Special Government Release Programs

Federal regulations allow DHS to suspend or alter rules regarding duration of status, full course of study, and employment eligibility, for specific groups of students from parts of the world that are experiencing emergent circumstances. This collection of benefits is known as "special student relief".

The regulatory provisions are generic, and are activated only when DHS makes a finding of emergent circumstances, and publishes a notice in the Federal Register to define the specifics of what is to be suspended, and for whom, and the procedures for how to apply for any benefits that result from the suspension.

The benefits can be understood as a "package" consisting of on or off-campus work authorization and authorization to reduce the student course load. The reduced course load benefit is only available to students who acquire work authorization through the notice, and is not available separately.

Four notices of suspension have been published to date:

1. Syrian Civil Unrest

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. 

Eligibility Requirements for Syrian 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.

F-1 Requirement Suspension due to Student Special Relief Notice:

The Special Student Relief 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).

Note: A student must receive the EAD from USCIS prior to beginning off-campus work under the special student relief notice.

Additional information may be found on Department of Homeland Security ICE ”Fact Sheet” at: http://www.ice.gov/news/library/factsheets/syrian.htm

2. Libya Civil Unrest

May 19, 2011 Notice granting special student relief to students from Libya. U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced special relief for certain F-1 Libyan students who have suffered severe economic hardship as a direct result of the civil unrest in Libya since February 2011.  This relief applies only to students who were lawfully present in the United States in F-1 status on February1 2011, and enrolled in an institution that ICE’s Student and Exchange visitor Program has certified.

Eligibility Requirements for Libyan 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 Special Student Relief Federal Register notice. Under the June 10, 2011 notice for Libyan F-1 students, a student must:

  • Be a citizen of Libya;
  • Have been lawfully present in the United States in F-1 nonimmigrant status on February 1, 2011;
  • Be currently enrolled in an institution that is Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certified 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 Libya since February, 2011.

Documentation of Economic Hardship

The student must demonstrate to his or her DSO that employment is necessary to avoid severe economic hardship that is directly resulting from the civil unrest in Libya since February, 2011. No specific form of documentation is described in the Federal Register notice, but it is clear that the burden is on the student to provide sufficient information to the DSO so that a determination can be made.

F-1 Requirement Suspension due to Student Special Relief Notice:

The Special Student Relief notice for Libyan 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).

Note: A student must receive the EAD from USCIS prior to beginning off-campus work under the special student relief notice.

Additional information may be found on Department of Homeland Security ICE ”Fact Sheet” at: http://www.ice.gov/news/library/factsheets/libyan-student-employment.htm

3. Haiti Earthquake

September 15, 2010 Notice of Suspension published in response to the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

  • Haiti Special Relief Extension:
    On May 19, 2011 DHS extended the January 12, 2010 notice for Haitian students until January 22, 2013.

Eligibility Requirements for Haitian Students

Before a student begins the application process for special student relief, the DSO must ascertain whether the student meets the eligibility requirements for this benefit. Under the September 15, 2010 and May 19, 2011 notices, a student must:

  • Be a citizen of Haiti;
  • Have been lawfully present in the United States in F-1 nonimmigrant status on Jan. 12, 2010;
  • Be currently enrolled in an institution that is Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certified 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 January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti

F-1 Requirement Suspension due to Student Special Relief Notice:

  • 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.
  • 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).

The student must receive an EAD from USCIS to work off-campus under the special student relief notice.

Additional information may be found on Department of Homeland Security ICE ”Fact Sheet” at: http://www.ice.gov/news/library/factsheets/haitian-students.htm

4. Asian Economic Crisis

June 10, 1998 Notice of Suspension published in response to the Asian economic crisis of that period, which applied to students whose funding came from the following countries: Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines.

Although the June 10, 1998 Notice of Suspension is still active, only F-1 students who have been in the United States since June 10, 1998 can currently benefit from this provision.