Both houses of the General Assembly approved bills on Monday that would allow undocumented residents of the state to apply for college financial aid.
The bills build upon legislation signed into law last year that allows a student to receive in-state tuition regardless of his or her immigration status.
In both houses, the bills were pushed forward by Democratic majorities. The Senate bill, SB 1387, passed 21-18. The House bill was approved by a 58-42 margin.
“Our commonwealth’s economy benefits when we have more people who are highly educated,” said Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, the Senate bill’s patron.
Last year, the General Assembly passed a law that enabled undocumented residents to receive in-state tuition. The new legislation would allow a student to apply for need-based financial aid, institutional aid and tuition assistance grants for private colleges, regardless of immigration status or citizenship.
While last year’s law expanded access to college education, said Fran Bradford, the state’s deputy secretary for education, the new legislation “makes that dream an even greater possibility.”
Gov. Ralph Northam has indicated his support.
Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington, the House bill’s sponsor, said there are about 270,000 undocumented immigrants in Virginia, and half have lived in the state for a decade or more. The state should do what it can to keep its most talented individuals in Virginia, Lopez said.
To be eligible, a student must have spent at least two years at a Virginia high school, graduated and submitted an application form.
Abraham Castillo, a sophomore at the University of Virginia, leads an organization called UndocUVA. The group aims to create a more inclusive environment for undocumented students. Many of those undocumented students are struggling to afford their education, he said.
“With this bill, we’re not asking for special treatment. We’re just asking that everyone has equal access to the same opportunities.”
Once signed by the governor, the legislation will go into effect in the fall of 2022.