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Severe Economic Hardship

"If other employment opportunities are not available or are otherwise insufficient, an eligible F-1 student may request off-campus employment work authorization based upon severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond the student's control."

[8 CFR 214.2 (f)(9)(ii)(C)]


Unforeseen circumstances that can make a student eligible for hardship-based employment include:

  1. Unexpected loss of financial aid or on-campus employment without fault on the part of the student
  2. Substantial fluctuations in the value of currency or exchange rate
  3. Unexpected changes in the financial condition of the student’s source of support (ex:  parents losing business, bankruptcy of sponsoring institution, etc.)
  4. Unplanned medical bills
  5. Other substantial and unexpected expenses

F-1 students who can document that one of the above situations is true may apply for off-campus work permission under the terms of this regulation.  In order to be eligible, you must have been in F-1 status for one full academic year (nine months) and be in good academic standing.

USCIS has specifically stated that applications based on the following reasons will be denied:

  1. Loss of scholarship when going beyond time for which scholarship was granted or exceeding program eligibility limit for funding.
  2. Failure to give evidence of the hardship; both pre-and post-event documentation is required.
  3. Internet articles of conditions in home country that don’t demonstrate how the financial sponsor was individually affected.
  4. Parents retiring or other siblings going to school.
  5. Medical condition existent prior to the time the I-20 was issued.
  6. Increasing tuition (it is common knowledge that tuition is expected to increase each year).

If the USCIS approves your application it will issue an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), which includes your photograph.  The EAD will be valid for one year and is renewable.

A final note: The application for off-campus employment authorization is burdensome to compile, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services requires about three months or more to process such applications. Probably for these reasons, few F-1 students (even those at the University of Iowa) apply for permission to work off campus for reasons of economic necessity. Most students who need employment find work on the campus, where no time-consuming permission procedure is necessary and no application fee is required.

How to Apply

Meet with the DSO to apply. A new I-20, for the purpose of applying for Severe Economic Hardship, will be created for you. Send all of the following materials to the USCIS:

  • Form I-765 – Complete the Form I-765. Please refer to the Sample I-765 Form for guidance.
  • I-20 – Send the new I-20 that will be made for you during your visit with the DSO.
  • I-94 – A photocopy of the front and back of your I-94 card or online print out.
  • Passport Information – A photocopy of your passport photo page, and your U.S. visa.
  • Documentation and a letter detailing your economic difficulties which have resulted from circumstances beyond your control.
  • Photographs – Two identical "natural color" photos with a plain white or off-white background taken no more than 30 days before submission of the I-765 to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. They should be un-mounted; printed on thin photo paper or stock; and un-retouched. The photos should be taken from a full-frontal face position. This is the same type of photo that was required for your U.S. visa application. Your head should be bare unless you are wearing a headdress as required by a religious order to which you belong. If wearing a headdress, please note that it may not obscure any portion of your face. The photo should be no larger than 2 inches x 2 inches with the distance from the top of the head to just below the chin between 1 inch to 1 3/8 inches. The distance from the eyes to the bottom of the photograph should be between 1 1/8 inches to 1 3/8 inches. The photograph must contain only an image of you with no other people in the photograph. Lightly print your name and your SEVIS number on the back of each photograph with a pencil to prevent problems should your photographs become separated from your I-765 application. Please search out local businesses which take passport photographs. The DSO does not encourage you to attempt to take these photos yourself. For more details on the photograph specifications, please go here.
  • Fee – The cost of filing the application is $410.00. Personal checks or money orders must be in the exact amount and payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security.” Personal checks are preferable to money orders, because they can more easily be traced in case of problems.

Where to Mail the Application

Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
PO Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ 85036

The DSO strongly recommends that you make a photocopy of your entire application and that you send it through the U.S. Postal Service using certified mail with a return receipt requested. In the event that there is a delay in the processing of your application, the DSO will not be able to help you if you do not have a photocopy of your application and a U.S. Postal Service return receipt.

Processing Information

The Service Center prefers to receive envelopes with the contents in this order:

  1. Check or money order
  2. Photographs in the small plastic bag (bag is attached to this packet)
  3. Form I-765
  4. Supporting documentation as listed on the previous page (I-20, photocopy of I-94, etc.)

When your application is accepted for processing, you will be sent a Form I-797 Notice of Action which you should keep, so you have a record of your application and its file number. The Notice of Action includes a telephone number which you can call for recorded information about the status of your application.  You now also have the option of checking online. To do so you must have the LIN number from your Notice of Action. If you do not receive a Notice of Action within five weeks, please contact the DSO.

Processing Time

Normally, if an EAD has been approved, it is mailed to the DSO within 90 days. If an EAD application has been pending for more than 90 days and no decision has been made, you can apply directly to a USCIS district office for a temporary EAD. If you do not receive your EAD card within 90 days of the date your Notice of Action gives as the “Received Date,” contact the DSO.