F-1 Severe Economic Hardship Employment
Severe Economic Hardship Employment Authorization (SEH) is available to students in F-1 status who experience unexpected severe economic hardship.
Per the F-1 regulations, this means economic hardship that is:
“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.”
Citation: 8 CFR 214.2(f)(9)(ii)(C)
- You need to obtain an updated VCU I-20 from GEO Immigration Services endorsed (marked) for Off Campus Employment and then submit the updated I-20 to USCIS as part of a Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization.
- SEH authorization is provided by USCIS in the form an Employment Authorization Document (EAD, sometimes called a work card).
Although you require an updated VCU I-20 from GEO to file the I-765 application, SEH authorization is provided by USCIS, an agency of DHS.
You cannot work pursuant to SEH until you receive the EAD from USCIS.
To be eligible for SEH, all of the following must be true for you at the time you submit the I-765 Application for Employment Authorization to USCIS:
- Be in F-1 status and enrolled for full-time study at VCU for at least one academic year at the time you apply for SEH. One academic year means two consecutive semesters (Fall + Spring or Spring + Fall).
- Have not completed the requirements for the program listed on your current VCU I-20.
- Experience unforeseen economic hardship as defined above. You will need to explain the details of your economic hardship to USCIS and provide them with documentation to support your claim.
- Your economic need cannot be met by other forms of F-1 visa employment authorization: On Campus Employment Authorization, Curricular Practical Training (CPT), or pre-completion Optional Practical Training. You will need to explain to USCIS why your need cannot be met by any of these other F-1 visa employment authorization.
- SEH employment will not interfere with making normal progress toward the degree or certificate indicated on your current VCU I-20. You will need to explain to USCIS how you expect to both make normal progress toward your degree or certificate and also be employed via SEH.
- Remain in F-1 status during the SEH application process. This includes enrolling for a full course of study (FCS) at VCU or obtaining GEO authorization for a Reduced Course Load (RCL) or Full Time Equivalent (FTE). For information about FCS, RCL, or FTE, please go to https://global.vcu.edu/students/immigration/f1studentcourses/ Note that GEO cannot authorize RCL or FTE on the basis of economic hardship alone. This means you will be responsible for paying VCU tuition and fees during the SEH application process. Loss of F-1 status for any reason during the SEH application process makes you ineligible for SEH.
There are several restrictions on SEH:
- Remain in F-1 status throughout the period of SEH employment authorized by USCIS. This includes enrolling for a full course of study (FCS) at VCU or obtaining GEO authorization for a Reduced Course Load (RCL) or Full Time Equivalent (FTE). For information about FCS, RCL, or FTE, please go to https://global.vcu.edu/students/immigration/f1studentcourses/
*Note that GEO cannot authorize RCL or FTE on the basis of economic hardship alone. This means you will be responsible for paying VCU tuition and fees during SEH. Loss of F-1 status for any reason during SEH invalidates your SEH employment authorization.
- SEH authorizes employment of up to 20 hours per week during the Fall and Spring semesters. SEH authorizes employment of up to 40 hours per week during VCU’s scheduled Winter, Spring, and Summer breaks.
- You may have the ability to combine SEH employment authorization with other forms of F-1 employment authorization, such as On Campus Employment Authorization, Curricular Practical Training (CPT) pre-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) but the total number of hours worked under the combined authorizations cannot exceed 40 hours per week.
- SEH employment does not need to be connected to your major, although it can be.
- SEH employment is not deducted from your eligibility for CPT or OPT.
- You do not need a job offer to apply for SEH. You need SEH authorization from USCIS in order to start working pursuant to SEH.
GEO’s guidance for filing an SEH I-765 application will be provided to you in writing at the time we provide the updated I-20 to you.
USCIS will process the application.
For information about current USCIS processing times for an I-765 OPT application go to https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/
When USCIS approves the I-765 application, they will send an Employment Authorization Document (EAD, sometimes called a work card) to you.
You cannot work pursuant to SEH employment authorization until you receive the EAD from USCIS.