"If other employment opportunities are not available or are otherwise insufficient, an eligible F-1 student may request off-campus employment work authorization based upon severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond the student's control." [8 CFR 214.2 (f)(9)(ii)(C)]


Unforeseen circumstances that can make a student eligible for hardship-based employment include:

  1. Unexpected loss of financial aid or on-campus employment without fault on the part of the student
  2. Substantial fluctuations in the value of currency or exchange rate
  3. Unexpected changes in the financial condition of the student's source of support (ex: parents losing business, bankruptcy of sponsoring institution, etc.)
  4. Unplanned medical bills
  5. Other substantial and unexpected expenses

F-1 students who can document that one of the above situations is true may apply for off-campus work permission under the terms of this regulation. In order to be eligible, you must have been in F-1 status for one full academic year (nine months) and be in good academic standing.

USCIS has specifically stated that applications based on the following reasons will be denied:

  1. Loss of scholarship when going beyond time for which scholarship was granted or exceeding program eligibility limit for funding.
  2. Failure to give evidence of the hardship; both pre-and post-event documentation is required.
  3. Internet articles of conditions in home country that don’t demonstrate how the financial sponsor was individually affected.
  4. Parents retiring or other siblings going to school.
  5. Medical condition existent prior to the time the I-20 was issued.
  6. Increasing tuition (it is common knowledge that tuition is expected to increase each year).

If the USCIS approves your application it will issue an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), which includes your photograph. The EAD will be valid for one year and is renewable.

A final note: The application for off-campus employment authorization is burdensome to compile, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services requires about three months or more to process such applications. Probably for these reasons, few University of Iowa F-1 students apply for permission to work off campus for reasons of economic necessity. Most students who need employment find work on the campus, where no time-consuming permission procedure is necessary and no application fee is required.

How to Apply:

  1. Meet with an ISSS advisor to apply. A new I-20, for the purpose of applying for Severe Economic Hardship, will be created for you.

Send all of the following materials to the USCIS:

  1. Form I-765 - (go to https://www.uscis.gov/i-765 and click on the link for "Form I-75 PDF")
  2. I-20 – Send the new I-20 that will be made for you during your visit with an ISSS advisor.
  3. I-94 - Your arrival/departure record, printed from this website.
  4. Passport Information - A photocopy of your passport photo page, and your U.S. visa.
  5. Documentation and a letter detailing your economic difficulties which have resulted from circumstances beyond your control.
  6. Photographs - Two identical passport-sized photos taken no more than 30 days before submission of the Form I-765 to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
  7. Fee: The cost of filing the application is $410.00. Personal checks or money orders must be in the exact amount and payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security.” Personal checks are preferable to money orders, because they can more easily be traced in case of problems.

Where to Mail the Application:

You will mail your OPT application to either the USCIS Phoenix Lockbox or the USCIS Dallas Lockbox - it all depends on the mailing address that you use on the I-765. Go to this website to see which address you should use. Ask an ISSS advisor if you are uncertain.

IMPORTANT! Follow the USCIS process to track issuance and delivery of your EAD card.

  • If you do not follow these instructions, you risk not having your EAD card delivered and be unable to work.
  • The card will be mailed to the address you put on the form I-765. Make sure that your name is listed with the postal service as being able to receive mail at that address! DO NOT use the ISSS address or another University of Iowa department address.
  • Delivery of your EAD card will require your signature or that of someone you delegate.
  • Sign up for a "Case Status Online" account as instructed in the link above.
  • Register for "Informed Delivery" as instructed in the link above.
    • It may be a good idea to choose to have the US Postal Service hold your card at your local post office until you can go in person to retrieve it and sign for it. This is something you can arrange in "Informed Delivery."
  • Remember that it is your responsibility to update USCIS should you move to a new address before your OPT is approved. The EAD card will not be forwarded and instead would be returned to USCIS, causing considerable delay for you and ISSS cannot impact this. https://egov.uscis.gov/coa/displayCOAForm.do

ISSS strongly recommends that you make a photocopy of your entire application and that you send it through the U.S. Postal Service using certified mail with a return receipt requested. In the event that there is a delay in the processing of your application, ISSS will not be able to help you if you do not have a photocopy of your application and a U.S. Postal Service return receipt.

Processing Information:

The Service Center prefers to receive envelopes with the contents in this order:

  1. Check or money order
  2. Photographs in the small plastic bag (bag is attached to this packet)
  3. Form I-765
  4. Supporting documentation as listed on the previous page (I-20, I-94, etc.)

When your application is accepted for processing, you will be sent a Form I-797 Notice of Action which you should keep, so you have a record of your application and its file number. The Notice of Action includes a telephone number which you can call for recorded information about the status of your application. You now also have the option of checking online. To do so you must have the receipt number from your Notice of Action. If you do not receive a Notice of Action within five weeks, please contact ISSS.