Children of H-1B visa holders in New Jersey to benefit from college tuition equality legislation

New Jersey has passed a legislation to make college and university tuitions more affordable for the children of H-1B visa holders, who are mostly Indian IT professionals, bringing a huge financial relief to them.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed the legislation Jan. 21, sponsored, among others, by Sen. Vin Gopal and Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, allowing students who are children of H-1B visa holders to qualify for in-state tuition at the state's public colleges and universities.

“New Jerseyans deserve equal access to higher education, and today we are taking another step toward making that possible,” Murphy said in a statement, according to insidernj.com. “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.”

Murphy signed S2555 that 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.

The primary sponsors of the legislation include Senators Vin Gopal and M. Teresa Ruiz, and Assembly members Raj Mukherji, Daniel Benson, and Robert Karabinchak.

“We are working to make college affordable for New Jerseyans and the Governor’s action today will expand postsecondary opportunities to more residents, such as dependents of H-1B visa holders,” Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis, was quoted as saying in insidernj.com and other media outlets.

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.”

Indians have among the longest wait times for Green Cards. Non-citizens and immigrant children have to pay exorbitant fees to study in colleges and universities, adding years-long student debts to their finances.

Senator Gopal noted that 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 our 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 for these kids, we’re supporting their academic pursuits while encouraging them to cultivate and apply their skills right here in the Garden State,” Gopal was quoted as saying by insidernj.com

Assembly members Mukherji, Benson, and Karabinchak 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. “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.

College affordability that was an issue that was fiercely-debated in the 2016 Democratic primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, has continued In the 2020 presidential election cycle with most candidates releasing plans to address the issue of college affordability.

“This is a landmark legislation that reflects New Jersey’s role in the global economy, the diversity of our state, and will help our talented students to participate in our world-class educational institutions,” said Satish Poondi, attorney at Wilentz.

Deepak Raj, Chair of the State Investment Council, was quoted as saying in insidernj.com and other media outlets as saying that immigrants come to the U.S. not only with a dream of a better life for themselves, but for their children. “With this bill, we’re ensuring that our younger generations have the resources they deserve to realize their own dreams. I would like to congratulate Governor Murphy and the Legislature on passing this important piece of legislation,” he said.

Khyati Y. Joshi, Professor of Education at Fairleigh Dickinson University whose research area is Immigration and South Asian Americans, welcomed the legislation noting that as a professor, she sees 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,” she was quoted as saying.

“The Indian diaspora welcomes this bill since H1B 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,” said Arthur Kapoor, President and CEO of HealthEC. “This bill will allow their kids access to the best education in our great state of New Jersey. Kudos to Governor Murphy for signing this important bill.”

Similar views were expressed by Edison School Board Member Jerry Shi and New Jersey Economic Development Authority Chief Executive Officer Tim Sullivan.

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.”

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