Recently, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie made headlines when his state became the latest to allow undocumented foreign nationals to attend public New Jersey universities at the in-state tuition rates, the same as the state's other residents who are in the U.S. with legal immigration status. Gov. Christie signed the bill last week in the wake of a compromise that allowed for the in-state tuition eligibility but dropped the financial aid eligibility for undocumented students.
How the Bill Beneficially Affects Undocumented Foreign Students
Until the passage of this bill, undocumented foreign students who attended New Jersey universities were required to pay the higher out of state tuition. The difference between the two tuitions can be quite significant. For example, at the popular Rutgers University, the in-state tuition is approximately $10,700 every year. In contrast, to attend the same university, out of state students are required to pay $14,000 per year.
Are Similar In-State Tuition Policies in Place in Other States?
By passing this bill, New Jersey joined the ranks of about 16 other states, including Texas, California, Colorado, and Kansas, which allow undocumented foreign nationals to qualify for in-state tuition. Lawmakers are introducing similar bills into their respective state legislature on an increasingly frequent basis, in part due to the Obama Administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy.
The Country-Wide Trend Towards Welcoming Undocumented Foreign Students
With the enactment of DACA in June of 2012, the Obama Administration, in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security, pledged to temporarily suspend the deportation of undocumented foreign nationals (and provide them with work authorization) as long as the foreign nationals were brought to the United States as minors, had not committed serious crimes, and met other requirements. Often considered a variation of the DREAM Act, the purpose of DACA is to provide temporarily relief to these foreign nationals as the country awaits Congress's long-anticipated comprehensive immigration reform.
Along with allowing undocumented foreign students to qualify for in-state tuition, many states are extending additional benefits that were previously unavailable to these foreign nationals such as unrestricted state driver's licenses, preventing employers from retaliating against foreign nationals for work-related complaints based on their immigration status, and empowering local law enforcement to release foreign nationals who had committed low-level crimes (such as speeding or running a red light).
Importantly, New Jersey's passage of its bill, especially during a Republican gubernatorial term, may bring hope to undocumented foreign students in states who have yet to pass similar legislation. For example, it seems that Florida may be following in New Jersey's footsteps as the state is finally considering passing in-state tuition legislation after multiple failed attempts in nearly every state legislative session since 2003.
It certainly is heartening to see New Jersey join the growing list of states who are taking legislative measures to welcome the undeniable talents and assets offered by the millions of undocumented foreign students in the United States. Hopefully, this trend only continues to grow as we await Congress's immigration reform. Continue to check with our blog regularly for the most up-to-date immigration news.
Additional Blog Posts
What Employers Should Know About Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, ImmigRantings, November 28, 2012
The 'Majority's Majority' and Immigration Reform, ImmigRantings, November 8, 2013