MECEA Section 108A Primer for Foreign Governments

The information below provides a primer on Section 108A of the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961 (MECEA) and the process related to establishing a cultural exchange program under this statute. It covers the basic points that need to be addressed in a letter of request for approval of a program under MECEA Section 108A (22 U.S.C. 2458a).

As you may know, U.S. federal employees may not accept payment for travel from foreign governments unless authorized to do so by Congress. Under the provisions of MECEA Section 108A, however, the U.S. Department of State may, upon application by a foreign government, approve that government’s cultural exchange program. Foreign governments with approved programs are authorized to fund the participation of U.S. federal employees (which may include Members of Congress and Congressional Staff) for travel and activities as specified in their approved program. In general, these programs are conducted to assist in increasing mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.

Programs authorized under MECEA Section 108A do not currently have an expiration date, so it is recommended that applicants take a long-term perspective in the development of cultural exchange program they wish to sponsor, rather than just focus on any one upcoming trip, to help ensure that the program remains relevant over time. In general, programming should provide participants with a better understanding of the host country, its people, and its culture.

The U.S. Department of State administers MECEA Section 108A requests under the regulations set forth in 22 C.F.R Part 64. Section 108A authorized programs have requirements that may differ from other types of travel on which U.S. federal employees may participate. For example, sponsoring governments must attest that no funding may be provided for expenses incurred by or for any member of the family or household of participating federal employees. Under the regulations, if at any time it appears that the purpose of an approved program has been changed so that it no longer meets the regulatory criteria or that the program is being misused, the Department of State has the authority to terminate approval or to suspend approval, pending additional information.

The Office of Policy in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA/P) administers the MECEA Section 108A application process. It is recommended that applicants work through this office in advance of formal submission of a letter of request to address any questions or issues and mitigate any technical oversight. A copy of the final signed letter of request should also be provided to this office to help ensure the expeditious and proper handling of a clearance package for that request. Questions related to MECEA Section 108A and the application process may be sent to the Office of Policy staff via the following email address: MeceaSection108A@state.gov.

MECEA Section 108A Application Process
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Overview

Representatives of foreign governments may call or write to the U.S. Department of State to inquire about the application for and conduct of cultural exchange programs under Section 108A of the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961 (MECEA), as amended.

The Office of Policy in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) at the Department of State has administrative oversight of the MECEA Section 108A application process. ECA Policy staff respond to calls or inquiries on MECEA Section 108A and can provide guidance on the application and approval process. Staff can also provide assistance on questions that pertain to cultural exchange programs conducted under MECEA Section 108A, in general, including the rules and regulations.

Foreign governments interested in receiving consideration of a cultural exchange program they sponsor for approval under MECEA Section 108A must submit a formal request to the U.S. Department of State which is in conformity with the requirements established in 22 C.F.R. Part 64. All such requests will be routed to the ECA Office of Policy for administrative review and processing.

ECA Policy staff conduct a thorough review of every request for consideration under MECEA Section 108A. Proposed activities must be of the type referred to in Sections 101 and 102 (a)(2)(i) of MECEA (22 U.S.C. 2451 and 2452(a)(2)(i)), and the request must properly address all the stipulated requirements. If the application is incomplete, additional or clarifying information is requested from the applicant. Applicants may be asked to resubmit their request. It is therefore recommended that interested applicants contact the ECA Office of Policy before making a formal request. Additionally, only proposals from eligible foreign governments, as defined in 22 C.F.R. Part 64, will be considered.

If the application from a foreign government is complete, ECA Policy staff will develop an official package and route it through a clearance process to obtain a decision on the request. Final decision and signing authority has most recently been delegated to the Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs.

If the program request is approved, an official letter of approval will be sent from the U.S. Department of State to the appropriate representative of the requesting foreign government, who is normally the official signatory on the foreign government’s formal application.

Notifications of approval are also sent by the ECA Office of Policy to the appropriate points of contact at the Department of State and to the House and Senate Ethics Committees.

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Letters of Request for Establishing an Exchange Program

The request process for a new MECEA Section 108A program requires the submission of an application to the U.S. Department of State formally requesting the establishment of an exchange program that meets the requirements of MECEA Section 108A and the regulations at 22 C.F.R. Part 64. This is essentially a letter of request, which is typically signed by the requesting foreign government’s ambassador to the United States or his/her designated representative.

The following outlines specific information condensed from the C.F.R. and other guidance to be incorporated into such a letter of request:

  • The proposed formal name of the exchange program to be enacted (note that should the program be authorized this becomes the official name of the program and should be included on all invitations and other references to the program).
  • A description of the planned exchange program, including who will be the target participants, and the types of activities in which these program participants will engage.
  • Citation of the provision of legislation or regulation authorizing the program (which is the same as noted in the introductory paragraph above).
  • The number of expected participants for each program visit (this can be a range).
  • The average duration of stay abroad on each visit (number of days).
  • The number of U.S. citizens expected to participate in this program annually.
  • The agency of the host government responsible for the program (this is typically the foreign ministry).
  • The name and address of the host government contact in the United States with whom communication may be made with respect to the program, including telephone and email contact information (this is usually within the foreign embassy to the United States).
  • A written attestation within the letter that specifically states that a grant under the program will not provide assistance with respect to any expenses incurred by or for any member of the family or household of participating federal employees.
  • An attestation that all travel and activities will be funded by the host government sponsoring the program and that no private funds will be used.

The letter of request would normally be addressed to the Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs who, pursuant to Delegation of Authority No. 475 of August 1, 2019 has approval authority for such requests.