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 & 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 future eligibility for or duration of 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 (F-1 students on post-completion OPT are therefore not eligible)
- 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
Before moving forward with the process of applying for SEH, it’s important that you first consider the case you can put together to demonstrate your eligibility. This involves not only explaining your circumstances and their impact, but documenting them as well. OIS recommends that you start with the following:
- PERSONAL STATEMENT addressing the following:
- What happened? What is the financial hardship and how was it both unforeseen and beyond your control? (i.e. when you applied for your F-1 visa, you certified adequate funding to cover your expenses in the US; what changed since then?)
- Why is SEH needed? Describe the IMPACT of the circumstances described above (how has your financial situation changed as a result) and why on-campus employment is either unavailable or insufficient to meet your needs.
- How will SEH help? Discuss the feasibility that SEH authorization can sufficiently address your financial needs (i.e. how will making approx. $15/hour 20 hours/week help your situation? Realistically, is this enough to get you back on track? Why?). Also make sure to address how you plan to still maintain your studies while working on SEH.
- DOCUMENTATION to support everything in your letter. Examples include:
- News articles confirming the circumstances (currency devaluations, natural disasters, etc.)
- Letters from individuals involved (for example, a family member, a financial sponsor, etc. confirming the situation)
- Medical bills
HOW TO APPLY
Once you have drafted your personal statement and collected supporting documentation, you are ready to start the application process. Applying for SEH involves (1) getting a recommendation from OIS through the issuance of a new I-20 and then (2) mailing your application to USCIS for their approval.
To request a SEH I-20 from OIS, please contact your OIS advisor to schedule an appointment. Bring copies of the documents you’ve prepared to your meeting so that OIS can make sure you’re eligible for SEH and give you any advice for strengthening your case. If your eligibility is confirmed, OIS will proceed with issuing you a SEH I-20.
While OIS is working on your new I-20 (10 business days processing time), you can prepare the rest of the SEH application materials:
- Form G-1145
- Cover letter briefly explaining that you are applying for SEH and listing all your application materials
- Check or money order for $410 made payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security”
- Two U.S. passport-style photos taken within the past 30 days. Write your name and SEVIS ID or I-94 number on the back of each photo
- Completed Form I-765, using code (C)(3)(iii) in the eligibility category boxes on number 27.
- Copy of SEH I-20 once issued by OIS and signed by you
- Copies of your current immigration documents (I-94, passport, F-1 visa and any previously issued EADs)
- Your personal statement and supporting documentation
- Copy of your current NC State transcript
SUBMITTING YOUR APPLICATION TO USCIS
Once you receive the SEH I-20 from OIS and you’ve prepared all the materials mentioned above, you are ready to mail your application to USCIS. Before sending, please make sure to copy your entire application for your records.
Send your complete application to USCIS following instructions included in the SEH Mailing & Responsibilities form. We recommend using express mail (i.e. FedEx, UPS, etc.) for speed, safety and tracking.
If you include a G-1145 with your application, you should receive a text/email confirmation from USCIS shortly after they receive your materials. A paper I-797 Receipt Notice should follow in the mail, usually within two to four weeks of USCIS’ receipt of your application. Please review your I-797 carefully to make sure your name and address are correct; also make note of your receipt number, as this allows you to check your case status on USCIS’ website.
It is not uncommon for USCIS to ask applicants for additional information by issuing a Request for Evidence (RFE). RFE’s are not cause for alarm, but they must be responded to by a specific deadline. Contact OIS for further guidance as soon as you receive an RFE.
If USCIS approves your application, you will receive an approval notice and then an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) in the mail. If your application is denied, you will receive a denial notice in the mail. Please let your OIS advisor know once USCIS has adjudicated your case. You may begin off-campus employment once you have the EAD in hand and the start date has arrived.
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.