Georgia lawmakers favor tuition bill for refugee college students

State Rep. Wes Cantrell, R-Woodstock, right, speaks to the Georgia House of Representatives higher education committee about legislation he's co-authored that would remove the 12-month waiting period for refugees to apply for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. ERIC STIRGUS/ERIC.STIRGUS@AJC.COM.

Combined ShapeCaption
State Rep. Wes Cantrell, R-Woodstock, right, speaks to the Georgia House of Representatives higher education committee about legislation he's co-authored that would remove the 12-month waiting period for refugees to apply for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. ERIC STIRGUS/ERIC.STIRGUS@AJC.COM.

Several state lawmakers voiced their support Wednesday for legislation that would make it easier for refugees to pay tuition at Georgia’s public colleges and universities.

House Bill 932 seeks to extend in-state tuition rates to refugee students at the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia as soon as they settle in the state.

Currently, refugees must wait one year after settling in Georgia to establish residency to qualify for the lower in-state tuition rates, which are roughly three times smaller than their out-of-state counterparts.

The bill came from a bipartisan House study committee that met last year to examine workforce development issues among foreign-born Georgians, including barriers to education and professional training.

Georgia’s House of Representatives Higher Education Committee held a hearing on the legislation Wednesday afternoon. Some members said they have received calls and emails for and against the bill.

More than a dozen speakers made pitches for the bill. None spoke against it.

The arguments from supporters were based on humanitarian and economic means. One speaker noted more than 10% of Georgia workers are foreign-born. Several speakers said the 12-month wait could discourage some refugees from enrolling in college.

Several committee members from both parties spoke in favor of the bill.

“It is the right thing to do and the right thing for Georgia,” said Rep. Dale Washburn, R-Macon.

The committee did not vote on the legislation.

Staff writer Lautaro Grinspan contributed to this article.