If I apply for a work permit based on severe economic hardship, am I putting my F-1 visa at risk?

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Question:

I’m a foreign student at a U.S. college on the East Coast. My father in India recently suffered a heart attack, and is not sure he will be able to maintain his business. He was my primary source of financial support. I’d like to get a U.S. work permit to help cover my costs, but I’m worried that the immigration services won’t think I can earn enough to continue as a student. What should I do?

Answer:

You are right to be concerned. To succeed in your application for employment authorization based on economic need you must strike a balance. If you say too little about the novelty and seriousness of this change in your economic circumstances leading you to apply for a work permit, USCIS may conclude that you don’t really need the work permission and will deny it. (See the article, “When F-1 Students Can Work in the U.S.” for more on the eligibility requirements for this type of work permit.)

But if your application is too convincing regarding the seriousness of your economic difficulty, USCIS may think that even the part-time salary you earn with the new work permit will not be enough to help you. Then it will deny your application, and possibly find that you are out of status because you can’t pay for your stay in the United States. If this happens, talk to your DSO about the option to file a motion to reopen or reconsider.

The safest course? Have a talk with your DSO before submitting this application. The DSO will have experience helping students submit such applications, and can work with you to present your financial need convincingly -- but not too convincingly -- in your application.

However, if you fear you are already violating your status (perhaps by having dropped out of school or taken on illegal work), consult with a lawyer rather than your DSO before submitting your application. The DSO, as you remember, wears two hats. Although the DSO is there to help you, he or she also has the uncomfortable obligation of reporting your status violations to USCIS. A lawyer can help you determine whether you are indeed violating your status and help you prepare this work permit application, if appropriate. For the basics of how to apply, see “F-1 Students in Severe Economic Hardship: Applying for an Off-Campus Work Permit.”

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