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  • Washington Highlights

    Biden Signs Executive Actions On Equity, Immigration


    Brett Roude, Legislative Analyst
    Matthew Shick, Sr. Director, Gov't Relations & Regulatory Affairs

    In his first two days in office, President Joe Biden signed executive actions related to racial equity, anti-discrimination, immigration, COVID-19, and student financial aid [see related story].

    Racial Equity

    President Biden signed an executive order on Jan. 20 that launches a governmentwide initiative to advance racial equity. The order defines equity as "the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals, including individuals who belong to underserved communities."

    The executive order also:

    • Directs every federal agency to undertake a review of the state of equity within their agency and deliver an action plan within 200 days to address unequal barriers to opportunity in agency policies and programs.
    • Launches a new equitable data working group to ensure that federal data reflects the diversity of America.
    • Directs agencies to engage with communities who have been historically underrepresented, underserved, and harmed by federal policies.

    Additionally, the executive order repealed the previous administration's Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping, which prevented federal employees, grantees, and contractors from participating in certain racial or gender bias training that highlights "divisive concepts" [see Washington Highlights, Oct. 2, 2020]. The AAMC previously released a statement opposing the Sept. 22, 2020, executive order and issued recommendations urging the Biden administration to revoke the order.

    President Biden also took executive action to prevent and combat discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. The president directed federal agencies to take all lawful steps to ensure that federal anti-discrimination statutes cover sex and gender discrimination, prohibiting discrimination of LGBTQ+ individuals.

    The AAMC previously objected to a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rule that removed the enumeration of groups protected from discrimination in the administration of HHS programs and services because it would harm access to health care for LGBTQ+ Americans. 

    AAMC President and CEO David J. Skorton, MD, released a Jan. 21 statement praising the Biden administration's efforts on advancing equity, preventing discrimination, and supporting underserved communities.


    President Biden signed a memorandum directing the Secretary of Homeland Security to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and issued an executive action to repeal former measures that barred individuals from certain countries from entering the United States based on their nationality.

    Furthermore, President Biden plans to send comprehensive immigration legislation to Congress that would:

    • Allow DACA and temporary protected status recipients to apply for a green card immediately.
    • Raise the annual per-country limits on family-based immigration and eliminate the limits for employment visas.
    • Provide work permits to dependents of H-1B visa holders.
    • Change the word "alien" to "noncitizen" in U.S. immigration laws.

    AAMC President and CEO David J. Skorton, MD, released a Jan. 21 statement  that noted, "The executive actions and legislation help to recognize the role that health professionals from other countries play in safeguarding our nation's health and well-being and increasing the diversity of the nation's health care and scientific workforce."

    ​​​Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security rescinded the "Strengthening the H-1B Nonimmigrant Visa Classification Program" final rule published on Jan. 15, which would make changes to the definitions and eligibility requirements for H-1B visas [see Washington Highlights, Nov. 13, 2020]. 

    Financial Aid

    President Biden issued an executive order that directs the Department of Education to extend the suspension of federal student loan payments and interest accrual, which was set to expire on Jan. 31, through Sept. 30 [see Washington Highlights, Dec. 11, 2020]. The Department of Education implemented this directive on Jan. 20.

    Previously, the AAMC joined the higher education community in a Nov. 20, 2020, letter urging the department to extend the suspension of payments and interest accrual due to the financial hardship many Americans are facing during the COVID-19 public health emergency.