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Severe Economic Hardship

USCIS is authorized to grant a severe economic hardship (SEH) work permit for off-campus employment in certain extreme situations:

“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. These 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 condition of the student’s source of support, medical bills, or other substantial and unexpected expenses.”
Source: 8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(9)(ii)(C)

Guidelines and Considerations

  • Employment can only begin after you receive the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS. Please keep in mind USCIS processing time (7 to 9 months at the California Service Center, where SEH applications are typically processed). 
  • The SEH application currently costs $410.
  • Employment may not interfere with your ability to maintain full-time enrollment and make normal progress towards your degree.
  • Employment is limited to 20 hours per week during the academic year; no limitation on hours during official school breaks (including the summer term).
  • Employment does not have to be related to your field of study.
  • SEH authorization does not impact your eligibility for or duration of on-campus employment, CPT or OPT.
  • USCIS will issue SEH authorization for one year, or until your I-20 program end date, whichever is shorter.
  • SEH authorization ends if you graduate or transfer schools (even if your EAD indicates a later end date).


You may be eligible to apply for SEH employment authorization if:

  • You have been in F-1 status for one academic year
  • You are in good academic standing and are enrolled full time
  • Working will not interfere with your studies
  • You can document that:
    • Employment is necessary to avoid severe economic hardship
    • The circumstances creating the financial need were unforeseen and beyond your control
    • On-campus employment is unavailable or otherwise insufficient to meet your new financial need

Additional Resources

While the Severe Economic Hardship work permit is a potential resource for financial support, it might not be a great option for various reasons: can be difficult to get approved, takes a long time to process, costs money to apply, etc. Do make sure you’re also exploring other options for financial support:

  • Pack Essentials NC State has resources available for students experiencing emergencies, including grant opportunities. Especially for short-term, immediate needs, Pack Essentials support could be a great resource. 
  • Other Employment: Don’t discount internships or co-ops. CPT might be an option for you and could certainly be quicker/easier than SEH if you find an opportunity that relates to your major.