Unemployment Benefits for Nonimmigrants
If you are currently in the United States on a work visa, and lost your job, due to the Coronavirus outbreak or otherwise, there are some cases when you could collect unemployment benefits. However, this depends on whether you have some separate right to remain in the United States and are able to work for a different employer than the one that laid you off. Every state has their own requirements that must be met in order to collect unemployment; however, most states require that a person must:
- Show that they were in satisfactory immigration status and authorized to work in the United States when earning the wages, they used to establish their claim; and
- Provide proof that they are currently in satisfactory immigration status and are authorized to work each week that you claim benefits.
The second criteria is the one that hinders many nonimmigrant workers from qualifying since they only are authorized to work for the company that laid them off, therefore, would not be authorized to work for each week they claim benefits.
For example, if you are on an E-3 or an H-1b, and you are laid off, you would not qualify for unemployment because you are no longer authorized to work for another employer. However, if you are on a general work authorization card, due to being a spouse of someone on a nonimmigrant work visa (e.g. E-2, E-3, L-2, etc.), then you would qualify since you are able to work for any employer at any time, so long as the primary holder of the visa continues to remain in status and employed. Also, if you are applying for adjustment of status, and hold a work authorization card, you too could likely qualify since you are also able to work for any employer during the period you can collect unemployment benefits.
Before you make any decisions on applying for any public benefit be aware that for some, but not all non-citizens who wish to apply for some future visa or status in the U.S., in particular for lawful permanent residence, the hurdles to be cleared include proving that one is not inadmissible as a likely “public charge.” You have the burden of showing that your finances are not in a precarious condition that you might end up receiving welfare or government assistance in the future.
Fortunately, unemployment insurance is not among the government’s list of benefit types that make someone a likely potential public charge. However, if you end requesting assistance other than unemployment insurance coverage it may cause a bar to adjustment under the public charge rules.
Be aware that each state has their own criteria required to be met in order to collect unemployment benefits. Visit their websites and/or contact them directly to verify their specific requirements to determine if you would qualify.