The US state of New Jersey will enact a legislation that will make college and universities more affordable for the children of H-1B visa holders, mostly Indian IT professionals, bringing a huge financial relief to them.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on Tuesday signed the legislation "S2555", allowing New Jersey students, who are the children of H-1B visa holders, to qualify for in-state tuition at public institutions of higher education.
A majority of H-1B visa holders are Indians and this legislation comes as a significant relief to them, amidst an environment of stringent immigration laws and scrutiny under the Trump administration.
"New Jerseyans deserve equal access to higher education, and today we are taking another step towards making that possible. I'm proud to sign the legislation to help our students achieve their education goals, pursue a successful future and live their dreams here in their home state," Mr Murphy said.
The legislation exempts dependent students whose parents or guardians hold H-1B visas from paying out-of-state tuition provided they meet certain criteria, including having graduated from a New Jersey high school and having attended a New Jersey high school for at least three years. New Jersey is home to prestigious institutions such as Princeton University.
Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis said New Jersey is working to make college affordable for New Jerseyans and the legislation will expand post secondary opportunities to more residents such as dependents of H-1B visa holders.
India's Deputy Consul General in New York Shatru Sinha welcomed the legislation, saying in a tweet that it is an "important initiative for the Indian community".
Primary sponsors of the legislation include Indian-American Democratic Senator Vin Gopal, Senator M Teresa Ruiz and Assembly members Raj Mukherji, Daniel Benson, and Robert Karabinchak.
President and CEO of Edison-based health technology company HealthEC Arthur Kapoor welcomed the legislation, saying it will tremendously benefit the Indian diaspora in New Jersey.
"Indian diaspora welcomes this bill since H-1B visa holders pay enormous amounts of taxes as well as social security contributions which they are never able to use as they return to India before they are eligible to receive benefits. This bill will allow their kids access to the best education," Mr Kapoor said.
Indians wait the longest for their Green Cards. While school education from kindergarten to grade 12 is free in American public schools, non-citizens and immigrant children have to pay exorbitant fees to study in colleges and universities, adding years-long student debts to their finances.
Mr Gopal said when someone comes to New Jersey on an H-1B visa, they're bringing their own unique expertise, intellect and insight to the challenges and opportunities the state faces.
"But when we deny their children the opportunity to access an affordable college education right here at home, we're shutting the door on a whole new generation of brilliance and talent. When we make higher education more affordable to these kids, we're supporting their academic pursuits while encouraging them to cultivate and apply their skills right here in the Garden State," referring to the nickname by which New Jersey is known.
Edison School Board Member Jerry Shi said while waiting to get approval on their green cards, these H-1B students' parents are also taxpayers.
"Providing their children with in-state tuition will help reducing the burden of college tuition for the studies and their parents at the same time allowing the state to keep the talent in NJ," Mr Shi said.
New Jersey Economic Development Authority Chief Executive Officer Tim Sullivan said levelling the playing field by making higher education more affordable for children of H-1B visa holders is not only the right thing to do, "but also makes sense from an economic development standpoint".
Mr Ruiz said H-1B visas have one of the longest waitlists for citizenship and unfortunately, until now, if a student's parent has an H-1B visa they were ineligible for in-state tuition.
"This law will make the dream of achieving a college degree a reality for many around the state by allowing them to access in-state tuition rates," Mr Ruiz said.
"Individuals who are here through an H-1B visa could be here for many years with their families, raising their children in the state," said Assembly members Mukherji, Benson and Mr Karabinchak.
"Broadening access to our colleges and universities in-state tuition is worthy of the specialty work and type of service they have committed to while living in New Jersey," they said.
Professor of Education at Fairleigh Dickinson University Khyati Y Joshi, whose research area is Immigration and South Asian Americans, recalled her experience of seeing how college affordability affects students' academic performance and how college debt limits their choices in adulthood.
"The young people who will benefit from this bill have lived in New Jersey most of their lives. We've invested in their K-12 education and it''s smart to continue the investment of keeping them here in New Jersey," Mr Joshi said.
Alphaori Technologies CEO Balaji Sankaran said that as a first generation immigrant who has gone through the entire process to becoming a permanent resident, he can vouch that this bill will be a "huge support for H-1B families to provide better education for their kids and create amazing, productive future citizens".