Congress Walks Procedural Tightrope to Advance COVID-19 Relief Legislation

On February 18, Representative Linda Sanchez (D-CA) introduced the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, a comprehensive piece of legislation that would transform current U.S. immigration law. Notably, it includes a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S, built on a prerequisite of passing background checks and paying taxes for five years in order to apply for a green card and be eligible for citizenship after another three years. The legislation mirrors President Biden’s legislative proposal unveiled on his first day in office that would offer significant changes to the U.S. immigration system. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) is expected to introduce his chamber’s version of the bill in the Senate next week.

Of interest to graduate education, the legislation would provide green cards and pathways to citizenship for Dreamers; allow more family-based green cards by exempting spouses and minor dependents of lawful, permanent residents from per-country visa caps; increase the number of H-1B visas for individuals who graduate from U.S. schools with a STEM degree; and replace the term “alien” in federal immigration laws with “noncitizen.” According to a summary from Rep. Sanchez, the bill would also exempt “individuals with a doctoral degree in a field involving science, technology, engineering, or mathematics from an accredited United States institution of higher education from the numerical caps on visas so they can stay here to help the U.S. build and compete.”

A summary of the legislation is available here. CGS continues to advocate for a legislative solution for Dreamers and looks forward to working with lawmakers on this proposal.

House Committees Continue Work on COVID-19 Relief Legislation

House committees continue to advance legislative recommendations for their portions of the upcoming comprehensive COVID-19 relief plan, preparing to send their respective sections to the House Budget Committee next week. The House Budget Committee will meet to combine the committee portions into an estimated $1.9 trillion comprehensive package, which will then be sent to the House Rules Committee to be readied for a vote on the House floor by the end of February. The addition of small-business tax breaks, broadband funding, and an increase to the minimum wage were sticking points in committee markups the past few weeks.


Last week, the House Education and Labor Committee approved $40 billion for higher education, and the House Ways and Means Committee approved $1,400 stimulus checks per individual, $350 billion for state and local aid, and renewed resources for business and unemployment benefit programs. Once passed in the House, the Senate will begin its deliberation over the legislation with the goal to enact the legislation in early March before funding for certain assistance programs expire.

Report Release: CGS International Graduate Applications and Enrollment

On February 18, CGS released the Fall 2020 International Graduate Admissions Survey offering new data showing that while international graduate application rates increased (3%) at U.S. universities between Fall 2019 and Fall 2020, first-time enrollment declined substantially (39%). The CGS report notes that while the first-time enrollment at the master’s level declined (-43%) at a greater rate than at the doctoral level (-26%), the rate of decline was consistent across institutional types.


The survey identifies that the decline in first-time enrollment is likely in part due to the large increase in international graduate student deferments when compared to deferments in prior years. The deferrals were relatively consistent across degree levels, with 12% of the offers of admissions deferred at the master’s and certificate level and 10% at the doctoral level.


The report shares findings by field of study and by country of origin. International graduate applications increased at higher rates in mathematics and computer sciences (12%) and biological and agricultural sciences (10%) between Fall 2019 and Fall 2020. At the doctoral level, public administration and services (15%), biological and agricultural sciences (12%), and engineering (12%) had the largest shares of offers deferred.


There were substantial decreases in first-time graduate enrollment in Asian (-47%) and Middle Eastern & North African (-36%) regions. In China and India, two countries that consistently represent the largest shares of international graduate applications, first-time enrollments, and total enrollments, there were significant decreases in first-time graduate enrollment, -37% and -66%, respectively. There were less significant declines in first-time international graduate student enrollment from Canada (-5%) and Mexico (-6%), most likely due to fewer travel restrictions.


“The first-time international graduate student enrollment decreases are alarming, because they undermine the international diversity and vitality of U.S. graduate programs,” said CGS President Suzanne Ortega, “When thinking ahead, one of the biggest lingering questions is how the deferrals will affect offers of admission and first-time enrollment for Fall 2021 and beyond, particularly if there are still travel limitations.”


The full report is available here. On February 24 from 2pm-3pm EST, CGS will host a webinar providing an overview of the international graduate applications and enrollment data from the Fall 2020 CGS International Graduate Admissions Survey. Interested parties are encouraged to register here.

DOS Issues Travel Flexibilities for Certain International Students

On February 10, the Department of State (DOS) announced travel flexibilities for students traveling from the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, and Ireland with valid F-1 and M-1 visas. The posting states that students from these geographic areas with valid visas do not need “to seek an individual national interest exception to travel” to the U.S. The guidance directs students who plan to apply for a new F-1 or M-1 visa to check the status of visa services at a U.S. embassy or consulate and that applicants qualifying for an F-1 or M-1 visa will “automatically be considered for a national interest exception to travel.” The full guidance is available here.


Previously, the Trump administration blocked international students from traveling to the U.S. if their courses were entirely online. Throughout 2020, CGS and the higher education community requested guidance on international students and exchange visitors, most recently sending a letter to Department of Homeland Security officials in early December 2020 regarding the Spring 2021 semester, and on December 9, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program confirmed that the guidance originally issued in March 2020 would still apply for Spring 2021. CGS continues to advocate for federal policies that allow international students and scholars to access postsecondary education at U.S. institutions, strengthening the exchange of innovative ideas and contributing to the U.S. economy and workforce.

Senate Hearings Scheduled for Biden Nominees to Lead HHS, DOJ

On February 23, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee will hold a hearing on the nomination of Xavier Becerra for secretary of health and human services. Also, on February 23, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing for Merrick Garland to head the Justice Department. The committee is expected to advance Garland’s nomination out of committee on March 1. The House and Senate Committee schedule for the week of February 22-28 is available here.


On February 11, the Senate HELP Committee advanced the nomination of Miguel Cardona for secretary of education with a bipartisan vote of 17-5 as well as the nomination of Marty Walsh for labor secretary. See last week’s edition of Washington Insights & Highlights for more details on secretary nominations and Department of Education political appointees.