Students With Undocumented, Noncitizen Parents Unable to Complete FAFSA

A systemwide error has made it impossible for many students with undocumented or noncitizen parents to finish their FAFSA form.
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Matthew Arrojas is a news reporter at BestColleges covering higher education issues and policy. He previously worked as the hospitality and tourism news reporter at the South Florida Business Journal. He also covered higher education policy issues as...
Published on January 24, 2024
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  • The new FAFSA form launched on Dec. 30 with a litany of issues.
  • Some problems have since been resolved, but one remains without any workaround.
  • The issue could potentially cause students with parents who are not U.S. citizens to lose out on state or institutional financial aid.
  • There is no estimated timeline for when the issue will be resolved.

The rollout of the 2024-25 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has been rocky, but perhaps more so for U.S. students whose parents are either undocumented or not U.S. citizens.

Many students across the U.S. have reported issues with the new Simplified FAFSA form since it soft-launched on Dec. 30, 2023. Federal Student Aid (FSA) has ironed out some of the initial issues, but one significant error continues to hold many students with undocumented or noncitizen parents from filling out and submitting their FAFSA.

State and institutional deadlines for financial aid applications are fast approaching, so without a fix, these students could lose out on grants to help fund their college education.

Specifically, the issue impacts all students with a parent who does not have a Social Security number.

According to FSA, if a parent without a Social Security number tries to start a FAFSA form for a student, they will instead see an error message that says the parent is unauthorized to act on behalf of the student since they already have a 24-25 FAFSA form, even if the student has not started the form yet.

Additionally, a parent without a Social Security number cannot contribute to an existing FAFSA, even if the student starts the form and invites their parent to contribute.

No workaround exists.

A student may start the application, but the parent will not be able to contribute the parent information, FSA said in a running report of FAFSA issues. The student and parent will be able to complete the 2024-25 FAFSA form online once the issue is resolved.

An FSA representative addressed the issue during a Thursday Q&A with financial aid administrators. However, the representative did not give an estimated date for a fix, saying only that FSA will update financial aid administrators once there is a solution.

David Tolman, instructional design and content specialist at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), said in NASFAA's Off the Cuff podcast that the issue persists if at least one parent doesn't have a Social Security number. Even if that parent isn't the primary contributor, students and their families will reach a roadblock when trying to plug in demographic information for the second parent.

Unfortunately ... there is not a fix, Tolman said. We are all — especially the students and families — waiting for the Department [of Education] to resolve this issue.

Corinne Kentor, federal policy and communications associate at the Presidents' Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, told BestColleges that there is another reported issue preventing parents without a Social Security number from creating an FSA ID. This hangup is another issue the Department of Education (ED) must address, or else students of these parents won't be able to complete their FAFSA.

MorraLee Keller, senior director of strategic programming at the National College Attainment Network, said during a Wednesday webinar co-hosted by the Presidents’ Alliance that this issue doesn’t affect all parents without a social security number.

However, it does seem to affect the majority of these parents, she said.

Additionally, Kentor worries these roadblocks could cause students to never submit their form.

One of the big worries is that this will have a chilling effect on students completing their FAFSA altogether, she said.

If and when ED eventually finds a fix to the issues, Kentor said it will take persistent messaging to ensure affected students return to the form to complete it. This places a heavy burden on many high school guidance counselors leading first-time applicants through the process.

Astou Thiane, director of policy and advocacy at ImmSchools, said during the webinar that there are approximately 1 million students in the U.S. aged 17 to 21 with at least one undocumented parent.

She added that 81% of all children of undocumented immigrants are U.S. born.

A continued delay may impact how much federal student aid these students can receive.

States and institutions all have individual deadlines to submit a FAFSA for their own aid programs, so weeks or months without a solution to this problem plaguing students with noncitizen parents would impact their eligibility for additional funds. Additionally, some states and institutions award aid on a first-come, first-served basis.