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Special Student Relief (SSR)

Special Student Relief (SSR) is the suspension of certain regulatory requirements by the secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for an F‑1 student from parts of the world that are experiencing emergent circumstances. Regulatory requirements that may be suspended or altered for an F-1 student include: full course of study and on- and off-campus employment eligibility.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced Special Student Relief (SSR) for F-1 students who are citizens of Myanmar (Burma), Somalia, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen and Haiti. Students from these countries who are experiencing severe economic hardship as a result of the current crisis in their home country can apply for permission to reduce their course load and to work over 20 hours in on-campus positions or apply for an EAD card to work off-campus.

BURMA/MYANMAR
Effective May 25, 2021 until November 25, 2022.

Federal Register notice at 86 FR 28128 (May 25, 2021).

To be eligible, an F-1 student must:
  • Be a citizen of Burma (Myanmar), regardless of country of birth;
  • Have been lawfully present in the United States in F-1 nonimmigrant status on May 25, 2021;
  • Be currently maintaining F-1 nonimmigrant status;
  • Be enrolled in an SEVP-certified academic institution; and
  • Be experiencing severe economic hardship "as a direct result of the current crisis in Burma"

HAITI
Effective August 3, 2021 through February 3, 2023.
Federal Register notice at 86 FR 41857 (August 3, 2021).

To be eligible under the notice, an F-1 student must:
  • Be a citizen of Haiti, regardless of country of birth;
  • Have been lawfully present in the United States in F-1 nonimmigrant status on August 3, 2021;
  • Be currently maintaining F-1 nonimmigrant status;
  • Be enrolled in an SEVP-certified academic institution; and
  • Be experiencing severe economic hardship "as a direct result of the current crisis in Haiti"

SOMALIA
Effective September 18, 2021 through March 17, 2023.
Federal Register notice published at 86 FR 38739 (July 22, 2021), but 

To be eligible, an F-1 student must:
  • Be a citizen of Somalia, regardless of country of birth;
  • Have been lawfully present in the United States in F-1 nonimmigrant status on September 18, 2021;
  • Be currently maintaining F-1 nonimmigrant status;
  • Be enrolled in an SEVP-certified academic institution; and
  • Be experiencing severe economic hardship "as a direct result of the current crisis in Somalia"

SYRIA
Effective April 22, 2021 until September 30, 2022.
Federal Register notice at 86 FR 21333 (April 22, 2021).

To be eligible, an F-1 student must:
  • Be a citizen of Syria, regardless of country of birth;
  • Have been lawfully present in the United States in F-1 nonimmigrant status on April 22, 2021;
  • Be currently maintaining F-1 nonimmigrant status;
  • Be enrolled in an SEVP-certified academic institution; and
  • Be experiencing severe economic hardship as a direct result of the ongoing civil unrest in Syria since March 2011

VENEZUELA
Effective April 22, 2021 until September 9, 2022.
Federal Register notice at 86 FR 21328 (April 22, 2021).

To be eligible, an F-1 student must:
  • Be a citizen of Venezuela, regardless of country of birth;
  • Have been lawfully present in the United States in F-1 nonimmigrant status on April 22, 2021;
  • Be currently maintaining F-1 nonimmigrant status;
  • Be enrolled in an SEVP-certified academic institution; and
  • Be experiencing severe economic hardship as a direct result of the current humanitarian crisis in Venezuela

YEMEN
Effective September 4, 2021 until March 3, 2023.
Federal Register notice at 86 FR 36288 (July 9, 2021).

To be eligible once the notice is effective, an F-1 student must:
  • Be a citizen of Yemen, regardless of country of birth;
  • Have been lawfully present in the United States in F-1 nonimmigrant status on September 4, 2021;
  • Be currently maintaining F-1 nonimmigrant status;
  • Be enrolled in an SEVP-certified academic institution; and
  • Be experiencing severe economic hardship as a direct result of the current crisis in Yemen

BENEFITS OF SSR
  1. Ability to reduce course load (RCL) in during the Fall and Spring semesters for the duration of the notice for your country
    1. The RCL benefit is optional, but the reduced course load benefit is only available to students who apply for SSR and obtain work authorization through the notice, and is not available separately
    2. Students approved for the RCL benefit through SSR must remain in enrolled in at least 6 credits for undergraduates or 3 credits for graduate students each Fall and Spring semester for the duration of the SSR benefits
  2. Ability to work on-campus over 20 hours per week (up to 24 hours per week) during Fall and Spring semesters for the duration of the notice for your country, OR apply for off-campus work permission
  3. Students must apply and receive a special I-20 that shows permission for these benefits

HOW TO APPLY FOR SSR

On-Campus Employment:
Eligible students who have secured on-campus employment and been approved by their work department to work more than 20 hours per week (up to 24 hours per week), must request Special Student Relief by submitting the following to IPO:
 
  • Special Student Relief (SSR) Application 
  • As a part of the online application, you will be required to attach copies of the following documents:
    • Personal Statement in the form of a letter to UT explaining how employment is necessary to avoid severe economic hardship is a direct result of the current humanitarian crisis in your country
    • Passport, most recent
    • F-1 Visa, most recent, OR I-797 Approval Notice for change of status (if applicable)
    • I-94 Record, most recent. Obtain your most recent I-94 online on the CBP website: https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home
    • Form I-20, most recent, copy of all 3 pages in one PDF file
    • Unofficial transcript copy, downloaded PDF from Workday (instructions here)
Students cannot work beyond 20 hours per week while school is in session until they have been authorized in their SEVIS record by IPO.

Off-Campus Employment
Eligible students seeking off-campus employment authorization must apply to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service for authorization. Applications for Special Student Relief employment authorization must first be submitted to and processed by IPO. Please see attached the list of required documents to prepare a complete application. Students do not need a job to apply for off-campus authorization through SSR.

Off-Campus Employment authorization based on Special Student Relief allow students to work off-campus in any position for any number of hours per week based on the suspension of off-campus employment regulations stated above. Employment may not begin until you have received the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS. Employment is authorized for until your graduation date or the expiration of the notice for your country, whichever is sooner.

Employment authorization is contingent upon maintaining your F-1 status. If at any time during your authorized period of employment, you fall out of status (for example by failing to complete a full-time course load) your authorization is immediately cancelled. Transferring to another school will also cancel your employment authorization even if your card has not yet expired. 

The application for special student relief off-campus employment authorization must submit the following documents to IPO for review:
 
  • Special Student Relief (SSR) Application 
  • As a part of the online application, you will be required to attach copies of the following documents
    • Form I-765 (completed and signed), with eligibility category (c)(3)(iii)
      • Note: Special Student Relief cannot be applied for online through USCIS, you must submit the paper application
      • Go to the I-765 website and download the most recent version of the PDF form
      • Type in the PDF, do not handwrite
    • USCIS fee, check, money order, or cashier's check made payable to: "U.S. Department of Homeland Security"
      • NOTE: Spell out U.S. Department of Homeland Security, DO NOT use initials USDHS or DHS
      • DO NOT sign the back of the check or money order
      • See I-765 website to see the current fee amount
      • *An applicant who is unable to pay the fee may submit a completed Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver, along with the Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization. See www.uscis.gov/​feewaiver. The submission must include an explanation of why USCIS should grant the fee waiver and the reason(s) for the inability to pay, and any evidence to support the reason(s).
    • Form G-1145, to request an email/text message notification from USCIS. 
      • Type in the PDF, do not handwrite
    • Personal Statement in the form of a letter to USCIS explaining how employment is necessary to avoid severe economic hardship is a direct result of the current humanitarian crisis in your country
    • I-94 Record, most recent. Obtain your most recent I-94 online on the CBP website: https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home
    • F-1 visa, copy (if you applied for the F-1 visa abroad), OR a copy of the I-797 Change of Status to F-1 approval notice form (if you changed visa status in the U.S.)
    • Passport, most recent
    • Two 2*2 immigration-style/passport photos - face forward, looking directly at the camera
      • Make sure it meets US government requirements of the paper photo here
      • Very lightly write your name & SEVIS ID number on back of each photo.
      • We recommend using a professional U.S. passport photography service to ensure photos are correct
    • Form I-20(s) with previously endorsed OPT, CPT, or economic hardship, if applicable, all 3 pages in one PDF file
    • Unofficial transcript copy, downloaded PDF from Workday (instructions here)
    • Previous EAD card, copy (if applicable)

To apply for Special Student Relief (SSR) off-campus work authorization, please submit the above documents to the IPO office. A new Form I-20 will be issued to you, and then you can send the application to USCIS. Do NOT submit anything to USCIS without first obtaining the new Form I-20 endorsed for SSR from IPO.

Applications take an average of 2-3 months to process. Approximately 2-4 weeks after you send in the application you will receive a receipt in the mail from USCIS stating they have begun processing your application. Your International Student Advisor will provide you with the mailing address when you apply.

IMPORTANT: Send the application to USCIS in an envelope which is clearly marked on the front of the envelope, bottom right-hand side, with the phrase “SPECIAL STUDENT RELIEF.” Failure to include this notation may result in significant processing delays.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
If I already have on-campus employment or an EAD based on severe economic difficulty or TPS, do I need to apply for a separate EAD through SSR? 
To obtain SSR benefits, you must still apply to IPO for SSR approval and a new Form I-20 will be issued to you. However, if you already have a valid EAD you do not need to apply for a separate EAD through SSR.
*Note: The interaction between SSR and concurrent non-student benefits like Temporary Protected Status (TPS) can be quite complicated. Students eligible for both TPS and SSR should thoroughly discuss their options with an experienced immigration lawyer.

Can I apply for both TPS and Special Student Relief?
Yes you can apply for both TPS and Special Student Relief. TPS is a layer of protection. However, students with TPS must still follow F-1 visa rules. TPS does not grant a reduced course load so students who are approved for TPS must still enroll full-time. TPS does not grant permission to work more hours in an on-campus job. Students who want the benefits of Special Student Relief must also apply for Special Student Relief using the online application linked above.
*Note: Because TPS is complicated, IPO recommends that students obtain legal counsel to go over their personal situation to select the option that will work best for them.

Can F-2 dependents apply for work authorization under Special Student Relief?
No, F-2’s are not authorized to work in the US and Special Student Relief does not grant employment benefits to them.

I am a Graduate Assistant (GA), can I apply for SSR to work more than 20 hours per week on-campus and permissions for reduced course load?
No, GA's are not eligible to work more than 20 hours per week on campus and SSR also does not waive the full-time enrollment requirement. However, you can apply for off-campus authorization through SSR if you wish.

Does SSR approval waive the full-time enrollment requirements for scholarships and Graduate Assistantships?
No, it does not waive this requirement.