Can Migrants File for Unemployment?

Migrant Resources

Can Migrants File for Unemployment?

What you should know before you file

Are you a migrant living in the US who has recently lost their job, or is afraid they might lose their job?

There are special rules regarding migration and receiving unemployment benefits that you should know about.

Before you apply, check out this resource to determine if you’re eligible for unemployment benefits as a migrant working in the US.

Unemployment benefits: The basics

Whether you were born and raised in the US or migrated here, everyone must meet certain criteria to be eligible to receive unemployment benefits.

Individuals applying for unemployment must meet the following requirements:

  1. Unemployed by “no fault of their own”
  2. Worked for a “base period”
  3. Must be “able and available” to work

But what do these really mean? Let’s break it down.

Unemployed by no fault of your own means you lost your job for reasons that you could not control. In other words, you cannot receive unemployment if you were fired due to poor performance, not showing up, or similar.

Base periods are a little trickier. But essentially, you must have been employed for a certain amount of time (usually a year) or earned a certain amount of money before losing the job and applying for benefits.

Finally, you must be able and available to work, meaning you must be mentally and physically able to find new work and nothing should stop you from accepting a new job, such as working hours or commute time.

This last requirement is the hardest for migrant workers to meet because oftentimes their visas grant them permission to work for one specific employer in one specific role. More on this to come.

Important note:

Unemployment benefits are funded at the state level. Therefore, eligibility to receive unemployment varies from state to state. In most states, workers are allowed to claim unemployment for up to 26 weeks. You can find the most accurate information and requirements on your specific state’s Department of Labor website.

Immigration status and unemployment benefits

The general rule is that a worker must have had valid work authorization when they were employed, when they applied for unemployment, and the entire time they received their benefits.

Unfortunately, that means undocumented workers are not eligible to receive unemployment benefits.

It also means that only migrants who maintain their legal status in the US after losing their job can collect unemployment benefits. For example, the spouse of a US citizen waiting for green card approval or the spouse of an H-1B visa holder are authorized to work but do not rely on their job to remain legal in the US. Therefore, if they lose their job, they would be eligible to apply for benefits, assuming they meet all other requirements.

However, an H-1B visa holder relies on their petitioning employer to maintain their status. If they lost their job, they would also lose their legal status and have to leave the US. In that case, they would not be eligible to apply for unemployment benefits.

Does applying for unemployment make you a public charge?

In plain English, the Public Charge Rule requires migrants in the US to be financially independent so that they will not rely on public benefits, commonly known as welfare.

Fortunately, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not consider unemployment benefits as public benefits. That means if you’re a migrant receiving unemployment, it will not be considered as a public charge in your future immigration cases.

The reason that unemployment benefits are not considered a public charge is because they are considered earned benefits though an individual’s employment. In other words, you must have worked to earn the right to claim unemployment benefits.

Can DACA recipients collect unemployment?

Whether DACA recipients are eligible for unemployment benefits or not depends on the state where they live.

Arizona, for example, is one state that does not allow DACA recipients to collect any unemployment benefits.

On the other hand, DACA recipients who live within the states of California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Texas, and New York are eligible for unemployment.

Refer to your state’s Department of Labor website for more information on eligibility.

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