (visitor visa) holders

Federal law does place restrictions on other types of visas which are not designated as student visas. For example, prior to September 11, 2001, there were no restrictions placed on B-1 visa holders who enrolled in a course of study. However, in 2002, the federal law changed so that a student holding a B-1 visa who attempts to enroll in a public elementary or secondary school in the U.S. would be in violation of the terms and conditions of her/his visa. This law, however, does not have any impact on undocumented immigrant students (e.g. students who became undocumented by overstaying her/his visa).

Student visa categories which lawfully permit legal foreign students to attend public school:

Aside from the previously mentioned F-1 and B-1 visa categories, there are several other visa categories under which the vast majority of non-citizens and their children enter the U.S. If a student has obtained one of these visas which lawfully permit her/him to attend public school, s/he may not be denied a public education and may lawfully attend her/his school. Below is a description of the student visa categories which summarizes restrictions on public education.


Visa Type Eligible For K to 12 Public Schools
F-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa issued to a legal foreign student who is coming to the U.S. to pursue full-time studies in a U.S. academic instuition No, unless one limits study at a public school to 1 year and pays full reimbursement for the total cost of the education ahead of time
B-1/B-2 visa is issued to a legal foreign visitor having residence in a foreign country which s/he has no intention of abandoning and who is visiting the U.S. temporarily for business or pleasure. No, unless one obtains an F-1 or M-1 student visa.
Derivative visa is issued to dependents of primary visa holders. Yes. Student studying on derivative visas, such as F-2, J-2, H-4, or L-2, are not affected by current restrictions.
All other immigrant visas: A, E, G, H-1, J-4, K, L, N, NATO, O-1, O-3, R or V. Yes. Once student’s immigrant status has been verified, the student may then establish state residency by meeting the residency criteria.
Undocumented immigrants
Anyone who came to the U.S. without inspection or overstayed her/his visa.
Pending beneficiaries under 245(i) and their families who have not been able to obtain legal status or adjust their status

Yes, under Plyler.

Post-secondary Education

Post-secondary education includes any education beyond secondary school. This includes community colleges, vocational training, four-year colleges, online colleges, graduate and professional schools such as medical school and law school. In California, there are three kinds of public institutions: University of California (UC) system schools, California State University (CSU) system schools, and community colleges. UC and CSU systems offer 4-year programs that offer some Bachelor’s degrees. Given the great difference in tuition, some students choose to attend a community college and plan on transferring to a 4-year college later to save money.


Degree School Years of Schooling
Certificate Community College/Trade School

Six months to two years

Associate's Community College Two years
Bachelor's Four-year College or University Four years
Master's University Two years
Doctorate University Two to eight years
Professional Specialized School Two to five years

FOR U.S. CITIZENS AND LPRS,the admission process is straightforward. You apply, get accepted, choose your school, and enroll in classes. U.S. CITIZENS, LPRS, AND CERTAIN NON-IMMIGRANT/IMMIGRANT VISA HOLDERS (see CALIFORNIA RESIDENCE REQUIREMENTS for more information) can get in-state tuition if s/he satisfies residence requirements under California law.

LEGAL FOREIGN STUDENTS coming from abroad to attend college in the U.S. may have student visas. Each student obtains an I-20 from the college and uses this document to apply for a F visa at a U.S. consulate. Upon receipt of a F visa, s/he may enter the U.S. and begin college studies.

Even if you do not have a F visa, certain visa types may allow you to attend college. In other cases, such as the B visa (visitor’s visa), you may not be able to enroll in a college because doing so would break the visa’s restrictions.


Under California law, a person who is married or 18 years of age or older may establish residency if s/he;

  • is a U.S citizen, LPR, or can establish residency under immigration law;
  • has lived in California continuously for at least one year and one day before the semester begins; and
  • can prove that they intend to make California her/his permanent home with concurrent relinquishment of the prior legal residence.

The following visa holders may establish domicile and may qualify for in-state tuition one year after date of approval: A-1, A-2, A-3, E-1, E-2, G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, H-1, H-4, I, K-1,K-2, K-3, K-4, L-1, L-2, N-8, N-9, NATO-1 thru NATO-7, O-1, O-3, Q-2, R-1, R-2, S-5, S-6, T, T-1, T-2, T-3, T-4 and V-1, V-2, V-3. Also a qualified person needs to submit a copy of the current visa (I-94) or USCIS approval letter (I-130, I-817, I-140).


A common misconception in our community is that undocumented students cannot attend college. This is not true. Although the Plyler decision does not necessarily extend to undocumented immigrant student access to higher education, there is no federal or state law that prohibits them from attending public colleges or universities.

In California, students CANNOT be prevented from attending a public college or university solely based on their immigration status. Also, 10 states, including California, New York, and Illinois, allow undocumented immigrant students to pay in-state tuition. Undocumented immigrant students can attend a California community college, CSU, UC, and many private schools. However, students must be aware that the process for applying can be a complex and expensive process. Undocumented immigrant students should seek guidance before applying for colleges or universities to prevent mistakes that will delay the admissions process.


(As of February 2008, those ten states are: California, Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Washington. With the passage of the Flat-rate Tuition Bill in 2008, Minnesota now offers in-state tuition rates for all students regardless of immigration status at 18 colleges .)



With the passage of AB540 (codified as Cal. Educ. Code 68130.5) in 2001, qualified UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT STUDENTS can pay in-state tuition rates at California public colleges and universities (NOT private schools).


In-State Out-of State
California Community College  $20/unit $173/unit
California State University $3,200/year $13,454/year
University of California $9,142/year $ 24,103/year

Private College/University

Does not provide in-state tuition/
$ 19,000 -36,000/year
(e.g. University of Southern California (USC), Pepperdine, Loyola, etc.)

(The tuition rates are based on 2008 data, and the rates may differ between schools.)


Attend a high school in California for three or more years (non-consecutive);

  • Graduate from a California high school, receive a high school equivalency certificate issued by the California State GED office or receive a Certificate of Proficiency;
  • File the AB540 nonresident tuition exemption request form and sign the confidential affidavit included with the form stating that the student will apply for legal residency as soon as possible; and
  • Not be a non-immigrant holding a visa in one of the following categories: A, B,C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, TN, TD, and V, and TROV and NATO. }}

AB540 eligibility requirements do not explicitly include state residency. Under the law, undocumented immigrant students are NOT required to:

  • show a state-issued ID or Social Security number to apply for admissions to a California college or university;
  • pay out-of-state fees to enroll in a California college or university if they qualify for AB540; or
  • show proof of legal residency status or proof of application pending for legal residency status for themselves or their families.

If an undocumented immigrant student satisfies AB540 eligibility requirements, all s/he has to do is to complete the AB540 form - the “California Nonresident Tuition Exemption Request”- and send it to the college. For more information on how to apply for AB540, check out KRC’s “An Introduction to AB540” pamphlet, available online at

Applying for AB540 Can Expedite Your Admissions Process!

  • AB540 is a well-recognized law - during the 2005-06 academic year, 1,483 students in the UC system were receiving AB540.
  • While some schools may not know how to process an undocumented college applicant, almost all have protocols for, or experience, processing AB540 applicants, because it is codified by law. Things will be smoother once the school is aware that you will request the AB540 exemption.


Status Eligible for in-state tuition?
Undocumented Immigrant Students who attended three or more years and graduated from a California high school or took the GED. YES, they qualify for in-statetuition rates based on AB540.
IMMIGRANTS AND CERTAIN NON-IMMIGRANTS who are not precluded from establishing residency in the U.S. Those non-immigrants are: : A-1, A-2, A-3, E-1, E-2, G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, H-1, H-4, I, K-1,K-2, K-3, K-4, L-1, L-2, N-8, N-9, NATO-1 thru NATO-7, O-1, O-3, Q-2, R-1, R-2, S-5, S-6, T, T-1, T-2, T-3, T-4 and V-1, V-2, V-3 visa holders.* They MAY qualify for in-state tuition rates AS LONG AS the student can prove residency under state law and immigration status (must consult an immigration attorney if you are not residing in California).

NO, they need to pay out-of-state tuition rates and may need to change visa type (must consult an immigration attorney).


While it is possible for undocumented immigrant students to attend post-secondary educational institutions, most of the higher education system was not designed with these students in mind; applications have dozens of questions that don’t apply to these undocumented immigrant students, admissions officers will assume the student is a citizen, LPR, legal foreign student, and so on. There are a couple things undocumented immigrant students should keep in mind when applying for colleges:

  • Do not lie. Students feel confused when asked to list their immigration status on the application, but none of the choices are “undocumented,” and often choose “Permanent Resident” or “I am in the process of becoming a Permanent Resident.” Lying about immigration status could make the student deportable, and may count against her/him if there is a future opportunity for legalization.
  • Whenever possible, do not mention or show evidence that you are undocumented. If the student qualifies for AB540, her/his best option is to keep saying, “I am an AB540 student,” to all questions about her/his status. This will make the process less troublesome.
  • Watch out for signs showing that the admissions office is categorizing the student as an “international student (legal foreign student).” When this happens, try to rectify it. The student may have to say that s/he is undocumented.

How to file applications

  • Filing the college admissions application is similar to any other application. If an undocumented immigrant student is applying to a public university, s/he should file the domestic (U.S. Citizen) student application. For private colleges, it’s easier to file the international (legal foreign) student application.
  • On most applications, there will be a handful of questions about the student’s immigration status. Some examples are “What is your SSN?” and “What is your visa status?” Do not answer these questions: leave them empty.
  • Online applications are hard to complete because schools use an automated system that refuses blank answers. At the UC system, an undocumented immigrant student can choose “No Selection” as her/his country of citizenship, and then the system allows other fields to be left empty. Use your best judgment in deciding which questions to skip. Ultimately, if the online application does not work, file the paper application.

Talking with admission officers

  • If an undocumented immigrant student applies to community colleges, the schools may require the student to appear in person at their offices to turn in the applications. When the student turns in the application, admission officers review the application to ensure that it is complete. If the student’s application is not complete, admission officers may ask the student a lot of questions.
  • If the student qualifies for AB540, s/he should state, “I am an AB540 student.” It is also advised to complete an AB540 form in advance and provide it to the admissions offices. If the student doesn’t qualify for AB540, or if it doesn’t work, the student should say that s/he does not hold a B-2 or F-1 visa (that’s what schools are most concerned about). An undocumented immigrant student should save the “I’m undocumented” response until there are no other options.
  • Also, an undocumented immigrant student should never show admission officers her/his original passport. Prepare a photocopy of the first page (the one with a picture) and present it if they request an ID.
  • Sometimes UCs or CSUs may contact an undocumented immigrant student applicant via phone or email and ask her/him the same questions. Respond in the same way.

After you apply

Some admissions offices will send an undocumented immigrant student applicant mail or email asking her/him to complete the remaining information. Often they ask the student for proof that s/he has applied to become a permanent resident, along with other documents. However, failing to provide such proof should not affect admissions. Please contact KRC or NAKASEC for further assistance.


For most families in America, a college education is much more expensive than what they can afford. For this reason, many consider affordability factors when applying to colleges. Many immigrant families are not aware that in America’s higher education system, there exists a financial assistance system to assists working families.


Most financial aids available for college students are for U.S. Citizens and LPRs. However, a number of private colleges offer similar financial aid packages out of their own budget for legal foreign students, and while most are not need-blind and very competitive, a very small number are need-blind for financial aid seeking students, as well. Note: legal foreign students can only apply for financial aid as first year (freshman) students - not as transfer students.


While schools cannot provide undocumented students with federal financial aid because it’s considered to be government benefits, private foundations are not bound by this restriction. A list of scholarships prepared by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) that may be available to all immigrant students is online at Most scholarship award amounts are in the $500-$2,000 range.

Even if a foundation requests a Social Security number, this may be for identification purposes and not necessarily a sign that the scholarship is only for U.S. citizens. If a student finds a scholarship and if it requires a Social Security number, the student should ask the foundation if the Social Security number of a relative can be submitted in lieu of the student’s. If yes, it means that the social security number is needed only for identification purposes; find a relative or a friend and ask them to help you apply for the scholarship. If not, it probably means that the scholarship is for U.S. citizens and permanent residents only.


Similarly, private banks may offer loans as long as there is a U.S. citizen or LPR co-signer. More information is available at http://


While no private college explicitly offers need-based financial aid to undocumented immigrant students, their funds are not bound by federal restrictions. Students may be able to request and obtain financial aid from the college’s funds.


The DREAM Act, a bill that has been discussed since 2001, would grant undocumented immigrant students seeking higher education, temporary legal status equivalent to a permanent resident.

Undocumented immigrant students would be able to apply for federal financial aid and have all the legal protections all other students have when entering college. Temporary legal status is granted twice for 3 years each, during which the student must finish 2 years of college. Upon graduating from college, students may apply for legal permanent residency status.

(Together, We Build America’s Future – National Mobilization of APAs for Immigration Reform Rally, May Day, 2007)

The requirements for temporary status are that the undocumented immigrant student must have:

  • lived in the U.S. for 5 years or more by the date the DREAM Act is enacted;
  • been 15 years old or younger when entering the U.S.; and
  • “good moral conduct,” meaning you must not have a criminal record.

Optionally, a qualified undocumented person can attend the military for two years instead of attending college. The DREAM Act has not passed yet, but it came very close to passage in October 2007, when it failed a cloture vote by 52 yeas and 44 nays (it needed 60 yeas to continue to the next step, which would surely have been a successful vote on the DREAM Act itself).

If the DREAM Act passes, approximately 360,000 undocumented high school graduates between the ages of 18-24 would be immediately eligible for conditional legal status and about 715,000 youth between the ages of 5-17 would become eligible in the future.

California DREAM Act

This bill would allow AB540 qualified students to receive financial aid. The precise programs vary slightly every year and to get most up-to-date information, contact NAKASEC. To date, it has been consistently introduced since 2002, and has passed both houses yet failed to secure the signature of the Governor. Similar bills are being debated in other states as well.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR)

The term “comprehensive immigration reform” (CIR) refers to a package of policy recommendations to overhaul the broken immigration system - legalization for all, elimination of immigration backlogs & preservation of the family-based immigration system, protection of worker rights, due process and civil liberties. There have been several versions of a CIR bill introduced in Congress, each of which included the provisions within the DREAM Act

Join ORAnGE!

ORAnGE (Organize, Rise Up, Act ‘N’ Get Empowered) is KRC's youth group that meets regularly to study and act on social justice issues impacting young people. A priority for ORAnGE is ensuring full and equal access to public education for all young people in the U.S.

Formed in 2005, ORAnGE has participated in solidarity work with the black community in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, produced a short film for the DREAM Act, and launched the DREAM postcard campaign (available at, through which thousands of cards have been sent to date.

Visit or call KRC at 323-937-3718 to find out more about ORAnGE meetings, which are open to all young people. Let’s not just dream about the DREAM Act, let’s act!

{{box|DREAM Postcard Campaign|

Help send postcards to Congress to educate them about the higher education dreams of thousands of young people in the Korean American community!

  • On the same website, download an electronic copy (PDF) of the petition. Get your friends and people around you to sign it, and send it to us via fax, mail or email!
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