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Can I Collect Unemployment if I am an Immigrant?

Posted by Hugo Valverde | Apr 03, 2020 | 0 Comments

Image by Niek Verlaan

U.S. citizens and non-citizens have lost their jobs in the economic fallout caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.  Applications for unemployment benefits have skyrocketed across the country. A record 3.3 million people in the United States applied for unemployment benefits during the week of March 15. 

Can non-U.S. citizens apply for unemployment? 

Immigrants and visa holders with legal authorization to work in the U.S. (for example, asylees, refugees, DACA recipients, individuals with temporary protected status, lawful permanent residents), and individuals who have been issued an Employment Authorization Document), are eligible to apply for unemployment benefits. 

However, those with certain employment visas are not eligible. For example, H-1B visa holders, by nature of their visa type, must be employed by the sponsoring employer at all times while in the United States. If you hold an H-1B visa and have been let go from your job due to the pandemic, you should immediate contact a qualified immigration attorney. 

Will collecting unemployment benefits impact my future application for permanent residence because of the public charge rule?

No. Unemployment insurance is not among the government's list of benefit types that make someone a likely potential public chargeHowever, when applying for an adjustment of status, you may need to attach a letter explaining how the COVID-19 pandemic affected you and why you applied for unemployment benefits. Under section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), those applying for an adjustment of status to permanent resident must prove that they are not likely to become a public charge. With some exceptions for certain petitioners, this means that someone who receives public benefits (‘welfare' or government assistance) may be ineligible for permanent residency. 

What about Undocumented immigrant workers?

Unfortunately most undocumented immigrants are ineligible for unemployment benefits. However, depending on what state you live in, some undocumented immigrants are able to receive assistance. California for example, has stated that workers affected by coronavirus can apply for certain assistance regardless of immigration status. At this time, no other states have issued a similar statement, however, many organizations are trying to provide resources and help for undocumented workers who have lost their jobs. For more of those resources, check out this nationwide list that UndocuScholars put out.  

If you are confused about what benefits your state or the federal government is allowing you to apply for and its possible impacts on your immigration status, feel free to contact us and we will provide whatever help we can. Stay safe and stay healthy – we're all in this together. 

About the Author

Hugo Valverde

Hugo's passion for immigration law stems from his own family's immigration experience. His father and mother came to the United States from Peru fleeing political persecution, and as he grew up, Hugo spent many summers in Peru. Hugo uses his experience growing up in an immigrant family and time a...


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