Biophysical Society Bulletin | April 2022
White House Releases Updated Pandemic Preparedness Plan
On March 3, the White House released its updated National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan. The plan focuses on the primary objectives of preventing and treating COVID-19 cases, preparing for the emergence of new variants, guarding against economic disruption and school shutdowns, and leading the worldwide vaccination effort. In addition, the plan outlines further improve- ments to the federal government’s pandemic response, noting that many initiatives are contingent upon Congress providing the additional funding needed to procure billions of vaccines and therapeutics and to stand up a testing network capable of rapid response. The plan proposes bolstering surveillance testing and data collection and accelerating the FDA’s review process for previously authorized vaccines that are modified to protect against new variants. Additionally, it calls for coronavirus tests, antiviral pills, and masks to be added to the Strategic National Stockpile for the first time.
NewVisa Rules to Attract Scientists Announced In early February, the White House issued a set of minor immigration policy changes aimed at better welcoming STEM students and scholars from abroad. Among the changes, the Department of Homeland Security added 22 new STEM fields to the Optional Practical Training program, which allows students on F-1 visas to work in the United States for a period of time after graduation. The administration also updated eligibility guidance for certain high-skill visa programs in a bid to increase the number of individuals with STEM backgrounds who successfully apply. Other steps announced recently include an update to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS’s) policy manual to provide additional examples of evidence of STEM exper- tise applicants can submit when seeking O-1A visas, which are conferred on persons of “extraordinary ability” in certain fields. The administration also released new guidance for employment-based permanent residency offered through the EB-2 National Interest Waiver, which enables advanced-de- gree holders or persons with exceptional ability to bypass a requirement that they have a job offer in hand. USCIS is now directed to consider a doctoral degree to be an “espe-
cially positive factor” when considering granting the waiver, especially in fields of critical importance to the United States as defined by the National Science and Technology Council or the National Security Council. USCIS is also instructed to take into account letters of support provided by federal agencies or federally funded research centers. Lastly, the administration announced a new State Depart- ment-led “Early Career STEM Research Initiative” that will facilitate non-immigrant J-1 exchange visitors’ engagement in STEM through research or training with host organizations, including businesses. The department also has announced that STEM undergraduate and graduate students on J-1 visas can receive up to 36 months of academic training, up from the current cap of 18 months. Department of Justice Ends “China Initiative,” Sets NewDirection for Countries of Risk At the end of February, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it was setting a higher bar for criminal prosecutions of academic scientists as part of a move away from the controversial “China Initiative.” However, DOJ will
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