In the US, federal financial aid is only available to US citizens and eligible non-citizens such as refugees, conditional entrants, Cuban-Haitian entrants, victims of human trafficking, U.S. nationals, permanent residents with a Permanent Resident Card, and a select few other groups.
This answer leaves many of my international students from low-income families frustrated. However, it opens up the conversation for other ways to come up with funding for their education. The first place I tell my students to look is directly on the website of their desired institution's financial aid centre. Oftentimes colleges and universities are looking to increase the international presence on their campus and reserve funding specifically for attracting international students. Some institutions offer this in the form of a generous financial aid package or through various scholarships and grants. Funds are often limited and competition is fierce, so I encourage each one of them to be proactive in meeting the requirements and deadlines associated with these awards.
Additionally, there are sources of funding available in other places, such as through some of the scholarship search resources one may find under the Scholarships tab in the Financial Aid Resource section on my website. Outside sources may also include local foundations, businesses, and corporations in their country of residence. Internationally focused mega-organizations such as the Red Cross, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations also have a number of resources available for international students interested in studying abroad.
Recently, I came across Questbridge while searching for additional sources of funds for my students. Questbridge is dedicated to connecting the world's brightest low-income students to America's best universities and opportunities. While only a select few institutions participate in this program, funding is available if one looks deep enough. I encourage each one of my students to conduct their own research to see if their desired institution participates with Questbridge as I believe the more proactive the student is in the college admissions process, the more likely his or or chances are for achieving success. This is a kind of weeding out process where only those most in need, those most qualified, and those most diligent in their search will survive.
Continuing with the theme of connecting the best and brightest of the world's less fortunate with the most selective universities, I am inspired to look for private and public funding for students who demonstrate both great promise and great need. Perhaps within the next few years I will be able to create a new scholarship for these global leaders of tomorrow and give them the opportunity to achieve their dreams. In my experience, those with the greatest potential to change the world are often from underprivileged backgrounds. Bright individuals from low socio-economic backgrounds seem to have a perseverance and drive that when given the opportunity, take the world by storm. If you or someone in your network is interested in learning more about this proposal, feel free to contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.