F-1 students who experience severe economic hardship because of unforeseen circumstances beyond their control have the option of applying to USCIS for employment authorization to work off-campus. Examples of unforeseen circumstances include (but are not limited to):
- Loss of financial aid or on-campus employment (through no fault of your own);
- Substantial fluctuations in currency value or exchange rate;
- Inordinate increases in tuition or living costs;
- Unexpected changes in the financial condition of your source of support;
- Medical bills; and
- Other substantial and unexpected expenses.
In order to apply for severe economic hardship work authorization, all of the following must be true:
- You have been in F-1 status for one full academic year (fall and spring semesters);
- You are in good standing as a student;
- You are carrying a full course of study;
- Acceptance of employment will not interfere with your carrying a full course of study;
- The employment is necessary to avoid severe economic hardship due to unforeseen circumstances beyond your control; and
- On-campus employment is unavailable or is not sufficient to meet the needs that have arisen due to the unforeseen circumstances.
Applying for severe economic hardship work authorization is a long process and may not make sense for every student, even if you do meet the eligibility criteria.
- Processing Time. It may take several months to hear back from USCIS about your application. You can view current USCIS processing times for the Form I-765 on the USCIS website.
- Application Fee: If your application is postmarked before October 2, 2020, there is a $410 application fee for severe economic hardship work authorization. It is possible to submit your application with a fee waiver instead of the filing fee, but historically the fee waiver has generally not been accepted.
- Employment Limitations: Severe economic hardship work authorization is limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session. Students may work more than 20 hours per week during official school breaks.
- Adequate Documentation of Economic Situation: You should collect as much documentation about your current financial situation as possible in order to make a compelling case that you qualify for the authorization. The more documentation, the better.
Applying for Severe Economic Hardship
- Prepare documents you will need to upload in the Severe Economic Hardship I-20 Request Form
- Letter of Explanation: Write a letter describing the unforeseen hardship and explaining your resulting financial need. Outline how you have been supporting yourself financially and how your financial circumstances have changed (since obtaining F-1 status) due to an unforeseen circumstance. Include why on-campus work is not sufficient to cover your expenses.
- Other Documentation: Provide documentation of the unforeseen financial hardship (e.g., proof of currency devaluation, impact of COVID-19 pandemic etc.)
- Submit the Severe Economic Hardship I-20 Request Form
- ISSS will review the request and, if approriate, an advisor will create a new I-20 which recommends Severe Economic Hardship work authorization and issue a letter of support
- ISSS will email these documents to you when they are ready
- Assemble all of your USCIS application materials and mail a complete application to USCIS