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Fee increases could be coming for international students, but there’s good news for DACA recipients in a social-spending bill.

What To Know About the Build Back Better Act

A huge social-spending bill poised to win congressional approval would increase fees for international students while permitting DACA recipients to qualify for federal financial aid.

The Build Back Better Act, the cornerstone of the Biden administration’s agenda on education, health care, immigration, and more, was set for a U.S. House vote on Friday, only to be held up by disputes between moderate and liberal Democrats. Still, congressional leaders have vowed passage before the Thanksgiving recess — although the measure faces tight margins in both the House and Senate. Here are a few key international-education provisions to be aware of:

The bill authorizes the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to collect a “supplemental fee” of $250 for each student-visa holder. The $250 is in addition to current fees paid to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, and the bill language appears to levy it on the college where students are enrolled, not on individual students. Despite that, some international-student administrators told me that their colleges would likely pass along the costs. Others worried the extra fees could add up and weaken already-shaky support for international students at their institutions.

Students could pay an extra $500 to apply for Optional Practical Training. Nearly 225,000 international graduates participate in the popular work program, or one in five student-visa holders. This would more than double the costs of filing for work authorization, and for some students, the added expense could be a burden.

Both fee increases were included in a section that includes multiple new fees for visa- and immigration-related paperwork. They would take effect on the date that is the earlier of 180 days after the bill’s enactment or May 1, 2022.

The act does not include a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, as many supporters had hoped, but it does provide temporary work authorization and protection from deportation. It would extend five years of so-called “parole” to young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents as well to immigrants from countries reeling from armed conflict or natural disasters who are in temporary protected status. Recipients would be eligible for a one-time renewal of the parole, which would allow them to receive some federal and state higher-ed benefits, such as scholarships or in-state tuition.

And the measure expands federal-student-aid eligibility to include DACA and TPS recipients. Undocumented students would be eligible for federal grant, loan, and work-assistance programs beginning in 2022 through 2030. The bill would authorize additional spending to help reduce backlogs for processing on work authorizations and other immigration paperwork.

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Electronic Signatures OK’d

One more piece of news out of D.C.: The Student and Exhange Visitor Program will allow colleges to electronically sign students’ I-20 visa documents, making permanent a pandemic practice.

The government had temporarily permitted electronic signatures when campuses shut down in-person international-student services during the height of Covid-19. Many college officials hoped the practice would stay in place long term because of the ease and efficiency it brought to the paperwork process. In a notice, SEVP said the change was adopted in keeping with a presidential executive order to “increase efficiency in the immigration system and reduce unnecessary burdens.”

The policy guidance was widely praised, but the excitement was also tempered with caution. One reader pointed out to me that the SEVP broadcast message includes steps for college officials to take if they or their students “encounter an issue with a government partner accepting an electronically signed Form I-20.” She and others told me of problems getting other federal and state agencies, including social-security offices, the DMV, and customs officials, to accept electronic signatures when they were temporarily approved. “It’s been a headache,” the administrator said. Now that the change is permanent will that change?

Got news? Send me your story tips and feedback. You can also contact me via LinkedIn or Twitter.

A Squandered Advantage?

When it comes to competing with China on high-tech talent, the United States may be squandering its advantage, says a new paper from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

China has a demographic head start, writes new CSIS fellow Remco Zwetsloot, with four times the population of the U.S. But America is far more attractive to top scientists from around the world, including those from China.

The U.S. has gotten in its own way, Zwetsloot argues, with immigration and visa policy that makes it difficult for international scientists and engineers to come to and stay in America. Of international PhDs in artificial intelligence who left the U.S. after earning their degree, more than half said immigration issues played a role in their decision and a third called them “extremely relevant.”

By contrast, Zwetsloot notes Chinese leaders have sought to nurture STEM talent. “At the end of the day, the country’s overall competitiveness is the competitiveness of its skilled personnel,” he quotes Xi Jinping as saying. “National rejuvenation depends on talent.”

Read more about his recommendations for how the U.S. can bounce back in the high-tech race. (Hint: International students are key.)

Around the Globe

Colleges say they are offering scholarships and appointments to displaced Afghan students and scholars, but they are being denied U.S. visas because they can’t prove “non-immigrant intent.” 

D.C. Circuit Court judges questioned whether a technology workers’ group can show that its members are competing for jobs with international graduates on OPT in a case seeking to end the work program. 

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court appeared skeptical of a Harvard professor’s claim that the university should pay for his criminal defense against charges he concealed his ties to China. Charles Lieber’s case is scheduled to go to trial in December.

China’s education ministry is warning of what it called a rise in “harassment and interrogations” of Chinese students in the U.S. 

The U.S. Department of Commerce is planning a new marketing campaign to promote the U.S. as a top study destination for students around the world.

A new network is linking British universities with overseas campuses.

South Korea said it would make all high school seniors with Covid-19 take the country’s high-stakes college entrance exam from a hospital or quarantine facility.

Gunmen in Nigeria kidnapped four university staffers and their children.

A kidnapped Haitian professor has been killed by his captors. 

The military coup in Myanmar has ended many young people’s dreams of higher education and of international study.

Joanne Roberts, executive vice president of academic affairs at Yale-NUS College, will become the liberal-arts institution’s third and final president before it closes in 2025.

Canada hopes to give 16,000 students an international study or work experience through its new Global Skills Opportunity program.

Professors at the University of Manitoba have gone on strike over low faculty pay.

University union members across the UK backed a planned strike, but on some campuses, turnout on the walkout vote was low.

A third of international students in a recent QS survey said they would feel uncomfortable asking for mental-health help.

Tell Me…about International Enrollments

I’ll have coverage in this space next week about the upcoming Open Doors report, and I want your help making sense of the data. I’ve heard from some of you in recent days in response to my recent piece on divergent trends for international graduate and undergraduate students this fall, but I want to know more. What are you seeing on the ground? What are some bright spots? Worrying signs? How are current trends helping inform your recruiting for next year? And this call-out isn’t limited to campus officials. College counselors, overseas recruiters, private-sector partners, students and parents — I want your perspective, too. Drop me a note at by Friday, November 12, at noon PT.

And finally…

From the vaults, when Big Bird went to China!

’Til next week —Karin

A freelance journalist and expert on global issues in higher ed, Karin has been writing for more than a decade about the changing relationship between American colleges and the world.