Biden’s First Address to Congress Focuses on American Jobs, Families Plans

On April 28, the night before his 100th day in office, President Biden addressed a joint session of Congress, highlighting his most recent spending plans, the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan.  The President’s speech emphasized a “buy American, by American” agenda, focusing on jobs, on-shore manufacturing, and leadership in the global competition for technology advancement. Encouraging lawmakers to support his proposal to increase investment in research and development, Biden proposed a new Federal health agency, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Health, focused on combatting diseases, such as cancer and diabetes. The proposal is modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a research and development agency at the Department of Defense that is responsible for developing innovative technologies for the military.

Ahead of his address, President Biden unveiled the American Families Plan, which includes robust investments in various areas of higher education, including the Pell Grant program and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). The plan, which would cost roughly $1 trillion over the course of ten years, also includes tax and childcare provisions and makes Dreamers eligible to receive Pell and free community college benefits. The plan would invest $85 billion in Pell Grants; $62 billion to strengthen completion and retention at community colleges and institutions that serve students from disadvantaged communities; $46 billion to subsidized tuition at HBCUs and MSIs; and $9 billion for teacher training. The provisions are favorable among some lawmakers, already receiving praise from Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and House Education and Labor Chair Bobby Scott (D-VA).

USCIS Issues Guidance on International Students and Visa Processing

On April 26, the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that the March 2020 guidance for F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant students will remain in effect for the 2021-2022 academic year. The guidance states that nonimmigrant students who were on active visas at the start of the pandemic and already enrolled at a U.S. institutions are permitted to return to the U.S. no matter the modality of their program courses, whether online, in-person, or a hybrid of the two. However, initial students, those seeking to enroll at U.S. institutions, will still be unable to travel to the U.S. if their programs are offered 100 percent online. In December 2020, CGS advocated for updated guidance, acknowledging the negative economic impact a decline in international student enrollment could have on the U.S. and requested new guidance that allows both current and new international students to study in the U.S. if their programs pivot from in-person to online-only during the Spring semester.


On April 27, USCIS issued new policy guidance in the USCIS Policy Manual that addresses how the agency will adjudicate petitions for visa extensions. The guidance increases the likelihood that a visa holder is able to renew their status based on previous evidence, unless a change or error in marital status has occurred. If all personnel information is the same, USCIS will defer to an individual’s previous petition outcome. The guidance also notes that USCIS will prioritize evidence in the application under review and corresponding record and will consider but not automatically defer to other Federal agency determinations when deciding a petition’s outcome.

DOS Announces Travel Guidance for International Students

On April 26, the Department of State (DOS) lifted travel restrictions that prevented certain international scholars and exchange visitors from traveling to the U.S. in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. Visitors from China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, the Schengen area of the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Ireland may now qualify for a National Interest Exception (NIE), which permits them to travel to the United States. International students and academics qualify for NIE if their academic programs begin on or after August 1, 2021, and are permitted to enter the U.S. “no earlier than 30 days before the start of their academic studies.” The notice encourages students seeking to apply for a new F-1 or M-1 visa to check the status of services at the nearest embassy or consulate. Applicants who are found to be otherwise qualified for an F-1 or M-1 visa will automatically be considered for an NIE to travel. However, initial students may experience the ongoing delays in visa processing. On March 18, CGS joined the higher education community on a letter recommending how DOS and Department of Homeland Security can support international students’ return to campuses and institutions for the Fall 2021 semester.

CGS-JED Report Release: Supporting Graduate Student Mental Health and Well-being

On April 29, the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), in collaboration with the Jed Foundation (JED), released a new report, Supporting Graduate Student Mental Health and Well-being: Evidence-Informed Recommendations for the Graduate Community. Generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the CGS-JED report provides an evidence base for future action to support graduate student well-being, along with recommendations for key groups. CGS and The Jed Foundation hosted a virtual report release, which featured report findings and recommendations and a roundtable discussion with members of the project’s advisory committee.


“Given the diversity of the graduate student population both in terms of life stage and career goals, considering the unique needs of graduate students in campus mental health plans must be a priority,” said CGS President Suzanne T. Ortega. “Establishing a shared set of values and a framework of principles and commitments is just the first step toward creating more inclusive, supportive program and campus environments and ensuring more equitable access to care. Our work with JED lays the foundation for future research on this critically important topic.”


Graduate student mental health and well-being requires the attention not only of graduate deans, but of all those with a stake in graduate education. CGS has made available recommendations to presidents and provosts, graduate program directors and department chairs, graduate faculty, students and funding agencies. CGS Government Affairs also prioritizes graduate student success and well-being as one of six key policy areas in its 2021-2022 Federal Policy Agenda.


The report’s executive summary presents key recommendations from the project, including a call to action for graduate deans. Additionally, CGS and JED have created a Communications Toolkit with infographics, sample social media posts, a blurb for your website or newsletter, and other resources. Finally, a Statement of Principles for Graduate Student Mental Health and Well-being is available here.

Nomination Process Continues for Biden Appointees

On April 29, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing on the nomination for Eric Lander to serve as the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. President Biden nominated Lander in January and elevated the role to a Cabinet-level position. Currently serving as the president and founding director of the Broad Institute at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Landler’s hearing emphasized his work to increase diversity in science and enhance COVID-19 testing strategies, as well as his leading the Broad Institute’s research on racial disparities and genomes. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) inquired whether Lander would work to advance provisions included in the Endless Frontier Act (S.1260) and the Supporting Early Career Researchers Act (S.637), to which Lander committed his support.


On April 27, President Biden announced that he will nominate Sheriff Ed Gonzalez to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency responsible for enforcing immigration laws. Gonzalez currently serves as the sheriff of Harris County, TX, overseeing the largest sheriff’s office in the state and the third-largest in the nation. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas endorsed Gonzalez in a statement, citing his career in law enforcement and public service as sound preparation to lead ICE in advancing U.S. public safety and homeland security.


On April 21, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee advanced the nomination of James Kvaal to serve as undersecretary of the Department of Education by a bipartisan vote of 19-3. If approved by the full Senate, Kvaal would serve in the top role overseeing higher education. A final confirmation vote has yet to be scheduled on the Senate floor. On April 14, CGS joined the higher education community on a letter to Senate HELP leadership endorsing Kvaal’s nomination ahead of his committee hearing April 15.