ICE Offers Employment Authorization to Some Syrian Students Due to Civil Unrest

Syria Map

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency that investigates and enforces immigration laws and regulations, announced on April 3 that it will allow certain Syrian students present in the United States to obtain employment authorization for a limited time. The agency will suspend the usual regulatory limitations for qualifying students. The suspension will apply to students who were legally present in the U.S. on a F-1 visa on April 3, 2012. Eligible students must be enrolled in an educational institution certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program maintained by ICE. ICE estimates that 514 Syrian students are enrolled in U.S. schools at present. ICE’s announcement is separate from, but closely related to, the announcement by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that Syrians in the U.S. may obtain Temporary Protected Status.

Students who qualify for employment authorization under this suspension may maintain their F-1 status while working a heightened number of hours during school sessions. Students normally authorized to work only twenty hours per week in an on-campus job may be able to expand their work hours. Students may also reduce their load of classes to allow for additional work time. Undergraduate students must maintain at least six semester hours per term to maintain their F-1 status. Graduate students must maintain three semester hours. F-1 students in high school or below may obtain employment authorization, but must maintain the regular course load. F-2 dependents, including spouses and children, will not receive any employment eligibility under this suspension.

ICE cites civil unrest in Syria, which has persisted since March 2011, as the reason for granting this suspension. The “extraordinary and temporary conditions” in Syria prevent students from returning there safely. The situation reportedly began when protesters demanding political reform met a government crackdown, leading to ongoing violence. Most of the violence appears to involve attacks by the Syrian army and security forces on civilian populations. The American Red Cross reports that the conflict has trapped thousands of people in their homes and turned thousands more into refugees. At least 9,000 people have died, including over 600 children. The Syrian government faces widespread international condemnation and economic sanctions, but has not yet relented.

news release issued by ICE on April 3 states that the Student and Exchange Visitor Program wants to ensure Syrian students can maintain their financial stability while here in the U.S. Many of the Syrian students relied on assistance from family members back home or the Syrian government. Instability and international economic sanctions prevent much of the financial assistance from leaving Syria. Many students are therefore experiencing considerable financial stress.

Federal immigration laws normally only allow limited employment eligibility for students present on F-1 nonimmigrant visas. This announcement by ICE, combined with USCIS’s announcement regarding TPS for Syrians, is an important humanitarian gesture to a population dealing with a serious crisis in their home country.

The United States immigration system is often complicated and confusing. For a free and confidential consultation with a skilled and experienced Ohio immigration visa lawyer, contact Gus Shihab online or at (800) 625-3404 today.

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Photo credit: Syria map by Central Intelligence Agency [Public domain] on Wikimedia Commons.