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ICE announces the extension of employment authorization eligibility for certain Syrian students

August 8, 2015

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has announced the extension of special relief for certain F-1 Syrian students who have suffered severe economic hardship as a direct result of the civil unrest in Syria since March 2011. This relief applies only to students who were lawfully present in the United States in F-1 status as of April 3, 2012, and enrolled in an institution that is certified by ICE's Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).

ICE initially published a notice in the Federal Register suspending certain regulatory requirements in order to allow eligible Syrian F-1 students to obtain employment authorization, work an increased number of hours during the school term, and, if necessary, reduce their course load while continuing to maintain their F-1 student status. This suspension is extended in a subsequent notice, published on January 5, 2015, until September 30, 2016.

Who is covered by these notices?

These notices apply exclusively to eligible F-1 students whose country of citizenship is Syria and who were lawfully present in the United States in F-1 nonimmigrant status on April 3, 2012, under section 101(a)(15)(F)(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(15)(F)(i). To be eligible for the benefits covered by these notices, F-1 students must be: (1) enrolled in an institution that is SEVP certified for enrollment of F-1 students; (2) currently maintaining F-1 status; and (3) experiencing severe economic hardship as a direct result of civil unrest in Syria. F-1 students covered by these notices who transfer to other SEVP-certified academic institutions will remain eligible for relief under these notices.

What is the minimum course load requirement set forth in this notice?

Undergraduate F-1 students who are granted on-campus or off-campus employment authorization under these notices must remain registered for a minimum of six semester/quarter hours of instruction per academic term. Graduate F-1 students who are granted on-campus or off-campus employment authorization under these notices must remain registered for a minimum of three semester/quarter hours of instruction per academic term. See 8 CFR 214.2(f)(5)(v). In addition, F-1 students (both undergraduate and graduate) granted on-campus or off-campus employment authorization under these notices may count up to the equivalent of one class or three credits per session, term, semester, trimester, or quarter of online or distance education toward satisfying this minimum course load requirement. See 8 CFR 214.2(f)(6)(i)(G).

May Syrian F-1 students who already have on-campus or off-campus employment authorization benefit from the suspension of regulatory requirements under these notices?

Yes. Syrian F-1 students who already have on-campus or off-campus employment may benefit from these notices without having to apply for a new Form I-766, Employment Authorization Document, (EAD). These students must, however, request that their designated school official (DSO) appropriately annotate their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) student record before reducing their course load or working more than 20 hours while school is in session.

Will Syrian F-1 students need to apply for reinstatement after expiration of this special employment authorization if the student reduces his or her full course of study?

No. Syrian F-1 students who are granted employment authorization under these notices will be deemed to be engaged in a “full course of study” for the duration of their employment authorization, provided that qualifying undergraduate F-1 students remain registered for a minimum of six semester/quarter hours of instruction per academic term, and qualifying graduate F-1 students remain registered for a minimum of three semester/quarter hours of instruction per academic term. See 8 CFR 214.2(f)(5)(v) and (f)(6)(i)(F). Such students will not be required to apply for reinstatement under 8 CFR 214.2(f)(16) provided they are otherwise maintaining F-1 status.

Will F-2 dependents (spouse or minor children) of F-1 students covered by this notice be eligible to apply for employment authorization?

No. An F-2 spouse or minor child of an F-1 student is not authorized to work in the United States and therefore may not accept employment under that status. See 8 CFR 214.2(f)(15)(i).

Will the suspension of the applicability of the standard student employment requirements apply to aliens who are granted an F-1 visa after this notice is published in the Federal Register?

No. The suspension of the applicability of the standard regulatory requirements applies to those F-1 students whose country of citizenship is Syria and who were lawfully present in the United States in F-1 nonimmigrant status on April 3, 2012, under section 101(a)(15)(F)(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(15)(F)(i). In addition, to be eligible for the benefits covered by this notice, the student must be: (1) enrolled in an institution that is SEVP certified for enrollment of F-1 students; (2) currently maintaining F-1 status; and (3) experiencing severe economic hardship as a direct result of civil unrest in Syria.

F-1 students who do not meet these requirements do not qualify for the suspension of the applicability of the standard regulatory requirements.

Does this notice apply to an F-1 student who departs the United States after the initial notice publication in the Federal Register and who needs to obtain a new F-1 visa before he or she may return to the United States to continue his or her educational programs?

Yes, provided that the DSO has properly notated the student's SEVIS record, which will then appear on the student's Form I-20. Subject to the specific terms of these notices, the normal rules for visa issuance remain applicable to non-immigrants that need to apply for a new F-1 visa in order to continue their educational programs in the United States.

How long will this notice remain in effect?

The most recent notice grants temporary relief to a specific group of F-1 students whose country of citizenship is Syria until Sep. 30, 2016.

Is additional information available?

Yes. SEVP has published comprehensive guidance on this topic on its website at www.ice.gov/sevis.

Last Reviewed/Updated: 06/21/2016