Looking Back at Policy Wins in 2021 and What You Can Do

While 2021 was a challenging year for international education—the COVID-19 pandemic ensured that!—together, we in the NAFSA community realized a number of public policy and regulatory practice gains that are of real significance to the field’s recovery. Advocate voices like yours were central to most, if not all, of these wins. Here are some of the major highlights that lifted our spirits in 2021 and fuel our resolve to do more in 2022.

Extension of the In-Person Interview Waiver Policy

On December 23, we were heartened by the U.S. Department of State's (DOS) announcement extending the in-person interview waiver policy for visa renewals through the end of 2022 for international students and scholars. (NAFSA will continue to push for this waiver to be applied to new applicants as well.) This was a key request in a letter to the Department of State from 23 U.S. senators, organized by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.). NAFSA was instrumental in catalyzing the letter, and NAFSA advocates were vocal in promoting the letter’s requests to their senators.

The REMOTE Act Passes Congress and Becomes Law

On December 21, President Biden signed the REMOTE Act into law, restoring U.S. higher education institutions’ ability to use incentive-based arrangements in international student recruitment while continuing to provide GI bill benefits to U.S. military veterans. This is the culmination of many months of outreach by NAFSA, coalition partners, congressional offices, and advocates to build support for a legislative fix for the Isakson-Roe and THRIVE Acts. So thank you! See the “What You Can Do” section below for an easy way to thank members of Congress for taking this action.

Helpful Language in the Foreign Affairs Manual

On December 20, NAFSA was very pleased to see DOS restore language in the Foreign Affairs Manual that instructs consular officers to consider the "inherent difference" between a young F-1 visa applicant and more established short-term visa applicants. Restoring these distinctions to the residence abroad requirement for F students was one of NAFSA's key recommendations to the State Department. This action ensures that the typical F-1 visa applicant won’t be penalized for not having the “ties of property, employment, and continuity of life” that applicants for short-term visas, such as B tourists, might be expected to have, and instead to view these conditions in their proper context.

NAFSA’s Recommendations for a National Strategy on International Education

In November, NAFSA released detailed recommendations for a White House-led national strategy on international education and issued a landmark joint statement with seven other higher education and international education in calling for a national strategy “to return international student enrollment and exchanges to pre-COVID-19 numbers.” This builds on the foundation of the July 26 Joint Statement of Principles in Support of International Education that was released by the Departments of Education and State and represented a real watershed moment for U.S. government support for our field.

Revised Travel Advisories

In June, the State Department adjusted its travel advisories to better align with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) country warnings related to COVID-19. When DOS travel advisories placed almost 80 percent of the world’s countries at “Level 4—Do Not Travel,” NAFSA worked, in coalition and with its advocates, to urge DOS to modify its travel advisory designations to both preserve the opportunity for U.S. students to study abroad and to increase confidence in DOS tools and resources.

A Favorable Regulatory Agenda

Also in June, the Biden administration withdrew the prior administration’s proposals to end the duration of status (D/S) policy and reform the optional practical training (OPT) program. NAFSA has actively defended the D/S policy since October 2018 when the proposal to end it first surfaced. Together with its advocates, NAFSA helped generate thousands of public comment letters and countless communications to lawmakers on the value of D/S. We’ve also staunchly defended OPT in the face of legal and executive branch challenges for years. As members of the NAFSA community know, D/S and OPT are both critically important to attracting international students to the United States.

What You Can Do

  • If one of your resolutions for the new year is to participate in more advocacy, we’ve got you covered! Please take a minute to express your appreciation to Congress for passing the REMOTE Act. If you’re represented by one of the key players in this effort, your sample message will reflect that. Thank you for ensuring your lawmakers feel appreciated and encouraged to do more!
  • Nominate someone for NAFSA’s Advocate of the Year award! This is NAFSA’s premier vehicle for shining a light on an individual who goes above and beyond in their grassroots advocacy efforts, and who has achieved success and brought others into the work in the process. Make sure they get their due! Applications will be accepted until Friday, February 4.
  • Make sure you’re signed up to receive our Connecting Our World e-newsletter. That will ensure you are kept abreast of future public policy updates, advocacy training events, and timely opportunities to take action to advance the field of international education. We can’t do this work without you!