Does filing for unemployment put someone at risk under public charge? (from immigrationimpact.com)
No. When the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published the public charge rule, it made clear that receiving unemployment benefits is not considered to be receiving a “public benefit.” This is because unemployment is an “earned benefit” that workers pay into with their paychecks. This includes Medicare and Social Security.
Not every immigrant laid off due to COVID-19 will be eligible for unemployment. People seeking to file for unemployment generally must be legally authorized to work. Some states extend unemployment benefits to individuals with DACA, while others do not.
Could a period of unemployment due to the coronavirus put someone at risk under public charge? (from immigrationimpact.com)
Maybe. The public charge rule operates like a wealth test. Immigrants who are laid off due to the coronavirus could have their diminished financial wellbeing counted against them if they apply for a green card in the future or are forced to rely on public benefits to survive.
However, USCIS has indicated that individuals in that situation should provide additional evidence along with their application for a green card. They can explain that the hardship was due to COVID-19.
The agency says it will “take all such evidence into consideration in the totality of the [immigrant’s] circumstances,” indicating that they will likely provide leeway in that event.
Federal relief programs available to immigrants without work authorization (list created by the Hawaiʻi Appleseed Center)
These programs are available regardless of immigration status:
- Pandemic EBT. This federal program will provide about $300 per child on a debit card to purchase food to families that were getting free or reduced-price school meals when the pandemic hit. In Hawaiʻi, the cards should be mailed to families in late June.
- Child nutrition programs, including WIC and free grab-and-go meals. Many of the in-person appointment requirements of WIC (food benefits available to low-income pregnant women and children under age 5) have been waived during the pandemic, making it easier to access the program. Hawaiʻi public schools and community partners are providing free grab-and-go meals to any children and youth up to age 18.
- Federal relief laws offer paid family and sick leave as well as tax credits for self-employed workers.
- Free COVID-19 testing is also included in federal relief laws.
- Here in Hawaiʻi, the Aloha Free Clinic is providing medical services to unemployed and uninsured patients.
These programs are NOT available to immigrants without work authorization:
- Unemployment insurance benefits
- Federal stimulus payments (and many U.S. citizen children and spouses are also shut out)
- COVID-19 medical treatment (unless HI decides to cover it under Emergency Medicaid)
- Here are some other resources about immigrant eligibility for benefit programs:
- Table of immigrant eligibility for a wide range of federal programs (from 2015)
- Chart of medical assistance available to immigrants in different states
- Webpage with links to other states’ guides to assistance for immigrants