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Washington Update

APLU Urges Congress to Complete FY22 Appropriations
Shortly before the holiday break, APLU President Peter McPherson wrote a letter to House and Senate leadership urging the completion of Fiscal Year 2022 appropriations as a top priority for early 2022. With so much focus on Build Back Better, Congress has not made much progress on FY22 bills. Significant questions remain on whether there is a viable path to progress on FY22 defense and non-defense spending targets and whether bipartisan agreement can be found, which is needed for final appropriations measures rather than continuing resolutions. Meanwhile, the current continuing resolution funding for federal agencies runs out February 18. As a reminder, APLU’s appropriations priorities chart is always updated for the latest House and Senate action.

Biden Administration Extends Student Loan Payment Pause Through May 1
Late last month, the Biden administration announced that it would extend the student loan payment pause through May 1, 2022. During the payment pause, interest rates on student loans will continue to be set at zero percent.

The announcement noted the extension would provide the Department with time to assess the impact of the Omicron variant on federal student loan borrowers and also provide additional time to put in place a plan for restarting student loan collections. It also highlights several other actions the Department has taken to support student loan borrowers. These actions include reforms to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, loan relief for borrowers with a total and permanent disability, and approving additional borrower defense claims and closed school discharges.

OSTP Releases Implementation Guidance for NSPM-33
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released guidance to federal agencies for implementing National Security Presidential Memorandum 33. The memorandum directs federal agencies to “strengthen protections of United States Government-supported Research and Development (R&D) against foreign government interference and exploitation.”

The National Science and Technology Council Subcommittee on Research Security of the Joint Committee on the Research Environment issued a report with guidance on implementing NSPM-33. The report also outlines important provisions including:

  • Establishing standardized disclosure requirements
  • Enabling researchers to use standardized reporting tools
  • Creating guidelines for determining consequences for violations
  • Information sharing between federal agencies; and ensuring that agencies implement NSPM-33 “in a nondiscriminatory manner.”
  • Describing the parameters for “Research Security Programs” that will be required for entities that received more than $50 million per year in federal research funding.

For more information on NSPM-33, see the informative blog post from Dr. Eric Lander, the President’s Science Advisor and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. APLU tweeted appreciation for the guidance while noting, “we look forward to working with OSTP and federal agencies to address research security while protecting our nation’s ‘superpower of attracting global scientific talent.’”

Presidential Budget Update
Late last week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi invited President Biden to speak to a joint session of Congress on March 1, 2022. Setting the State of Union speech for early spring is a sign that the Fiscal Year 2023 budget process will likely be delayed. Reports indicate President Biden may not release his FY23 budget request until March.

This delay may be for several reasons. First, Congress has not yet finalized FY22 appropriations, and releasing the FY23 budget request after FY22 appropriations are set would allow the White House to base their request on approved appropriations levels. The current Continuing Resolution for FY22 expires on February 18, 2022. Second, the White House hopes negotiations on the Build Back Better reconciliation package resume. The Biden administration may prefer to see that package through before releasing its budget request.

State Proposes Visa Fee Increases
On December 29, the State Department proposed a new rule to increase a number of non-immigrant and special visa fees, including visas F, M, and J, student and exchange visitor visas. The proposed rule, the first change to these fees since 2014, would increase F, M, and J visa fees by 52 percent from $160 to $245. Per the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the updated rates are set to cover the full cost of processing these visa applications. APLU plans to submit comments on the proposed increases.

State Department Announces Policy Changes Impacting Student Visas
Shortly before the end of the year, the State Department announced policy changes impacting student visas which APLU members are likely to find favorable. State is extending its policy allowing waivers of in-person visa interviews “for certain students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or specialists (F, M, and academic J visa applicants)” through the end of 2022. Per State, “one change to the previous policy is that applicants eligible for the waiver authority because they are citizens or nationals of a Visa Waiver Program participating country must have previously traveled to the United States using an authorization obtained via Electronic System for Travel Authorization to qualify.

In an additional move, the State Department has added language to the Foreign Policy Manual on nonimmigrant intent for student visas in ways that will ease visa eligibility for some prospective students. “FAM 402.5-5(E)(1)  (U) Residence Abroad Required” provides guidance on how visa officers should apply nonimmigrant intent foreign residency requirements to international students.

Department of Homeland Security to Re-Establish Homeland Security Academic Advisory Council
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced their intention to re-establish the Homeland Security Academic Advisory Council (HSAAC) “to provide advice and recommendations to the Secretary and DHS senior leadership on matters related to homeland security and the academic community.” The 30-member council will include representatives from higher education associations; higher education law enforcement, public safety, and emergency management associations; two- and four-year institutions; as well as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Asian American, Native American and Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs). Representatives from outside higher education include the Departments of Education, State, Justice, and Health and Human Services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) higher education initiative, and K-12 systems.

Since the Council was disbanded by the prior administration, it has been a priority of APLU’s to restore this important means of communication and collaboration with DHS.

  • Council on Governmental Affairs

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