We're living in unprecedented times. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused many economic impacts and students are no exception.
If you're an international student living and studying in the United States, you probably have more questions than answers right now, and are trying to figure out your new normal.
As immigration lawyers, we are also trying to remain flexible, while staying alert to any new policies USCIS and this Administration announces.
Ordinarily, students on F-1 visas are very limited in their employment opportunities. Typically international students are only allowed to work on their college campuses. Under 8 CFR 214.2(f)(9), however, USCIS has discretion to allow students on F-1 visas to request employment authorization to work off-campus due to severe economic hardship because of unforeseen circumstances beyond your control.
What Defines “Unforeseen Circumstances?”
According to USCIS, unforeseen circumstances include (but are not limited to):
- Loss of financial aid or on-campus employment (through no fault of your own);
- Substantial fluctuations in currency value or exchange rate;
- Inordinate increases in tuition or living costs;
- Unexpected changes in the financial condition of your source of support;
- Medical bills; and
- Other substantial and unexpected expenses.
There is strong reason to believe that this current situation is such an unforeseen circumstance, but every international student wanting to work off-campus must still apply for employment authorization and every application will be decided case-by-case.
How Can I Apply for Employment Authorization in this Circumstance?
To apply for employment authorization due to hardship, you must submit Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, along with a copy of your Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, and any other supporting materials to USCIS.
Your Form I-20 must include the employment page completed by your Designated School Official, certifying your eligibility for off-campus employment due to severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond your control.
If approved, you may be able to work off-campus in one-year increments up until your completed date of course study.
What About OPT?
We know many of you may also be wondering about Optional Practical Training (OPT), which many international students have depended on to get first-hand experience in their field through U.S. employment for one year following graduation. At this point the government has not made any COVID-19 specific announcements regarding OPT.
So far USCIS and DHS (Department of Homeland Security) have stated that these topics (including OPT) are being “evaluated” and that additional guidance may be issued, but have not given a timeline for any decisions.
Check out the ICE Guidance on COVID-19 webpage for updates and answers on issues nonimmigrant students in the U.S. are dealing with. If you need the help of an immigration attorney, we are happy to offer telephonic and video-conferencing client meetings.