Opinion: Afghan women refugees like me want a future in Georgia

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Husnia Jamal fled Taliban oppression in Afghanistan and now lives in Georgia. She plans to attend Berry College to study computer science this fall.

In a guest column, Jamal urges Georgia to embrace legislation that would allow refugees to qualify for in-state tuition. Several related measures stalled, including two bipartisan bills that would provide in-state tuition for refugees.

Jamal and others argue the state’s economy suffers when barriers to higher education prevent immigrants from attaining college degrees.

By Husnia Jamal

The first thing I noticed about Georgia was how friendly people are here. I arrived in Atlanta in 2021 after fleeing Afghanistan when the Taliban took over my country. I never wanted to have to leave, but I had no choice when the Taliban robbed us of a safe future with their violence and oppression. It is now against the law in my country for women like me to receive a college education and pursue our dreams.

Arriving in Georgia, in a completely new and unfamiliar place, was scary. But even strangers have shown me the warm, Southern welcome that I have learned is a proud custom in this state. While it breaks my heart that I will most likely never be able to return to Afghanistan, Georgia is my home now. I want to start a new life here. I want to return to school, earn my degree, support my family and give back to the state that gave me a second chance at life.

But I, like so many other displaced people living in Georgia, found out that I could not access in-state tuition here — no matter how long I live, work, or pay state taxes — because of my immigration status. This makes it harder for us to rebuild our lives.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

I came to Georgia with a cohort of female students from Afghanistan who were fleeing the Taliban’s oppression. Five of us arrived here to go to Georgia State University on a scholarship. The opportunity was life changing. [GSU gave the students a scholarship for the first year when they were enrolled in intensive English courses.]

After that year, the university told us that we would need to pay the rest of our way. Since our status prevented us from qualifying for in-state tuition, we would have to pay out-of-state rates. Georgia State University’s tuition is $10,268 for in-state and $29,306 for out-of-state students. If you add room and board, books and supplies, and transportation, it costs $48,675 a year for out-of-state students.

For people who had to leave everything behind when we were forced to leave our country, the price tag of this tuition is impossible.

Growing up, I always heard the United States talk about human rights and the right of women, and men, to an education. Now that I am no longer in Afghanistan, I hoped that my life would change and I would be able to work hard and pursue my dreams in this great land of opportunity. I did not realize that the high cost of tuition would be such an insurmountable barrier. If Afghan women like me in Georgia could access affordable education, we could rebuild our lives and lead productive and successful futures here.

I was thrilled to hear not long ago that the University System is looking at this problem and, while it is too late for me, I hope it will find a way to offer in-state tuition to other Afghan women like me.

However, this would still leave out hundreds of other Georgians who had to flee their homes under similar circumstances. Bipartisan bills introduced in the Georgia state House and Senate this year would have changed that. The bills did not succeed.

The legislation would have eliminated the residency requirement to access in-state tuition for displaced students who are resettled in Georgia with refugee, special immigrant, or humanitarian parolee status. For so many people like me, this legislation would mean everything. In-state tuition access can finally open a door of hope and a bright future for all of us.

Reducing barriers to education is not only the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do. This would be an investment in Georgia’s economic future. Many Georgian industries are struggling to find labor, from hospitality to computer science to health care. The president of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce recently said the labor shortage was “the “biggest hurdle” facing the state’s economy. He went on to say that there is now one applicant for every three open jobs in Georgia.

People rebuilding their lives here would love to fill those jobs. But we need education as a key to unlock those opportunities for us.

Georgians support such measures. According to a poll from the Georgia Chamber, 85% of Georgians agree it is important for the state to develop state-specific immigration reforms to meet future workforce needs. The in-state tuition bill is one step toward that.

I am one of the lucky ones. I will be attending Berry College this fall on a scholarship to study computer science. My dream is to become a software engineer. Not everyone will have this chance. But if this law passes next session, more people like me will have an opportunity to start again — and give back.