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AB 540 & Undocumented Grad Students

AB 540 & Undocumented Students

UC Davis acknowledges the barriers undocumented students face and is committed to providing students’ access to all levels of higher education that includes AB 540 and undocumented students. New legislation provides the opportunity to admit and fund both AB 540 and specific undocumented graduate students.

UC Davis AB 540 & Undocumented Student Center

UC Davis officially opened its AB 540 & Undocumented Student Center in the Fall of 2014. The Center offers personalized support to undocumented graduate and undergraduates students, their families and communities in overcoming many of the legal, financial, and professional obstacles they may face along the journey of obtaining higher education.

Graduate Student Resources

Establishing Residency for Tuition Purposes

Regulations defining California residence for purposes of tuition and fees are exactly the same for all University of California campuses. The UC Residence Policy Guidelines is provided by the UC Office of the President and endorsed by the UC Office of the General Counsel who is the final authority on residence policy for the UC system. Undocumented students who qualify for AB 540 must gather appropriate documents and fill out a California Nonresident Tuition Exemption Application Affidavit. All documents should be submitted to *DACA students who do not meet AB 540 are not eligible for this exemption.

Financial Support

Financial support for graduate study at UC Davis is available in several forms. Undocumented students who are eligible for AB 540 are encouraged to complete a California Dream Act Application by March 2nd of each year.

Undocumented students who have acquired a work permit from DACA are eligible for financial support through several types of employment offered by the university.

Fellowships are another form of financial support and students are highly encouraged to apply. A few fellowships such as the Ford Foundation's Fellowship Program and the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans have extended their criteria to include students who have been approved for DACA. Popular sites for fellowship include UCLA's Graduate and Postdoctoral Extramural Support (GRAPES) Database and UC Davis Community of Science. Educators for Fair Consideration has compiled comprehensive list of graduate scholarship and fellowships that do not require proof of citizenship or legal permanent residency. Additionally, the AB540 & Undocumented Student Center on our campus has compiled financial resources for students as well.

The University of California Office of the President (UCOP), in partnership with Immigrants Rising, has also created an inclusive toolkit for undocumented students and alumni that provides helpful information about generating income. You can find this resource online here: Income Generation Options for Undocumented Students Toolkit.

Student Support Groups at UC Davis 


Scholars Promoting Education Awareness and Knowledge (S.P.E.A.K.) at UC Davis is a student-run organization focused on supporting and empowering undocumented students at the University of California, Davis. S.P.E.A.K. works to raise awareness on the campus and in the surrounding community of the significant and unique struggles undocumented students experience while completing their undergraduate studies. S.P.E.A.K. also works to create a safe environment where AB 540 students can share their problems and their accomplishments and to empower and help participants financially, emotionally and psychologically. Contact the AB540 & Undocumented Student Center to get connected to S.P.E.A.K.


Asian Studies Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education (ASPIRE) at UC Davis is part of a larger-organization that began by the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco, CA. ASPIRE seeks to support undocumented Asian American immigrants, as well as advocate for a comprehensive immigration bill and other projects affecting undocumented immigrants.

See also resources for Current Graduate Students

Legislation Affecting Undocumented Students 

This section is composed of important information regarding confidentiality, legal battles and legislation that provide historical context of undocumented students in higher education.


The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that protects the privacy of all student education records, no matter of one’s legal status. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education. Undocumented students can be assured that their personal information will not be shared if not authorized to do so by the student. Through FERPA undocumented students can be assured of confidentiality regarding their personal records.


2014 California Dream Loan Program

In May, 2014 California legislators passed the California Dream Loan Program providing the opportunity for certain undocumented students to be eligible for state funded loans to support their higher education goals. Sponsored by Senator Ricardo Lara, SB 1210 will offer the opportunity to UC and CSU undocumented students to apply for student loans to make up for the considerable gap between state or institutional funds offered and the actual budgeted cost to attend a college or university. The California Dream Loan Program will go into effect July 1, 2015.

2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA)

The Secretary of Homeland Security announced that certain people who came to the United States as children and meet several key guidelines may request consideration of Deferred Action for a period of two years, subject to renewal, and would then be eligible for work authorization. Individuals who can demonstrate through verifiable documentation that they meet these guidelines will be considered for Deferred Action. Determinations are made on a case-by-case basis under the guidelines set forth in the Secretary of Homeland Security’s memorandum.

2011 California Dream Act

The California Dream Act, authored by Assembly Member Gil Cedillo and signed by Governor Jerry Brown, is a two part bill that would allow students who meet AB 540 criteria to apply and receive funds from certain state and institutional financial aid programs.

  • Assembly Bill (AB) 131 (January 1, 2013) This bill provides that any student who is exempt from paying nonresident tuition under the AB 130 or who meet equivalent requirements (AB 540) are eligible to apply for, and participate in, any student financial aid program administered by the State of California to the full extent permitted by federal law.
  • Assembly Bill (AB) 130 (January 1, 2012) This bill provides that any student  attending  the California State University, the California Community Colleges or the University of California, who is exempt from paying nonresident tuition under the provision of AB 540, to be eligible to receive funds derived from non-state funds or private funds.
  • Assembly Bill (AB) 540 (2011) Governor Gray Davis signed into law AB 540 (Stats.2001, ch 814) that added a new section, 68130.5, to the California Education Code. Section 68130.5 created a new exemption from payment of non-resident tuition for certain nonresident students who have attended high school in California and received a high school diploma or its equivalent. AB 540 is applicable to both documented and undocumented students. AB 540 does not create a conflict with federal immigration law because paying in-state tuition does not constitute a benefit.

Legal Issues

1982 Plyler v. Doe

The U.S. Supreme Court held that K-12 students, regardless of immigration status, have the right to a K-12 public school education. The Court held that children of undocumented immigrants are protected under the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment. The ruling meant that a state could not force out-of-status immigrant children to pay for public school education. The ruling supported all students, including language minority students, migrant students, and homeless students with meaningful and appropriate educational programs, allowing all students the same benefits and rights of participation regardless of race, color, disability, sex, religion, national origin or age.

1986 Leticia A v. UC Regents and the CSU Board of Trustees

The Alameda County Superior Court ruled that undocumented immigrants that had graduated from a California high school were eligible to attend the University of California (UC) and the California State University (CSU) and avoid out-of-state fees. The decision allowed “Leticia A” students to be treated as residents for tuition and state financial aid purposes. From 1986 to1991 UC students who met state residency requirements were able to receive state financial aid and were charged resident tuition fees.

1991 Bradford v. UC Regents

The Los Angeles Superior Court overturned the previous 1986 Leticia A ruling for both the UC and the CSU systems.

1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act

This act barred undocumented immigrants from receiving any public benefits. This law prevented noncitizens from receiving any type of benefits on the basis on residency, unless the same is offered to U.S. citizens regardless of residency.

1996 Personal Responsibility Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act

This act barred undocumented immigrants from qualifying for any federal, state and local public benefits. Undocumented students were therefore ineligible for federal aid, such as Pell Grants and federal student loans.

2006 Martinez, et al.  v. Regents of the University of California

United States citizens who were forced to pay out-of-state tuition to attend California state colleges and universities, claim that to the extent section 68130.5 (AB 540) applies to persons not in this country lawfully, it violates (or, to use a term that might be used at oral argument, is “preempted by”) federal immigration law in various ways.