Recently, the Trump administration released its budget proposal for 2018, which includes a 55% cut to the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). Among other valuable initiatives, ECA sponsors and provides regulatory oversight for a variety of student exchange programs that are critical to our nation’s public diplomacy.

Cultural exchange programs are critical to public diplomacy in that they enhance U.S. national security and prosperity by building productive partnerships, mutual understanding, and personal connections that help us address critical global issues, including strengthening the global economy and combating terrorism. They also create a welcoming environment for the more than 1 million international students who study in the U.S. each year.

AFS-USA hosts more than 2,200 international students annually in communities across the country, all of whom are able to come to the U.S. through the Exchange Visitor (J1 Visa) program overseen by ECA. These hosted students spend a year in U.S. communities attending local schools, living with local families, and building lasting, positive relationships with U.S. citizens. AFS-USA also sends nearly 1,000 U.S. students abroad on life-changing exchange programs each year.

Photo: An AFSer studying abroad in Ghana urges more U.S. students to apply for a full scholarship through the ECA-funded YES Abroad program. December, 2013.

In addition, many AFS Students receive full scholarships through U.S. Department of State-sponsored programs, including: Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX); Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study (YES); YES Abroad; and National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y). These scholarships allow for a broader geographic and socio-economic mix of exchange students; the YES program, for example, helps build bridges between U.S. citizens and students from the Middle East and Africa who likely would not otherwise have the opportunity to engage such cross-cultural exchange. For U.S. citizens, government-sponsored scholarships make it possible for them to spend a year or summer abroad gaining globally-relevant skills—such as foreign language fluency and intercultural competence—that are demanded in every sector of the economy.

The diplomatic and personal benefits of these types of educational and cultural exchange programs are immense; and yet, they cost considerably less than 1% of the federal budget.

Moreover, exchanges provide significant economic benefits to the U.S. During the 2015-16 academic year, international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities contributed $32M to the U.S. economy and supported more than 400,000 jobs.

Congress will soon be reviewing the administration’s budget proposal and making final decisions about what gets funded. Members of Congress will be under tremendous pressure to cut funding and they need to hear from us. We must continue to urge Congress to support ECA at the highest possible level for FY2018.

What Can You Do?

Speaking up is easy! We’ve put together a simple, two-step letter writing campaign to help you quickly send a message to your Representatives. You can send our pre-drafted email as is, or customize it to your liking.

Act Now

You can also call your members of Congress, Tweet at them, or request to meet with them in Washington, D.C. or their home districts. Now is the time to let your Representatives know that cultural exchange programs are critical to our nation’s public diplomacy efforts.

If you would like to get more involved or have questions, please contact Keri Dooley, AFS-USA’s Chief Government Relations & Sponsored Programs Officer, at [email protected].