Stranded international students in the US facing economic hardships due to the coronavirus pandemic can apply for off-campus work authorisation, a federal agency said on Tuesday.
The announcement from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is seen as a major relief to hundreds and thousands of international students, including those from India, who have been facing a tough economic situation for the past several weeks now.
"If you experience severe economic hardship because of unforeseen circumstances beyond your control, you may request employment authorisation to work off-campus (if you meet certain regulatory requirements)," the USCIS said in a statement.
All applications are subject to approval in a case-by-case basis, it said.
Examples of unforeseen circumstances include, but are not limited to, loss of financial aid or on-campus employment through no fault of their own; substantial fluctuations in currency value or exchange rate; and inordinate increases in tuition or living costs.
Unexpected changes in the financial condition of the source of support; and medical bills have also been listed by the USCIS as unforeseen circumstances.
A large number of international students, including those from India, have been left stranded and in many cases are facing financial distress after their education institutions were shut down after the announcement of social mitigation measures by the White House on March 13.
The students were also asked to vacate their dorms for the rest of the academic session. The academic session only begins in late August.
There are an estimated 250,000 Indian students in the US.
Many of them were able to get back home before India shut down its airspace on March 22. However, hundreds of Indian students, many with meager resources, have been left stranded.
Indian-American hotel owners have come to their rescue by offering them free accommodation and free meals in many cases.
The USCIS said that their off-campus work authorisation application, which would allow them to work anywhere in the US, must be signed by their educational institution.
Under normal circumstances, international students are allowed to work within the university campus and that too for a limited number of hours per month.
"Your Form I-20 (application) must include the employment page completed by your Designated School Official, certifying your eligibility for off-campus employment due to severe economic hardships caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond your control.
"If your request is approved, you may be able to work off-campus in one-year intervals up to the expected date of completion of your current course of study," the USCIS said.
It said that Special Student Relief is the suspension of certain regulatory requirements by the secretary of Homeland Security for F 1 students from parts of the world that are experiencing emergent circumstances.
Examples of emergent circumstances include natural catastrophe, war and military conflicts, and national or international financial crises.