If you are an F-1 or J-1 student who is experiencing unforeseen, serious financial hardship while studying in the U.S., you may be able to obtain off-campus employment authorization. USCIS authorizes economic hardship employment for F-1 Students and the US Information Agency authorizes it for J-1 Students.

Economic hardship employment authorization:

  • May provide help in difficult circumstances by allowing you to supplement your income enough to meet living expenses. 
  • Will not enable you to earn enough to bear the cost of full-time course of study required to maintain student status. 
  • Is not a solution for serious financial difficulties.

The requirements and limitations of economic hardship employment authorization are determined by immigration status. Please read the appropriate section below that pertains to your status and review the Additional Information below that applies to both F-1 and J-1 status holders.

F-1 Economic Hardship

  • F-1 Eligibility & Application Process
  • 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 must document that the circumstances which led to your economic situation were unexpected and beyond your control.
    • You must be capable of continuing full-time studies and maintaining F-1 status while engaged in economic hardship work permission.

    Immigration regulations state that unforeseen 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 conditions of the student's source of support, medical bills, or other substantial and unexpected expenses."

    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 US in F-1 status.

    Application Process:

    1. Read and print the Application Instructions
    2. Use the instructions to complete and mail the application to USCIS
  • Conditions & Restrictions of Employment
  • If USCIS authorizes your hardship employment application, you will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS granting you permission to work off-campus. Typically, permission is granted for one year or for the remainder of your academic program, whichever period is less. Please also note the following:

    • You may work off-campus for up to 20 hours per week while school is in session and full time during vacation periods.
    • You may work in any job, related or not related to your studies.
    • You may not start employment until you have received an EAD or before the start date indicated on the EAD.
    • Hardship employment does not count towards your ability to work on-campus or affect your eligibility for practical training.
    • If you transfer to another institution, your EAD becomes invalid.
  • Important Reminders
    • You must be physically present in the U.S. until after USCIS receives your application for processing.  Keep delivery confirmation whenever possible.  We strongly recommend you to discuss your travel plans in advance of the filing with USCIS to avoid any rejection or denial.
    • If you later decide not to mail your Economic Hardship application (I-765 plus supporting documentation) to USCIS for any reason, you must notify an ISSS advisor immediately so that we may timely cancel your recommendation in SEVIS.  Failure to inform an ISSS advisor that you are not applying for Economic Hardship can cause problems in the future.
    • Please meet with an ISSS advisor if you have not received an I-797 Receipt Notice with a case number from USCIS within 2-6 weeks from the date that your application was received at USCIS.  Please bring a copy of delivery confirmation.
    • Please email or fax (215-573-9587) a copy of your employment authorization card to ISSS immediately upon receipt.
    • When the application is pending, we strongly advise against changing the address listed on the 1-765 
      • USCIS has not been able to process change of address notifications properly.
      • Changing your address while still pending may result in your being required to file a new Economic Hardship application with a new fee if your documents are lost.
      • We suggest you use the address of someone who can receive mail on your behalf. Remember, put “c/o”, followed by the person’s name and address, on Line 3 of the I-765. The US Postal Service will not forward USCIS mail.
    • If you receive a Request for Evidence (RFE), please consult an ISSS advisor immediately.
    • Your Economic Hardship will be automatically terminated when you begin study at another educational level or transfer to another school.
    • If you find any errors by USCIS on your EAD card, please inform ISSS immediately.
    • Immediately inform ISSS of any immigration status change.

J-1 Economic Hardship

  • J-1 Eligibility & Application Process
  • To qualify for economic hardship employment, immigration regulations require that you meet the following conditions:

    • You must be a full-time student in valid J-1 status
    • The most important point to keep in mind is that for you to qualify an adverse change in your financial situation must have been unforeseen, or to be more accurate, it must have been unforeseeable, when you first came to the US to study. This is because J regulations provide that hardship employment authorization must be "necessary because of serious, urgent, and unforeseen economic circumstances which have arisen since acquiring exchange visitor status."
    • Elsewhere, immigration regulations note that unforeseen 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 conditions of the student's source of support, medical bills, or other substantial and unexpected expenses."

    If you believe that your circumstances may qualify you for hardship employment authorization, please meet with an ISSS advisor. If it appears that you are eligible for hardship employment authorization, the advisor will ask you to:

    1. Write a letter in which you describe in some detail the circumstances that support your request for hardship employment authorization
    2. Provide documentation confirming these circumstances (for example, a letter from your department to document the loss of a scholarship, or exchange rate data showing a currency devaluation, or a letter from an accountant confirming unexpected business losses)
  • Conditions & Restrictions of Employment
    • When the need for hardship employment authorization is well documented the ISSS advisor will, if Penn is the institution that issued your DS-2019, issue an employment letter to you authorizing your off-campus employment.
    • If Penn is not the institution that issued your DS-2019, the ISSS advisor will refer you to the institution that did in order to request hardship employment authorization.
    • The authorization will be for part-time employment up to 20 hours per week while school is in session and full-time employment during vacation periods.
    • This authorization will be for a maximum of one year or for the remainder of your academic program, whichever is less.
    • Any employment that you have before or after the authorized period, or in excess of the 20 hour per week limit during the school year, will be illegal employment that renders you illegally present in the US and beyond the power of ISSS or the Immigration Service to regularize your situation.

Additional Information for F-1 & J-1

  • Social Security
  • If you do not have a Social Security Number (your 9-digit Penn ID number is not a valid Social Security Number), you should apply for a Social Security Number based on the economic hardship employment authorization. For more information, please see Social Security section on this site.

  • Taxes
    • You may be exempt from social security taxes.
    • You are subject to all other taxes that may apply, including federal, state and local.
    • More detailed information can be found in Tax Information.