Bipartisan bill would give refugees in-state college tuition in Georgia

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Legislation that would grant in-state college tuition to refugees from Afghanistan resettled in Georgia last year drew bipartisan support in a state House committee Wednesday.

House Bill 932 would waive the one-year residency requirement to qualify for in-state tuition at the state’s public colleges and universities that applies to students who have moved to Georgia from out of state.

“These refugees … worked with our military, primarily in Afghanistan,” Rep. Wes Cantrell, R-Woodstock, the bill’s chief sponsor, told members of the House Higher Education Committee Wednesday. “These folks want to be American and live the dream.”

Cantrell chaired a legislative study committee last year that looked for ways to strengthen Georgia’s economy by enabling foreign-born Georgians to contribute to the fullest extent possible. About 10% of Georgians today were born outside of the United States.

“We’ve got more jobs in Georgia than people,” Cantrell said. “We shouldn’t be putting up artificial limits to these people getting educated and becoming productive members of society.”

“It’s a common-sense way to address an economic development issue,” added Rep. Betsy Holland, D-Atlanta.

Darlene Lynch, chairman of the Business & Immigration for Georgia Partnership, a coalition of business and civic leaders, said refugees should be treated differently under the law governing in-state tuition than people who choose to move here from other states.

“Georgia is the only state they have ever called home,” she said. “They have been told to come to Georgia to resettle here.”

But committee Chairman Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, said he’s uncomfortable with waiving the one-year residency requirement for refugees while still applying it to others who move to Georgia.

“My struggle is putting these folks ahead of other folks,” he said.

The committee did not vote on the bill Wednesday but could decide whether to advance it as soon as next week.

This story available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.