Refugees, asylum seekers and their advocates urged members of the House Education Committee on Tuesday to pass legislation that would expand tuition rates at Utah’s public colleges and universities.
HB102sponsored by Rep. Jordan Teisher, R-Jordan, requires Utah colleges and universities of higher education to grant residency status to individuals who are not citizens of the United States but have obtained or applied for certain immigration status.
Young women and men from the Middle East, Latin America and Africa told the committee that their pursuit of college and graduate school to become professionals has been thwarted because they cannot afford out-of-state tuition.
Carlos Moreno, who represents New Leaders for America, said he came to the U.S. as an international student seeking to improve his English after earning a law degree in Venezuela.
While in the United States, the authoritarian Venezuelan regime blocked international students from accessing their money.
To further complicate matters, Venezuelan authorities charged Moreno with conspiracy and treason, making it impossible for him to return home.
“I had to ask for political asylum here. I was lucky because the process of obtaining political asylum took four months. It was very, very, very unusual because this process takes 10 years, seven years, eight years, 12 years. During this time you are from nowhere. You are in legal limbo. You are here, but at the same time you are not there,” he said.
Moreno had to face the reality of paying bills, learning English, and getting an education.
“For a refugee or an asylum seeker, out-of-state tuition is crazy, like three times the in-state tuition,” he said.
Moreno attended Salt Lake Community College, where he was elected student body president, which gave him full tuition and a monthly stipend that helped support his family.
Others weren’t so lucky and had to put their college plans on hold because they had to work to pay for living expenses and couldn’t afford out-of-state tuition, he said.
“This is the reality of a refugee or political asylum,” he said.
A Utah law passed in 2002 allows students ineligible to be in the United States to qualify for tuition rates at public colleges and universities if they graduate from a Utah high school after attending at least three years.
HB102 would extend resident tuition rates to populations that would not qualify for consideration under HB144, passed 21 years ago.
Some of the people who testified Tuesday said they started university in their home countries but were forced to flee because of political unrest and wanted to resume their education in Utah.
Teuscher urged the committee to support HB102.
“This bill will have little to no impact on our institutions of higher learning, but it will mean everything to these students,” he said.
The committee unanimously approved the bill and sent it to the House of Representatives for further consideration.