On December 21, 2021, President Biden signed into law the Responsible Education Mitigating Options and Technical Extensions (REMOTE) Act, which amended veterans benefits provisions at 38 USC 3679 and 3696 to once again allow schools to engage in incentive-based arrangements to recruit foreign students not eligible for Federal financial student aid without impacting the schools' eligibility to participate in veterans benefits programs.

A December 21, 2021 email update from the Veterans Administration summarizes the relevant amendments included in the REMOTE Act:

"Section 3: Amends 38 U.S.C. § 3679(f)(2)(B), to now allow schools to pay incentives to recruit foreign students not eligible for Federal financial student aid; exempts all foreign schools from the requirements of 38 U.S.C. § 3679(f) and amends 38 USC 3689(c) and 3690(c) to exempt certain foreign students and foreign schools from certain reporting requirements..."

NAFSA had been in dialogue with a number of associations that actively sought such a resolution, and NAFSA was also engaged with Hill staff, advocating for quick adoption of a technical correction. There had been concern that without these amendments made by the REMOTE Act, the Veterans Administration would no longer recognize a "foreign student overseas" exception to the restriction for GI Bill purposes, which would have impacted a school's ability to attract and serve GI Bill eligible students.

Congressional Engagement

  • Legislation Signed into Law. On December 21, 2021, President Biden signed into law the Responsible Education Mitigating Options and Technical Extensions (REMOTE) Act, which restores U.S. institutions' ability to use incentive-based arrangements in the recruitment of foreign students overseas.
  • Legislation Passed On December 8, 2021, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 5545, the Responsible Education Mitigating Options and Technical Extensions (REMOTE) Act, which was introduced by Rep. David Trone (D-MD-06). The bill makes several necessary technical corrections to the enacted Isakson-Roe and THRIVE Acts, including restoring U.S. institutions' ability to use incentive-based arrangements in international student recruitment. The Senate passed the bill on December 15, 2021, and it is now awaiting the President’s signature. See NAFSA's December 16, 2021 press release, NAFSA Commends Congress for Passing the REMOTE Act.

  • Coalition Letter. (November 18, 2021) NAFSA joined the American Council on Education, Student Veterans of America, and 31 other U.S. higher education and U.S. veterans associations on a letter to Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committee leadership urging swift passage of bipartisan legislation that would provide technical corrections to address unintended consequences of recent veterans’ education legislation including restoring U.S. institutions' ability to use incentive-based arrangements in international student recruitment. The letter expresses serious concerns regarding the failure to pass legislation prior to the Thanksgiving recess and urges the committees to come together to enact legislation as quickly as possible.

  • Coalition Letter. (October 28, 2021) NAFSA joined the American Council on Education (ACE) and 16 other U.S. higher education associations on a letter to Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committee leadership urging bipartisan legislation that would provide technical corrections to address unintended consequences of recent veterans’ education legislation including restoring U.S. institutions' ability to use incentive-based arrangements in international student recruitment. The letter requests that legislation pass through Congress ideally by Veterans Day (November 11) or prior to the start of the congressional Thanksgiving recess.

  • Technical Fix Bills Introduced. On October 8, 2021, Republican and Democratic lawmakers introduced bills that would make several necessary technical corrections to the enacted Isakson-Roe and THRIVE Acts, including restoring U.S. institutions' ability to use incentive-based arrangements in international student recruitment.

    • U.S. Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL-12) introduced H.R. 5509, the Student Veteran COVID-19 Protection Act of 2021.

    • U.S. Rep. David Trone (D-MD-6) introduced H.R. 5545, the Responsible Education Mitigating Options and Technical Extensions (REMOTE) Act. Read the press release issued by Rep. Trone.

  • NAFSA Letter. (September 20, 2021). In a letter to Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committee leadership, NAFSA's executive director and CEO, Esther D. Brimmer, urged the committee to quickly enact a legislative fix resulting from the THRIVE Act and a related provision in the Isakson Roe Act, which omitted long-standing language explicitly allowing U.S. institutions of higher education to use incentive-based agents when recruiting international students abroad.

  • ACE-Led Sign-On Letter. (September 22, 2021). NAFSA joined an ACE-led sign on letter sent to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, flagging several necessary technical corrections for Isakson-Roe and THRIVE, including the incentive compensation fix. The letter reiterates many of the issues/asks raised in the July 19, 2021 ACE letter.

  • ACE-Higher Education Letter to House Leadership. (July 19, 2021) A letter from the American Council on Education (ACE) and 11 higher education associations, sent to House leadership outlines concerns with some unintended consequences of the THRIVE Act and requests several corrections, including restoring U.S. institutions ability to use incentive-based arrangements in its international student recruiting efforts.

Background

A provision nestled within a veterans benefits law called the THRIVE Act could have impacted institutions that receive U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs funding if they also used incentive-based arrangements to compensate agents for the recruitment of international students. The THRIVE Act, signed into law on June 8, 2021, instructed the State agencies that approve courses of study for GI Bill purposes to take action that could include not approving a school's new programs of study or disapproving previously-approved programs of study, if it was determined that the school, "or any person with whom the institution has an agreement to provide educational programs, marketing, advertising, recruiting or admissions services... [p]rovides a commission, bonus, or other incentive payment based directly or indirectly on success in securing enrollments or financial aid to any persons or entities engaged in any student recruiting or admission activities or in making decisions regarding the award of student financial assistance."

A similar restriction on the use of incentive-based recruiting exists in the Higher Education Act (HEA) for Federal financial aid purposes, but the HEA provision includes an important exception that allows incentive-based arrangements for recruiting "foreign students residing in foreign countries who are not eligible to receive Federal student assistance." The THRIVE Act as originally implemented, however, contained no such exception, which could have impacted school's eligibility to participate in GI Bill programs if they also used incentive-based arrangements in their international student recruiting efforts.

The Training in High-demand Roles to Improve Veteran Employment (THRIVE) Act, Public Law 117-16 (06/08/2021), amended the Isakson Roe Act [Public Law 116–315 (01/05/2021)], which sets conditions for an institution of higher education's programs of study to be approved to receive U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) funding under various veterans benefits programs that are often collectively referred to as the "GI Bill."

Laws governing the administration of educational benefits under the various veterans benefits programs are generally codified in the United States Code at 38 USC Chapter 36. Under the basic process, a State approving agency makes a determination that an educational institution has complied with the requirements of law, and the State agency then issues a letter of approval for the school's programs. An eligible veteran may then enroll in such programs using GI Bill benefits. Veterans who wishes to attend a school without State agency approval, or a school whose programs have been disapproved by the State agency, would not be eligible to seek GI Bill benefits, and may decide to enroll elsewhere. If a State does not create a State approving agency, the VA Secretary can act in the role of a State approving agency.

Section 6 of the THRIVE Act as originally passed made changes that could have impacted institutions that receive VA funding and use incentive-based recruitment agents for the recruitment of international students. That section originally amended 38 USC 3679(f)(2) to provide:

(2) Except as provided by paragraph (5), a State approving agency, or the Secretary when acting in the role of the State approving agency, shall take an action described in paragraph (4)(A) if the State approving agency, the Secretary, or any Federal agency, determines that an educational institution, or any person with whom the institution has an agreement to provide educational programs, marketing, advertising, recruiting or admissions services, does any of the following:

(A) Carries out deceptive or persistent recruiting techniques, including on military installations, that may include-

(i) misrepresentation (as defined in section 3696(e)(2)(B) of this title) or payment of incentive compensation;

(ii) during any one-month period making three or more unsolicited contacts to a covered individual, including contacts by phone, email, or in-person; or

(iii) engaging in same-day recruitment and registration

(B) Provides a commission, bonus, or other incentive payment based directly or indirectly on success in securing enrollments or financial aid to any persons or entities engaged in any student recruiting or admission activities or in making decisions regarding the award of student financial assistance.

The REMOTE Act signed into law on December 21, 2021 corrects paragraph (B) to re-establish an exception for the recruitment of foreign students overseas. The paragraph now reads:

(B) Provides a commission, bonus, or other incentive payment based directly or indirectly on success in securing enrollments or financial aid to any persons or entities engaged in any student recruiting or admission activities or in making decisions regarding the award of student financial assistance, except for the recruitment of foreign students residing in foreign countries who are not eligible to receive Federal student assistance.

The REMOTE Act also makes a conforming amendment to 38 USC 3696(c), which had been established by the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020 (Public Law 116-315, 01/05/2021), to provide a parallel exception in that provision "for the recruitment of foreign students residing in foreign countries who are not eligible to receive Federal student assistance."