AB540 Scholarships are based on California state law AB540 Assemble Bill 540 which became law in 2001, AB540 allows students to be exempt from paying non-resident college or university fees when they are a non-resident (no US citizenship) student, non-resident tuition fees are much higher than resident tuition fees so it's always preferable to pay the resident tuition fees or get a scholarship to cover the cheaper resident tuition fees.
To be eligible for AB540 students will need to have attended a high school in California and graduate high school with a high school diploma, it should be mentioned that being non-resident does not mean that you are not living in the state of California, it just means that you do not have US resident rights as declared on your visa.
Claim AB540 Status
To claim AB540 status students will have needed to attended a California high school for more than three years or have attained an elementary or secondary school in California for more than three years or attended a mix of California high schools, elementary schools and secondary schools for a total of three or more years.
Get Lower Tuition Fees
To obtain the lower tuition fees for California residents, non-resident students will also need to be enrolled or register for public higher education in the state of California at an accredited college or university and must file an affidavit to say that the student will apply for residency as soon as possible and must not have a non-immigrant visa (A,E,F,H,L) , the reason being is that if the student does have a non-immigrant visa then their residency in California has been legalised and AB540 is for students whose visa status or lack of visa means they are non-residents living in the state of California.
Common Reasons Students are Denied AB540
The most common reason that non-resident students are denied AB540 and reduced tuition fees is because they have not attended a Californian high school for three years of course just because the student is not granted AB540 status does not mean that they cannot go to study at a California college or university or indeed any college or university in the United States it just means that the student will be denied the lower resident level of tuition fees and must pay the non-resident and therefore higher tuition fees.
Sign An Affidavit
Students wishing to apply for AB540 must sign an affidavit, this is a legal declaration that proves the student has been attending a Californian high school for three years and that the student will apply for residency, in a way AB540 is just giving the student the right to resident tuition early, as the student is applying for residency they would eventually get residence and be able to claim the lower tuition fees so this enables students who are non-resident to start at college or university on their degree programme and not have to find the additional money for the higher non-resident tuition fees but are able to access the cheaper resident tuition fees straight away.
Non-resident students can either graduate from high school in California or have the equivalent level of education from a mix of secondary and elementary schools and obtained the high school Equivalency Certificate which is issued by California General Education Department (California GED) or taken the California High School Proficiency Examination and received a Certificate of Competency.
AB540 Application Form
When the student completes the AB540 application form they will need to list all schools that the student has attended in grades 9-12 and include a high school transcript for each of these schools.
The student must submit the affidavit to the courts before they enrol at a college or university in the state of California, the affidavit provides the legal protection to the colleges and universities you might consider enrolling at that they can consider you as a potential student on their degree course because the affidavit ensures them that you are either getting your residency status legalised or applying for residency, otherwise the college or university would have to by law charge you the non-resident tuition fees, so the affidavit along with your AB540 application legally shows the colleges and universities that you are in the process of applying for residency and it would not be a crime to consider you as a resident student for the purposes of tuition cost.
AB540 Non-Resident Tuition Exemption
AB540 non-resident tuition exemption ensures the colleges and universities that you are not a non-immigrant alien (this is the term used by law AB540) and means that you do not have lawful immigration status. Note that students who indicate on the affidavit that they are a non-immigrant alien will not be granted AB540 status to claim reduced tuition costs (residency tuition costs) and will have to instead pay the more expensive non-resident tuition costs.
Foreign students or exchange students are considered non-immigrant aliens because they are not immigrants, the student is in the United States on a student visa, student visa holding students visiting the United States would be classed as non-immigrant aliens and be unable to claim AB540 reduced tuition fees for resident students and would instead have to pay the full non-resident tuition fees.
Students must sign the affidavit under penalty of perjury, this is a legal term meaning that if the student has lied (told something which is not true) on the documentation then a crime will have been committed and the student could be convicted of that crime. AB540 is only applicable in the state of California, USA and the state laws governing the affidavit will be those of California, as well as the affidavit California state colleges and universities will also require documentary evidence that you attended high school in California and graduated, that would usually mean that at the time of enrolment at college or university in California you will have to show your high school transcripts to the colleges and universities you are applying too, if you haven't attended a Californian high school for the required minimum of three years then the mix of elementary schools and secondary schools in California that you did attend will also be considered (provided that in total you have studied at those schools for three or more years and graduated with a GED or similar).
Apply for a Place at a Californian State College or University
AB540 students should apply for a place at a Californian state college or university and submit the affidavit and the school transcripts once the student has been offered a place and before tuition fees are paid. Students paying higher rate non-resident tuition fees because they have not correctly submitted the affidavit and supporting high school transcripts will not be able to claim money paid back if AB540 status is later granted, so it's important to claim AB540 status with the affidavit before the student pays college or university course fees.
Non-resident students who do not have AB540 status are referred to as undocumented students, it's not just California that has AB540 to grant non-resident students the right to resident level and therefore cheaper fees, other states allow a student to turn their undocumented status into a resident equivalent status for the purposes of tuition fees, students will still need to sigh an affidavit and submit school transcripts for the minimum three years period, other states do not have the same statute codes as California so will not call their law AB540 like California, but other states with similar ways to establish a non-resident student as resident for the purposes of tuition fees include Illinois, New York, Washington, Texas, Utah, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Wisconsin. If you are a California student and have successfully applied for AB540 you cannot use your AB540 in another state, even if the state has its own version of reduced fees for non-residents, students who have a AB540 and wish to study at college or university outside California will not be able to claim resident status even if they have AB540.
Students and their families who are living in the USA are called undocumented, you may fear being deported if you tell anyone about your immigration status but there are specific laws to protect students so that they can tell the education authorities about their immigration status without the fear of being deported, this law is called FERPA the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act which is a federal law that protects the privacy of educational records so the education departments that the student must deal with in applying for AB540 cannot by law reveal details of the student to any other authority, as this is a federal law it applies across the entire United States and not just California like the AB540 act.
Whilst you are applying for university or college the student should not tell the educational authorities that they are a US citizen when they are not, should the student say that they are a US citizen when the student signs the affidavit that is seen by the college or university revealing their true immigration status the act of lying about immigration status will have been discovered and lying about immigration status is grounds for immediate deportation.
Undocumented students can call upon a number of agencies to help them which include the Asian American Legal Defence and Education Fund (AALDEF), Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California (APALC), Central American Resource Center - Centro De Recursos Centroamericanos (CARECEN), Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), Mexican American Legal Defence and Education Fund (MALDEF), National Immigration Law Center (NILC), National Legal Sanctuary for Community Advancement (NLSCA) and the Salvadoran American Leadership and Educational Fund (SALEF). All these agencies will help undocumented students obtain AB540 and explain to the students the rights they have and how to exercise their rights, these organisations have a great deal of experience in helping undocumented students obtain a college or university place to study for a degree and in obtaining legal immigration status for the student and their families.
Whilst the student and their family may be concerned that they are undocumented and at risk from deportation there are specific laws to protect their rights like the FERBA act, many thousands of undocumented students each year apply for AB540 and obtain a place at college or university and go on to completing their degree and as part of this process legalise their immigration status, in fact pursuing higher education is one of the known routes to formalising your immigration status to remain in the United States.
Once the right to receive an education has been established with the fees charged those of California residents rather than non-residents so the cost of the education is cheaper and you have the legal right to attend and live in the state of California, money will still be needed to pay for the education, once the student has been accepted by AB540 they have the same rights to apply for scholarships as any resident student and can apply for all scholarships open to them, for ethnic minority students scholarships like the UNCF scholarship or NAACP scholarships should be investigated and of course students will be eligible to apply for federal grants like the Pell grant, gifted students who have the highest grades can apply for the Fulbright scholarship and Bill Gates scholarships, these scholarships are all free to apply, all it takes is the time to make the application and with AB540 all these scholarships are open to the potential student.
Undocumented students will have been told by their families from an early age that they must keep their immigration status secret or risk the family being deported, so students will naturally be cautious about revealing their immigration status, applying for AB540 if you are living in the state of California is one of the best ways to secure your college or university place in California and legalise your immigration status, students who are living in other states will find similar laws to AB540 to help them apply for a college place.
Undocumented students dream of getting a degree but fear the process because of risk of deportation to themselves or their family, many thousands of undocumented students successfully apply for AB540 and are able to obtain a degree, unsuccessful students are still protected by the FERBA act so should not fear applying for AB540.