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Severe Economic Hardship

If you are an F-1 student who is experiencing unforeseen financial hardship beyond your control while studying in the US, you may be able to obtain off-campus employment authorization from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) under certain conditions.

You must demonstrate that other employment opportunities are not available or are otherwise insufficient.  

Severe Economic Hardship
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) defines “severe economic hardship” as a financial condition caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond the student’s control that make it difficult for a student to continue education in the United States.

These financial conditions may include:
  • Loss of financial aid or on-campus employment through no fault of the student.
  • Substantial changes in the exchange rate or value of the currency upon which the student depends.
  • Inordinate increases in tuition or living costs.
  • Unexpected changes in the financial state of the student’s source of support.
  • Medical bills.
  • Other substantial and unexpected expenses.

To qualify for economic hardship employment, immigration regulations require that you meet the following conditions:
  • You are a full-time student in good standing and have been in valid F-1 status for at least one full academic year (two consecutive semesters).
  • You must be able to document the circumstances which led to your economic situation were unexpected and beyond your control.
  • You must be capable of continuing full-time studies and maintaining F-1 status while engaged in economic hardship work permission.

Step One: Contact an ISSS advisor to confirm your eligibility and review the conditions and procedures for applying. It is recommended that you draft of a letter explaining your economic need and gather supporting evidence that documents your hardship.

Step Two: If you are eligible to apply for economic hardship, submit an Off Campus Employment request on Tab 4 of the ISSS Portal.  An ISSS Advisor will review your request and, if you are eligible, issue you an updated I-20 with a recommendation for severe economic hardship work authorization.

Step Three: After the advisor approves your request for Off Campus Employment, gather the following documents for your application:
  • Completed form I-765 (PDF) filled for category (C)(3)(iii)
  • Copy of passport ID page
  • Copy of F-1 visa
  • Current I-94 record indicating F-1 status
  • Copy of I-20 with the Off Campus Employment Endorsement on page 2
  • Copies of all previous I-20s
  • Copies of previous employment authorization documents (if applicable)
  • Form G-1145 (Not required, but recommended)
  • A copy of your transcript
  • Two passport-style photos
  • Required fee payment in form of check, cashier's check, or money order, payable to US Department of Homeland Security (verify fee in case of increases on the I-765 instructions)
  • A letter written by you addressed to USCIS in which you describe in detail the circumstances that support your request for economic hardship employment authorization and a statement explaining why other employment options are unavailable or insufficient
  • Supporting documentation confirming these circumstances (for example, a letter from your department to document the loss of a scholarship, or exchange rate data showing a currency devaluation, or a letter from an accountant confirming unexpected business losses)
  • A financial breakdown letter itemizing all your expenses in one column, and showing the income in another column to help you make the case for insufficient funding
  • Once you have prepared all the items listed above, make a complete copy of the application for your records.

Step Four:  Mail your application and supporting documents to USCIS Chicago Lockbox:
For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Deliveries:  
Attn: I-765 C03
P.O. Box 805373
Chicago, IL 60680-5374

For Express mail & courier deliveries:
Attn: I-765 C03 (Box 805373)
131 South Dearborn - 3rd Floor
Chicago, IL 60603-5517

Within a few weeks of sending your application, USCIS will mail you a receipt. The receipt and final decision will be sent to the address you wrote on USCIS Form I-765. Please note that USCIS processing usually takes 30 to 60 days and may take up to 90 days. You may not begin employment before you receive your EAD; working prior to that time constitutes illegal employment that renders you illegally present in the US.

Conditions and Restrictions of Employment
If USCIS authorizes your hardship employment application, you will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS granting you permission to work off-campus. Typically, permission is granted for one year or for the remainder of your academic program, whichever period is less.

Please also note the following:
  • You may work off-campus for up to 20 hours per week while school is in session and full-time during vacation periods.
  • You may work in any job, related or not related to your studies.
  • You may not start employment until you have received an EAD or before the start date indicated on the EAD.
  • Hardship employment does not count towards your ability to work on-campus or affect your eligibility for practical training.
  • If you transfer to another institution, your EAD becomes invalid.