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.

Eligibility Requirements

In order to apply for severe economic hardship work authorization, all of the following must be true:

  1. You have been in F-1 status for one full academic year (fall and spring semesters);
  2. You are in good standing as a student;
  3. You are carrying a full course of study;
  4. Acceptance of employment will not interfere with your carrying a full course of study;
  5. The employment is necessary to avoid severe economic hardship due to unforeseen circumstances beyond your control; and
  6. On-campus employment is unavailable or is not sufficient to meet the needs that have arisen due to the unforeseen circumstances.

Application Considerations

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: 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

  1. 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.)
  2. 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
  3. Assemble all of your USCIS application materials and mail a complete application to USCIS (at this time I-765 applications for Severe Economic Hardship are not eligible for online filing)