A student must be a citizen or eligible noncitizen to receive aid from Federal Student Aid programs. The general requirement for eligible noncitizens is that they be in the U.S. with the intention of becoming a citizen or lawful permanent resident, as evidenced by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The USCIS was briefly known as the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services or BCIS, and before that, it was the Immigration and Naturalization Service, or INS. We use DHS within this text, and we also refer to USCIS since it is the actual agency that handles immigration matters.

Eligible Status

  • A U.S. citizen or national
  • A U.S. permanent resident
  • Citizens of the Freely Associated States: the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republics of Palau and the Marshall Islands
  • Other eligible noncitizens

The Department of Education performs matches against the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application to verify the student's citizenship status.

Documents That Establish Aid Eligibility

The standard document for a permanent resident of the United States is the Permanent Resident Card (Form I-551 since 1997) or Resident Alien Card (Form I-551 before 1997). Both forms are referred to colloquially as "green cards," though they are not green. Permanent residents holding the older Alien Registration Receipt Card (Form I-151, issued prior to June 1978) should have replaced it with a newer card, but for receiving FSA funds, it remains acceptable as evidence of permanent residence.

Permanent residents may also present an Arrival/Departure Record (CBP Form I-94) or the new Departure Record (Form I-94A, which is used at land border ports of entry) with the endorsement "Processed for I-551. Temporary Evidence of Lawful Admission for Permanent Residence. Valid until ____________. Employment Authorized." The form will have an A-Number annotated on it and is acceptable if the expiration date has not passed.

Conditional entrants will have a stamp indicating the student has been admitted to the U.S. as a conditional entrant. Because the DHS stopped using this category after March 31, 1980, Federal Student Aid funds cannot be disbursed to a student having an I-94 with conditional entrant status granted after that date.

Parolees must have a stamp indicating that the student has been paroled into the United States for at least one year, with a date that has not expired. (Federal student aid cannot be disbursed after the document has expired.)

Cuban-Haitian entrants will have a stamp across the face of the I-94 indicating that the student has been classified as a "Cuban-Haitian Entrant (Status Pending). Reviewable Jan. 15, 1981. Employment authorized until Jan. 15, 1981." Note that a document showing that the holder is a Cuban-Haitian entrant is valid even if the expiration date has passed.

Refugees may have a Form I-94 or I-94A annotated with a stamp showing admission under Section 207 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). They may also have the old Refugee Travel Document (Form I-571) or the new U.S. Travel Document mentioned above annotated with "Refugee Travel Document Form I-571 (Rev. 9-2-03)."

Victims of human trafficking are entitled to the same benefits as refugees under the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA). Because this status is certified by the HHS and not the DHS, these students will not pass the DHS match, and the normal paper secondary confirmation does not apply.

The spouse, child, or parent of a trafficking victim might be eligible for aid. He or she will not have a certification letter but will have a T-visa (e.g., T-2 or T-3).

Asylees will have an I-94 or I-94A with a stamp showing admission under Section 208 of the INA. They may also have the same travel documents described under refugees above.

More information from the U.S. Department of Education regarding who qualifies as an eligible non-U.S. Citizen can be found here.