As a foreign student in the U.S. in F-1 status, you are normally expected to support yourself. But if unforeseen circumstances arise, you may be able to get permission to work part-time at an off-campus job, the eligibility rules for which are discussed in the article, “When F-1 Students Can Work in the U.S.” Here, we’ll explain the nuts and bolts of how to apply for this work permit (officially called an employment authorization document or EAD card.)
Preparing the Paperwork to Apply for an EAD
If you have decided to apply for a work permit based on severe economic hardship, you will need to prepare or obtain the following government forms:
- photocopy of your SEVIS Form I-20 ID
- USCIS Form I-765.
Line-by-Line Instructions for Form I-765
Form I-765 is the main form used by all temporary immigrants applying for work permission. Most of this form is the instructions, which you don’t need to send to USCIS.
Under “I am applying for,” check “Permission to Accept Employment.” However, if you had a previous EAD under another program, check the box for renewals.
Questions 1-8: Self-explanatory.
Question 9: You will probably not have a Social Security number unless you are changing from a visa or status that allowed you to work. If you don’t have a number, enter “None.”
Question 10: You will only have an Alien registration number (A-Number) if you have been in deportation or removal proceedings or have submitted certain immigration applications, particularly for permanent residence. If you were in proceedings or had any immigration applications denied, especially for reasons such as fraud, be sure to see an immigration lawyer. If you do not have an A-number, enter the number from your Form I-94 (and before the actual number, write “I-94#”).
Question 14: List the type of visa on which you last entered the United States. It was probably an F-1 student visa, unless you entered as a visitor or on another temporary visa and then applied for a Change of Status to become a student.
Question 15: Your current immigration status is “F-1 student.”
Question 16: Your eligibility category depends on the basis for your work permit. If applying for off-campus employment due to severe economic hardship, your category is (c)(3)(iii).
Documents to Accompany Work Permit Application Based on Severe Economic Hardship
To accompany your work permit application, you will need to attach the following:
- a copy of the front and back of any previous work permits that you’ve received
- two photos, U.S. passport style. Print your name in pencil on the back of the photos
- supporting documents to show economic need. For example, news articles about the economic situation in your home country, affidavits from those supporting you, a copy of a letter terminating your family or sponsor’s employment or copies of medical bills would be appropriate
- your sworn statement summarizing the reasons you need work authorization and why other employment options (like on-campus) are not available to you
- a copy of the identity page and visa page from your passport
- a copy of the front and back of your I-94 card, if issued (As of April 2013, Customs & Border Protection stopped issuing paper I-94s to many U.S. visitors. If you did not receive a paper I-94, you may access this record online.)
- the fee (as of early 2013, $380 for the I-765). Pay by check or money order, payable to the Department of Homeland Security. Do not send cash.
Preparing a Statement of Extreme Economic Hardship
Because your eligibility for a work permit depends entirely on your personal circumstances, you will have to explain these circumstances to USCIS, in a written statement. Your statement will most likely be believed if you:
- describe the facts that led to the problem
- present a picture of someone who found himself or herself in a difficulty that could not be avoided and for which the person was not at fault, and
- present a reasonable plan that is short-term and designed to get you out of financial and academic trouble.
You must also explain why other employment options are not available to you. For example, as an F-1 student, you are authorized to work part-time in an on-campus job during the semester. You will need to explain why an on-campus job won't work.
This is not a legal document, so try to use the type of language that you would use in speaking, rather than trying to make it sound official. (That would more likely make it sound stilted and insincere.)
You might, want to sign it in front of a notary public. Your school’s financial aid or housing office should have a notary. Notaries usually charge about $15 for their services (the notary stamps the document to confirm that it was really you who signed it).
Mailing and Receiving Your Work Permit
When you have assembled your application for a work permit based on severe economic hardship, send it to the USCIS office or Service Center listed on the USCIS website.
Certified U.S. mail or courier (such as FedEx or DHL) is the best way to send anything to USCIS, preferably with a request for a return receipt. If the application is lost at USCIS (not uncommon), the tracking services included in these mailing methods will help you to prove that it was received in the first place.
You should get a receipt notice from USCIS within two to three weeks. The receipt will include a case number that allows you to check its status online at www.uscis.gov. When your work permit is approved, you will receive a wallet-sized plastic card in the mail with your photo on it. The permit will be good for one year. You can only work during the dates on the card, and you cannot start work until you receive the card.
A final warning: If you apply to USCIS for a work permit, DO NOT leave the U.S. until it is approved. (Many of the employment possibilities for students require you to apply to USCIS for a work permit.) The agency may take weeks or even months to reply. During this time, you may be tempted to leave the United States – perhaps to take a vacation or return home for a visit -- especially during summertime. Don’t leave! Doing so will automatically cancel your work permit application. (In fact, leaving the United States is almost always considered an abandonment of applications filed with USCIS.)