Ukrainians Studying in U.S. Granted Special Student Relief

The Department of Homeland Security designation provides college students from Ukraine flexibility to reduce course loads so they can support themselves and their families.
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  • The federal government previously provided Ukrainian students Temporary Protected Status.
  • The new designation only applies to F-1 visa holders, who tend to be undergraduate students.
  • The designation is meant to help students experiencing economic hardship due to an ongoing conflict.

Ukrainian students studying in the U.S. may now apply for additional benefits under Special Student Relief (SSR).

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Tuesday approved a new designation for those impacted by the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The move applies to all Ukrainian citizens studying at a U.S. school with an F-1 student visa. It allows them to reduce their course loads and work more off-campus hours to support themselves and their families.

Students must individually apply for SSR. The fees can be up to $410 per person. However, if the student also seeks off-campus work permission, they can apply for a fee waiver. SSR status will expire after Oct. 19, 2023, but the federal government may choose to continually renew the status for qualifying students.

Quotation mark

Ukrainian students also can apply for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a designation that DHS announced in early March.

According to the Open Doors 2021 report, 1,739 Ukrainian students studied in the U.S. during the 2020-21 academic year. This includes 877 undergraduate students, 529 graduate students, 48 non-degree seekers, and 285 Optional Practical Training students.

SSR Widens Work Opportunities for College Students

Normally, someone studying in the U.S. on an F-1 student visa must be enrolled in at least 12 credits per semester to maintain the visa.

Students with SSR status do not need to maintain this course load.

Instead, undergraduate students only need to maintain a minimum of six credits per semester. Graduate students only need three credits per term, according to the Federal Register notice announcing the designation.

Jill Welch, senior policy advisor at The Presidents' Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, previously told BestColleges that this change is meant to help students experiencing economic hardship due to an ongoing conflict. Many international students rely on family members to pay for their education, but cash streams often stop due to wars, leaving them in precarious positions.

These students will also be allowed to work more off-campus hours with SSR.

Those on SSR may now work more than 20 hours a week at an off-campus job, something not allowed with a standard F-1 visa. They are also eligible to start working no matter how long they have been in the U.S. Non-SSR students aren't allowed to work in the U.S. until after one academic year.

SSR students working off campus only need to be enrolled in three credits per semester, according to the notice.

A Brief History of SSR

Ukraine isn't the only country benefiting from this designation.

According to NAFSA: Association of International Educators, SSR programs are currently in place for the following countries:

  • Myanmar
  • Haiti
  • Hong Kong
  • Somalia
  • South Sudan
  • Syria
  • Venezuela
  • Yemen

At the same time that DHS extended SSR to Ukrainian students, the agency also extended it to citizens of Sudan.

Welch previously advised international students to consult their campus's international student services office to determine whether SSR or TPS is best for them.