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Immigration and Education: Answers to Common Questions

This article answers common questions about immigration and education, with a focus on issues related to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This article was written by American Gateways.

If my children are here in the U.S. but are undocumented, can they attend school and get a K-12 education?

Undocumented children in the United States have the same rights as any other child to a primary and secondary education. Plyler vs. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982). Parents or guardians should follow state education laws about minors' education. In Texas, unless your child falls into a specific exception, the state requires children between the ages of six and 18 to attend school. Texas Education Code chapter 25.085.

Do I need legal status to apply for or attend college?

No. Anyone in the United States, whether undocumented or not, may attend colleges and universities. Speak to an admissions officer first to determine what specific steps you need to take to apply and enroll, as well as whether you qualify for state and federal financial aid.

Do I need legal status to file a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and get federal student aid?

Yes. Only people with certain statuses in the United States may receive FEDERAL financial aid for higher education. People eligible to receive federal student financial aid include:

  • U.S. citizens
  • Permanent residents (green card holders)
  • People that have an Arrival-Departure document (I-94) with these statuses:
    • Refugee
    • Asylum granted
    • Cuban-Haitian entrant (status pending)
    • Conditional entrant (valid only if issued before April 1, 1980)
    • Parolee
    • Those with a battered or crime victim immigrant status (U visa and/or VAWA deferred action status) and their children
    • T visa holder

For more information check Many non-U.S. citizens qualify for federal student aid.


What kind of student financial aid can undocumented students apply for?

Some states and universities have dedicated funds for undocumented students. Texas does allow eligible undocumented students to receive state aid. To qualify for state aid, students must submit the Texas Application for Financial Aid, and prove they are Texas residents. 

Higher education institutions also offer financial aid in the form of merit-based academic scholarships. Some schools participate in programs that award need-based grants and scholarships. Contact your academic institution for more information.

Do all undocumented students pay out-of-state tuition rates for college?

It depends on the state where you go to college. The Texas Dream Act of 2001 provides in-state tuition at Texas colleges and universities for undocumented students if they meet certain requirements:

  • Graduated from a Texas high school, or earned a high school equivalency diploma (GED) in Texas.
  • Lived in Texas for three years before enrolling in a Texas higher education institution.
  • Signed an affidavit (sworn statement) saying that they will seek legal residency as soon as possible.

What kind of immigration relief is available for undocumented students?

Currently, undocumented students may apply to receive Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) if they meet the requirements. To be eligible for DACA, applicants must:

  • Have arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday;
  • Have continuously resided in the U.S. since June 15, 2007;
  • Have been physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012 (the date DACA was announced);
  • Have had no lawful status as of June 15, 2012;
  • Have been under age 30 as of June 15, 2012;
  • Currently be in school; have graduated high school or completed a GED; or be an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or the U.S. Armed Forces;
  • Have not been convicted of a felony, one significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanor offenses that do not arise from a single event or misconduct;
  • Not pose a threat to public safety or national security.

For more information about the requirements to qualify for DACA, see Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).  


What will happen to DACA under the new presidential administration?

The answer to this question is unclear. The current President signaled that he might end DACA, but has not said what action—if any—he plans to take against DACA applicants and recipients. However, most immigrant rights groups agree that first-time DACA applicants should wait to file their applications until there is more information about the President’s plans. People renewing their deferred action status can still apply—but they might lose their filing fees if the program ends. All DACA recipients and DACA-eligible individuals should pay close attention to the news (or talk to an immigration lawyer) for the most up-to-date information.

What kind of benefits do DACA student recipients get?

DACA is not a permanent immigration status, and does not offer a path to citizenship. However, students who are granted deferred action status under DACA get certain benefits, including:

  • Temporary protection from deportation, which can be renewed every two years*
  • Permission to work legally in the U.S.
  • The ability to obtain a social security card and state ID or driver’s license

Note that the current DACA programs can change and even cease to exist at the president's discretion. Be mindful of changes implemented by the new administration in early 2017.

Is DACA a path to citizenship?

No. DACA does not grant legal status. It delays deportation for two years if it is granted, so it must be renewed every two years.

Can I travel abroad with my DACA status?

No. DACA does not give you legal status. DACA recipients should not leave the U.S. unless they are granted an exception known as advance parole.

Advance parole is given for academic, work, and/or humanitarian purposes, and evidence must be submitted before you leave the country. Talk to an immigration attorney for more information and to see if you qualify for Advance Parole.

Can DACA recipients participate in study abroad programs?

DACA recipients may apply to receive advance parole in order to be readmitted into the U.S. But, advance parole must be granted before you leave the U.S., and is only valid through its expiration. There are many potential risks DACA students may encounter if they study abroad and try to get readmitted into the U.S.

Talk to an immigration attorney for help applying for advance parole.

Once I am granted DACA deferred action status, when should I renew it?

Your DACA status is only valid for two years. 

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recommends you renew your DACA status 120 to 150 days before the expiration date on your DACA approval notice and/or Employment Authorization Card. Renewing during this timeframe increases your chances of having your DACA status renewed before your deferred action status expires. To renew, applicants must submit a new set of forms and pay a fee. Failure to renew your DACA will leave you without legal status once your DACA expires. Talk to an immigration attorney to help you renew your deferred action status.