The New Congress
In the final week of December, Congress was sworn into office, which included 111 new senators and representatives. Democrats now have the majority in the House, and elected Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker. Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate by three seats.
With Democrats in control of the House, the makeup of committees has shifted, with Democrats taking chairmanships in all committees.
The CIEE Government Relations team has been reaching out to new Members of Congress who may or may not already be familiar with the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program and the impact of SWT in their states/districts. We continue to focus on building program champions, especially in states and districts where we have large numbers of participants, and members with important committee assignments. With mixed party affiliation between the House, the Senate and the White House, we believe there may be some energy to address immigration policy, which could impact exchange programs, but any major legislation will face an uphill climb.
Spring is appropriations requests season, so in the last several weeks we have been reaching out to Members asking for their support in retaining the Exchange Visitor Program provision in the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill. The provision, the result of our strong collective advocacy efforts in the fall of 2017, acts as a legal safeguard for valuable exchange programs including Summer Work Travel. We helped organize sign-ons for a business support of the provision, and the final letters gathered more than 200 supporters! Thanks to all who signed on. You can see the final letters here: House, Senate.
Maryland SB 526 and HB 1493
In the spring of 2018 a bill was put forward in the Maryland State Legislature that, if passed, would effectively eliminate SWT and other J-1 exchange programs with a work component in the state. Our coalition, consisting of the Alliance for International Exchange, program sponsors, Maryland host employers and host families, Chambers of Commerce and local leaders worked together to advocate against the bill, and it never advanced beyond committees in both chambers.
Anticipating the bill’s reintroduction in the 2019 session, CIEE engaged Cornerstone Government Relations, a consulting company with a strong presence in Annapolis. We laid groundwork following the November election, notifying bill sponsors and committee chairs of the exchange community’s concerns. In January Phil and Erica traveled to Annapolis to meet with the bill sponsors, and learned definitively that they do not intend to advance the legislation in 2019, in large part due to efforts by CIEE and others. They plan to revisit the issue in the 2020 session, so we will continue to monitor and engage as necessary.
Alliance for International Exchange Annual Meeting
2018 marked the 25th year of the Alliance for International Exchange, the public policy and advocacy organization that represents CIEE and other sponsors of the Exchange Visitor Program. More than a dozen CIEE staff attended, representing SWT, High School, Intern and Trainee, and Camp Counselor.
A highlight of the conference was the keynote address by Assistant Secretary Marie Royce, who oversees the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the Department of State (ECA). In her speech she outlined the Administration’s National Security Goals and ECA’s bureau strategy to address those goals. These included advancing foreign policy objectives through flexible, responsive exchange programs, increasing Americans’ global competitiveness, and achieving greater efficiency. There is also a strong focus on increasing access to exchange programs for underrepresented groups and individuals, and enhanced alumni engagement. We were encouraged to learn more about ECA’s priorities: we feel that CIEE’s goals are closely aligned with them and will work together with ECA to advance them in the years to come.
The target release date for the SWT Final Rule (new regulations governing the program) was moved to December 2018, (previously targeted for February 2018, then pushed to June 2018), but has not yet been issued. Given this timing, the new regulation is not likely not to impact summer 2019 programs. We will let you know as we learn more.
By Erica Carley Harris, Manager, Government & Public Affairs