Saving Green with a Green Card: The Cost of Attending a State University as a Legal Permanent Resident Compared to an F-1

Many people come to United States to attend one of our world renowned universities.  Thankfully, there are many high quality universities in the United States that are predominantly funded by state governments, making a world-class education affordable for residents of that state.  Many of these state universities are ranked among the best in the world, including the University of California, Berkeley (“U.C. Berkeley”), the University of California, Los Angeles (“UCLA”), the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor, and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.   Unfortunately, the discounted in-state resident tuition is unavailable to those on F-1 status – nearly all states require legal permanent residence or citizenship in order to take advantage of the in-state resident discount. In this article, we will analyze the potential savings a student can receive by attending a university as a legal permanent resident as opposed to an F-1 student.

U.C. Berkeley is generally regarded as the best public University in the United States.  The in-state resident tuition for a legal permanent resident (or citizen) at U.C. Berkeley is currently $14,460 per year.  Tuition for a nonresident F-1 student is currently $37,338 per year.  This means that the F-1 student pays nearly triple the amount of tuition per year when compared to the student who is a legal permanent resident.  Over the course of a four-year university program, the green card holder would have saved $91,514 over her F-1 status classmate.

Generally, for many states including California, in order to receive resident classification, a person must have been domiciled in the state for at least 12 months in addition to possessing legal permanent residence.  Thus, if an immigrant who has never lived in the U.S. receives his green card via consular processing, he cannot immediately come over to California and partake in the discounted resident student rate.   He must live in the state for at least 12 months.

Fortunately, time spent as an F-1 student in the state can be counted towards the one year in-state residency requirement and time spent in the state as a legal permanent resident will also count as well.  To illustrate the potential savings for a student who acquires in-state residency during his University career, let us use UCLA as an example:

At UCLA, the resident tuition is currently $13,910.21 per year.  The nonresident tuition is currently $36,788.21 per year.  Let us imagine that John the Student and his mother have just come over to the United States after receiving their green cards through consular processing[1].  Even though John is a legal permanent resident, he has not been a resident of the state of California for 12 months, and must therefore pay the nonresident tuition of $36,788.21 for his freshman year.  However, beginning his sophomore year he would be a California state resident for one year and thus he would be eligible to pay the discounted resident student tuition of $13,910.21 for his remaining three years.  This would net John a savings of $68,634 over those three years.  Of course these savings would have been even more significant if John and his mother had come to the United States during his high school years in order to satisfy the one-year residency requirement before he attended University.  However, the fact that he can earn credit toward his one-year in-state residency during his freshman year will still give him significant savings during his last three years of attendance.

Furthermore, for families that have acquired legal permanent residence through an EB5 petition, the savings from the in-state resident tuition can offset a portion of the investment amount.  For example, if a family made an investment of $500,000 into an EB5 Regional Center, they would gain approximately 20% of this investment back in the savings they would earn from the lower tuition fees over their child’s four year university career.

Overall, for students who are considering attending a public university in the United States, it would be worthwhile to explore legal permanent residency because of the tremendous savings that come with in-state resident tuition.

[1] In California it is much easier to qualify for the in-state resident tuition rate if one, or both of your parents are residing in the state with you.