77 Fed. Reg. 20038 (April 3, 2012)
On April 3, 2012, the Department of Homeland Security published a notice in the Federal Register to provide special student relief (SSR) benefits to F-1 students from Syria who are “experiencing severe economic hardship as a direct result of civil unrest” in that country.
For background information on SSR benefits, review the discussion at Special Student Relief For F-1 Students: Essential Concepts. Also see an ICE Fact Sheet on the Syrian SSR benefits.
General SSR eligibility requirements for Syrian F-1 students
Before a student begins the application process for special student relief, the DSO must ascertain whether the student meets the basic eligibility requirements as specified in the SSR Federal Register notice. Under the April 3, 2012 notice for Syrian F-1 students, a student must:
- Be a citizen of Syria;
- Have been lawfully present in the United States in F-1 nonimmigrant status on April 3, 2012;
- Be currently enrolled in an institution certified by SEVP for the enrollment of F-1 students;
- Be currently maintaining F-1 status; and
- Be experiencing severe economic hardship as a direct result of the civil unrest in Syria since March, 2011.
SSR on-campus employment benefits for Syrian F-1 students
After determining eligibility, the DSO must authorize the on-campus work authorization benefit by entering the following statement in the remarks field of the student's SEVIS student record, which will be reflected on the student's Form I-20:
"Approved for more than 20 hours per week of on-campus employment and reduced course load, under the Special Student Relief authorization from [DSO must insert the beginning date of employment] until [DSO must insert the student's program end date or October 3, 2013, whichever date comes first]."
After the DSO updates SEVIS and prints out Form I-20 with this notation, the student is authorized to work more than 20 hours per week on campus while school is in session, during the dates specified in the notation, and is also authorized to reduce courseload, if eligible under the special student relief reduced courseload guidelines for Syrian F-1 students.
SSR off-campus employment benefits for Syrian F-1 students
The SSR notice for Syrian F-1 students suspends the following requirements regarding off-campus employment:
- Suspends the requirement that the student must have been in F-1 status for one full academic year in order to be eligible for off-campus employment under 214.2(f)(9)(ii);
- Suspends the requirement that a student must demonstrate that acceptance of employment will not interfere with the student's carrying a full course of study; and
- Suspends the requirement that limits off-campus work authorization to no more than 20 hours per week while school is in session (i.e., authorizes a student to work full-time while school is in session, with an EAD from USCIS).
A student must receive the EAD from USCIS prior to beginning off-campus work under the special student relief notice. The process:
- The student applies to the DSO for a recommendation for SSR off-campus employment authorization
- The DSO determines eligibility for the benefit
- Using the Off-Campus Employment link on the Student Information screen, the DSO updates the student's SEVIS record with the following recommendation for off-campus employment authorization in the Recommendation box on the Add Off-Campus Employment screen:
"Recommended for off-campus employment authorization in excess of 20 hours per week and reduced course load under the Special Student Relief authorization from the date of the USCIS authorization noted on Form I-766 until [DSO must insert the program end date or October 3, 2013, whichever date comes first].”
- The DSO prepares an updated Form I-20 containing the recommendation
- The student files the following with the correct USCIS lockbox:
- Form I-765 with the correct Form I-765 filing fee
- The updated Form I-20 reflecting the DSO's recommendation for special student relief off-campus employment authorization.
- Note: The correct filing fee for Form I-765 must be included, unless the student wishes to request a fee waiver, in which case the student should also include a properly completed and documented Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver. The student should review USCIS guidance on fee waivers before completing Form I-912.
- The student waits for the EAD from USCIS before beginning employment
* The Federal Register notice states only that the DSO should enter the SSR recommendations "in the remarks field of the SEVIS student record, which will then appear on the student's Form I-20," without specifying which "remarks" field to use in SEVIS. In SEVIS RTI, there is a "special student relief" option in the "employment reason" drop-down menu for off-campus economic necessity employment authorization on the Add Off-Campus Employment screen. Field 4 on that screen is for the DSO's recommendation, which will print out on page 3 of the Form I-20. Since this is a "recommendation" field, this is the most likely field to use for the required SSR off-campus employment authorization recommendation.
* Likewise, there is no separate "special student relief" work authorization category on Form I-765. For the 1998 special student relief program, INS had instructed filers to use the code (c)(3)(iii) (the I-765 code for standard F-1 off-campus work authorization), but to annotate the code with the phrase "Special Student Relief." USCIS has not issued specific guidelines for the Syrian program, except to annotate the bottom right-hand side of the mailing envelope with the phrase "SPECIAL STUDENT RELIEF." NAFSA will ask for clarification, but advisers may want to verify with SEVP and USCIS directly about specific SEVIS and I-765 procedures.
SSR employment for Syrian F-1 students who already have on or off-campus employment authorization
Syrian F-1 students who already have on-campus or off-campus employment authorization under 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(9)(i) or (ii) can also benefit from the special student relief notice if they can show eligibility and the DSO properly updates SEVIS and prints out an updated I-20.
The Syrian SSR notice states that, "Syrian F-1 students who already have on-campus or off-campus employment authorization may benefit under this notice, which suspends regulatory requirements relating to the minimum course load requirement under 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(A) and (B) and the employment eligibility requirements under 8 CFR 214.2(f)(9) as specified in this notice. Such Syrian F-1 students may benefit without having to apply for a new Form I-766, Employment Authorization Document (EAD). To benefit from this notice, the student must request that his or her Designated School Official (DSO) enter the following statement in the remarks field of the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) student record, which will be reflected on the student's Form I-20...:"
"Approved for more than 20 hours per week of [DSO must insert "on-campus" or "off-campus," depending upon the type of employment authorization the student already has] employment authorization and reduced course load under the Special Student Relief authorization from [DSO must insert the beginning date of employment] until [DSO must insert the student's program end date, October 3, 2013, or the current EAD expiration date (if the student is currently working off campus), whichever date comes first]."
Special student relief employment benefits apply only in relation to on-campus employment under 8 CFR 214.2(f)(9)(i) and off-campus employment authorization under 8 CFR 214.2(f)(9)(ii). SSR employment benefits do not extend to any kind of practical training, which is authorized under 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10), or to international organization work authorization, which is authorized under 8 CFR 214.2(f)(9)(iii). See Special Student Relief For F-1 Students: Essential Concepts for background.
SSR reduced courseload benefits for Syrian F-1 students
Special student relief can be understood as a "package" of benefits consisting of on- or off-campus work authorization and authorization to reduce one's courseload. The reduced courseload benefit is only available to students who are granted SSR work authorization through the notice, and is not available separately.
Graduate and undergraduate students who receive employment authorization under the Syrian F-1 student notice of suspension are authorized to reduce their courseload, so long as they maintain the following minimum levels of enrollment as specified in the Syrian SSR Federal Register notice:
- 6 semester or quarter hours for students studying at the undergraduate level
- 3 semester or quarter hours for students studying at the graduate level
- Students studying at the K-12 levels or whose full course of study is governed by a paragraph other than 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(6)(i)(A) (“Postgraduate study or postdoctoral study at a college or university, or undergraduate or postgraduate study at a conservatory or religious seminary”) or 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(6)(i)(B) ("undergraduate study at a college or university") may not reduce their courseload [see 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(6)(i)(F)], and must register for a regular full courseload specified in the definition of full course of study under which they are studying. See 3.34.1 Essential SSR concepts for a more in-depth discussion of this limitation to the reduced course load benefit.
ESL students. SEVP had determined that ESL students were eligible for the Libyan SSR benefits in 2011. At that time, they communicated this determination through a series of Broadcast Messages to SEVIS users, following publication of the Libyan SSR Federal Register notice. However, unless otherwise provided by SEVP, that guidance would be limited to the Libyan SSR notice. NAFSA is in the process of inquiring with SEVP about the applicability of the Syrian SSR benefits to Syrian ESL students.
Students granted special student relief work authorization who maintain the minimum required enrollment will be considered to be maintaining a full course of study and maintaining F-1 status. Students who do not receive employment authorization under the notice are ineligible for the reduction in courseload benefit.