Immigration regulations allow an F-1 student who experiences unforeseen financial problems while studying in the U.S. to obtain off-campus employment permission under certain conditions. This document discusses the rquirements and limitations of F-1 economic hardship employment authorization. This off-campus employment permission may provide real help in difficult circumstances by allowing a student to supplement his or her income enough to meet some living expenses. Economic hardship employment authorization will not, however, enable a student to earn enough to bear the cost of the full-time course of study required to maintain F student status. It should not be thought of, then, as a solution for serious financial difficulties.
If you are an F-1 student who is experiencing economic hardship due to an unforeseen change in your financial situation, you may qualify for off-campus employment authorization under relevant immigration regulation. You must, of course, be a full-time student in valid F-1 status to qualify for this, as for any other benefit of F status. If employment authorization is granted, you will be able to work off campus for up to 20 hours per week while school is in session and full time during vacation periods. Economic hardship employment authorization allows you to work in any job, related or not related to your studies, and can be granted for one year or for the remainder of your academic program, whichever period is less.
When considering your eligibility for hardship employment authorization, the most important point to keep in mind is that for you to qualify an adverse change in your financial situation must have been unforeseen when you first came to the U.S. to study. Immigration regulations provide that the unforeseen circumstances "may include loss of financial aid or on-campus employment without fault on the part of the student, substantial fluctuations in the value of currency or exchange rate, inordinate increases in tuition and/or living costs, unexpected changes in the financial conditions of the student's source of support, medical bills, or other substantial and unexpected expenses." Only unforeseen problems can be the basis for hardship employment authorization because, in obtaining their initial I-20 and visa to enter the U.S., students must first demonstrate that all of the financial resources needed for their program of study are available before they are able to obtain F-1 status.
If you believe that your circumstances may qualify you for hardship employment authorization, please meet with the designated school official (DSO). If it appears that you are eligible for hardship employment authorization, the advisor will ask you to (1) write a letter and (2) ask you to provide documentation confirming these circumstances (for example, a letter from your department to document the loss of a scholarship, exchange rate data showing a currency devaluation, or a letter from an accountant confirming unexpected business losses). When the need for hardship employment authorization is well documented, the DSO will help you prepare an employment authorization application to be submitted to the Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS).
Employment Authorization Application
For your employment authorization application, you will need to present to the office of international student services:
- your letter and supporting documentation as described above
- completed CIS Form I-765 (available from the office of international student services); write "(c)(3)(iii)" in item 16 of Form I-765 and use an address on the form where you can receive mail over the next three or four months.
- two identical color photographs, in three-quarter right front profile, with your right ear showing (To insure the proper pose, look 45° to the left of the camera).
The photographs must have a white background, be taken less than 30 days ago, be unmounted, printed on thin, glossy paper and be unretouched. Immigration Service regulations also require that you not wear jewelry in the photograph and that your head be uncovered unless you wear a headdress for religious reasons. The photographs should not be larger than 1.5 x 1.5 inches, and the distance from the top of the head to just below the chin should be approximately 1.25 inches.
(Tell the photographer that you need photographs for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) or "Green Card"-style photographs.)
You should print your name lightly in pencil on the back of the two photographs (include the number on your previous EAD if you have one from an earlier period of optional practical training.
You will also need:
- a personal check or money order for $340 payable to "CIS"
- a photocopy for the front and back of your I-20 Form
- a photocopy of the front and back of your I-94 card (white card, usually stapled in your passport)
- a photocopy of your passport information page (and the page including your photograph, if different)
- a photocopy of the visa page in your passport (except Canadian citizens who have no visa)
- If you have had a previous period of employment authorized by CIS, a photocopy of your previous EAD (photo ID card)
Your application will then be submitted by mail to the regional office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services in Nebraska for CIS consideration. CIS will first mail a receipt to you (to the address you listed on your Form I-765) and will later mail notice of the CIS decision. If CIS approves your application, they will send you an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) as evidence of your permission to be employed. Please note that CIS processing usually takes one to three months. You may not begin employment before you receive an EAD from CIS; working before receipt of an EAD constitutes illegal employment that renders you illegally present in the U.S.