updated 11:43 AM CET, Feb 6, 2023

Federal appeals court decision temporarily halting Biden student debt relief plan interrupts expat access enabling efforts

A federal appeals court has temporarily halted a recently-unveiled Biden administration program designed to forgive hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of federal student loan debt held by American citizens – even as government officials had evidently been struggling to enable those living overseas to apply, as a result of technical difficulties having to do with accessing and submitting the necessary forms.

The Biden administration had previously said it could begin canceling student loans as soon as this past weekend.

The court order prohibiting the Biden administration from “discharging any student loan debt” under the program until such time as the court had had a chance to rule on what media reports described as "an emergency request by Republican-led states to block the policy" was issued on Friday by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The St. Louis, Missouri-based court said it would hear the six GOP states’ legal challenge on an expedited basis, with briefs from each side due on Monday and Tuesday, the media reports noted.

However, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stressed in a statement on Friday that the temporary order didn't prevent holders of the student loans in question from applying for student debt relief under the new scheme, nor did it bar, she said, the Biden administration from reviewing such applications and preparing them for transmission to their respective loan servicers.

"We encourage eligible borrowers to join the nearly 22 million Americans whose information the Department of Education already has," Jean-Pierre added. 

Last month, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the debt forgiveness would cost the U.S. government around US$400 billion.

The six states that are trying to quash it, on the grounds that its huge costs could be damaging to their economies, are Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas and South Carolina. 

Unknown numbers of expats unable
to access Studentaid.gov website

The scope and scale of the problem expats have been struggling with, in seeking to access the new Biden student loan relief, isn't known, as it has emerged mainly on social media websites, such as Twitter, over the week that the program has been up and running.  

Those encountering the problem – such as someone located in central London, as this story was being written on Monday, Oct. 24 – begin by going to the home page of www.studentaid.gov, where they see the image shown at the top of this article, which is a screengrab of that home page.

Clicking on the blue tab at the bottom that says "Start the Application," however, brings the application process to an immediate end, as they receive this:

access denied on ochre

A typical reaction to this was a tweet that was posted last week by a Lausanne, Switzerland-based expat, and addressed to U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona (@SecCardona) and Democratic Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (@RepPressley): "Why is the application geoblocked? There are 9 million Americans abroad, presumably some of us have student loan debt. We shouldn't need to pay for a VPN to access a government form."

Another expat, this one living in Amsterdam, tweeted that after she had used a VPN to access the student loan application form, "it insists on having a US phone number for communication."

Among those seeking to rectify the problem has been the Democrats Abroad, via social media as well as on its website. 

Below are examples of some of its Taxation Task Force's tweets...

Dems Abroad tweets

...while it addresses the matter on its website here, in a posting entitled "Applications for student loan relief are now open!" but which has the subhead, "Early reports confirm that the Department of Education's application form page is blocked outside of the U.S.."

This is followed by instructions for enabling a VPN (Virtual Private Network) on one's computer. 

On Twitter and on its website, the Democrats Abroad Taxation Task Force urges American expats who are struggling to access the Department of Education's online student loan relief application facility to report their difficulty, "using this quick form:  https://demsabroad.typeform.com/to/DGPna1tS," after which it says, "[now] call your Members of Congress and tell them to remove the block and requirement for a U.S. phone number on the student loan relief application form by clicking here.

"Then email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to let us know that you contacted your Members of Congress."

The posting, written by the Democrats Abroad Taxation Tax Force's chair, Rebecca Lammers, also features a link to a webinar that explains how to determine whether one qualifies for student loan relief; and a link to a Federal Trade Commission Consumer Advice posting about how to spot student loan debt relief scams.

Editor's note: Since this story was written, the Democrats Abroad has formally written to top officials in the U.S. Department of Education, as well as its Federal Student Aid arm, to inform them that they urgently needed to fix the problems that were preventing American expats from being able to apply for relief from their student loan obligations.

To see our updated story on this matter, dated Oct. 25, click here. 

Student Loan Relief: Biden
campaign promise

Providing direct help to the estimated 43 million Americans who struggle with their student loan obligations was among President Biden's campaign promises when he ran for election in 2020, but it took him and his staff until August of this year to bring it into being.

According to the Democrats Abroad, the plan provides for debt cancellation of up to US$10,000 for student loan-holders who currently make less than US$125,000 a year, "with recipients of Pell Grants qualifying for up to US$20,000." Pell Grants are a form of Federal subsidy that's offered to certain eligible students who wouldn't be able to attend college without it. 

One of the less-well-known provisions of the Student Loan Relief program is that going forward, monthly federal student loan payments will be capped at 5% of a borrower’s discretionary income (down from 10%), and institutions of higher education are to be held to "new standards of accountability for rising tuition costs", according to the Democrats Abroad.