H.R. 4086: Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act

H.R. 4086

Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act

March 20, 2012 (112th Congress, 2nd Session)

Staff Contact
Sarah Makin

Floor Situation

On Monday, March 19, 2012, the House is scheduled to consider H.R. 4086 under a suspension of the rules, requiring a two-thirds majority vote for passage.  The resolution was introduced by Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) on February 24, 2012 and referred to the Committees on the Judiciary. 

Bill Summary

H.R. 4086 would amend the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) to restore the protections that the Immunity From Seizure Act (IFSA) was intended to provide.  This bill would clarify that foreign government lenders will once again be assured that if they are granted immunity from seizure under IFSA, the loan of artwork or other objects of cultural significance for temporary non-profit exhibition or display in the United States will not open them up to the jurisdiction of U.S. courts.


According to the House Committee on the Judiciary, the Immunity From Seizure Act (IFSA) provides the President with authority to grant a work of art or other object of cultural significance immunity from seizure by U.S. courts whenever he determines that its temporary exhibition or display is within the national interest of the United States.  The intent of the IFSA is to encourage the cultural and educational exchange of artwork and other culturally significant objects which, in absence of the legislation, would not be made available for cultural exchange.  In enacting IFSA, Congress recognized that cultural exchange can produce substantial benefits to the United States, both artistically and diplomatically.  

However, for artwork and cultural objects owned by foreign governments, the intent of IFSA is being frustrated by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA).  A provision of FSIA opens foreign governments up to the jurisdiction of U.S. courts if foreign government owned artwork is present in the United States in connection with a commercial activity and there is a claim that the artwork was taken in violation of international law.   Courts have determined that the display or exhibition of the artwork can be “in connection with commercial activity” even if the display or exhibition is done by a non-profit entity.

According to the American Association of Museum Directors, this has led, in many instances, to foreign governments declining to import artwork and cultural objects into the United States for temporary exhibition or display.  Thus future cultural exchanges of may be seriously curtailed by foreign lenders’ unwillingness to permit their works of art and cultural objects to travel to the United States.  In order to keep the exchange of foreign government-owned art flowing, Congress needs to clarify the relationship between IFSA and the FSIA.


There is no CBO cost estimate available for this bill.