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

This authorization may provide real help in difficult circumstances by allowing you to supplement your income enough to meet some living expenses. Economic hardship employment authorization will not, however, enable you to earn enough to bear the cost of the full-time course of study required to maintain F-1 student status. It should not be thought of, then, as a solution for serious financial difficulties.


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.
  • You are able to document that the circumstances that led to your economic situation were unexpected and beyond your control.
  • You are capable of continuing full-time studies and maintaining F-1 status while engaged in economic hardship work permission.

Immigration regulations define “unforeseen circumstances” as the following:

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 conditions of the student’s source of support, medical bills, or other substantial and unexpected expenses.  For more information see the Economic Hardship section on the USCIS web page for special situations.

Only unforeseen problems can be the basis for hardship employment since students must first demonstrate that all of the financial resources needed for their program of study are available before they are able to obtain an I-20 and enter the U.S. in F-1 status.

Applying for Economic Hardship

Applying for economic hardship is a straightforward process that includes the following steps:

  • Meet with an international student advisor to confirm your eligibility and review the conditions and procedures for applying. It is recommended that you bring a draft of a letter explaining your economic need and supporting evidence that documents this.
  • Meet with an international student advisor to have your application materials reviewed.
  • Once your application is complete and has been reviewed, mail it to USCIS—and await the decision.
  • If approved, USCIS will send you an employment authorization card.
  • You can begin work related to economic hardship on or after the start date on your employment authorization card once you have it in hand.


updated 1/19/2022

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