House Bill 1547, which has been pushed by its Democratic sponsor Del. Alfonso Lopez for nine consecutive years, passed the House on Feb. 12 in a vote of 56–44. The Senate version of the bill passed in a party-line vote of 21–19.
The bill, also known as the Virginia Dream Act, would make in-state college tuition available for all students, regardless of their immigration or citizenship status. They must have attended high school in Virginia for at least two years, or graduated since July 1, 2008, or passed a high school equivalency exam since that year.
The bill would not expand the in-state tuition eligibility to non-citizens who move to the United States for school or work temporarily. It means international students who hold certain educational or training visas would not be affected by the change. The Senate version of the bill, however, would allow students and parents to use Virginia income tax returns as a proof of their in-state residency. Illegal immigrant students or their legal guardians would need to submit at least two years of tax returns before their college enrollment to qualify for in-state tuition.
“Expanding eligibility for in-state tuition fulfills our promises and investments made in these students, many of whom have known no other home than the United States,” Del. Lopez wrote in a statement posted on Facebook.
“This is also an emotional victory for me and my family,” wrote Lopez, adding that his father came to the country via illegal entry, and his mother dedicated her education career to “helping undocumented students find ways to pay for college.”
Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam voiced his support in a written statement, saying that he was “pleased” that the bill passed the state legislature. Shortly after Northam took office in 2018, Virginia’s attorney general allowed those covered under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to qualify for in-state tuition.
If Gov. Northam signed the bill into law, Virginia would join the other eighteen states that have laws extending in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants meeting specific requirements. Seven of those states, namely California, Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, and Washington, currently allow illegal immigrants to apply for state financial aid as well.
By contrast, three states—Arizona, Georgia, and Indiana—expressly prohibit in-state tuition rates for illegal immigrants. In Alabama and South Carolina, illegal immigrants are prohibited from enrolling at any public college or university at all.