The Obama administration welcomed its ten-thousandth Syrian refugee to United States recently and on Friday it will extend work authorization eligibility to hundreds more Syrian students.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement is slated to publish a notice in the Federal Register on Friday that will suspend certain regulatory rules and allow Syrian students on F-1 visas to obtain work authorization, work increased hours, and continue to maintain a their F-1 visas even if they reduce their course load.
According to ICE, the Syrians who will be made eligible for work authorization under the new rule have “have suffered severe economic hardship as a direct result of the civil unrest in Syria since March 2011.”
The new rule will expand the number of Syrian students eligible to work in the United States. A previous notice opened work eligibility up to Syrian students on F-1 visas who had been in the U.S. and enrolled in an institution certified by ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) as of April 3, 2012. This week’s notice will open eligibility to Syrian students who have been enrolled in a SEVP-certified institution as of September 9.
“We want to ensure that qualifying students from Syria are able to continue their studies without the worry of financial burdens,” Louis Farrell, SEVP director, said in a statement Thursday. “The changes announced in this notice expand the pool of eligible students.”
ICE estimates that nearly 750 Syrians on F-1 visas are currently enrolled in U.S. schools.
“The civil unrest in Syria has increased the financial burden on many of these students, who previously relied on assistance from the Syrian government or family members in Syria to meet basic living expenses,” ICE noted in its announcement. “In addition, the situation in Syria has made it unfeasible for these students to safely return to Syria in the foreseeable future.”
Under normal circumstances, F-1 visas allow foreigners to enter the United States as full-time students at accredited universities, high schools, elementary schools, or other academic institutions that result in a degree, diploma, or certificate. Usually, F-1 visa holders may not work off-campus their first academic year, but after they may seek off-campus employment in their fields of study through the Curricular Practical Training (CPT) program, Optional Practical Training (OPT), and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT).
The Obama administration has faced criticism in recent months for its hasty resettlement of thousands of Syrian refugees amid vetting concerns and warnings from top security officials that terrorists could try to infiltrate the refugee flow. Reports have indicated that despite the security concerns, there has been an effort to open “alternate pathways” for Syrians to get to the United States, including student visas.