Will Filing for Unemployment Jeopardize Your Immigration Status?

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An Immigrant's Guide to Filing for Unemployment Benefits in the United States

Did you know that Texas has yet to return to its pre-pandemic state despite creating several jobs for its residents? With unemployment stagnating at 4.1% as of October 2023, according to US Bureau of Labor, several Texans struggle, especially immigrants. Not surprisingly, many wonder, “will filing for unemployment affect my immigration status?”

Are you or a family member currently in this challenging situation? You’ve come to the right place. This article aims to provide crucial information on the intersection of unemployment and immigration, specifically in Texas. At Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law, we strive to provide extensive citizenship and immigration services and guidance.

The Intersection of Unemployment and Immigration

How Unemployment Benefits Work

Unemployment insurance (UI) is designed to financially support workers facing involuntary job loss. The payment aims to help unemployed individuals get by as they actively seek a new job.

To qualify for these benefits, you must satisfy specific criteria:

  1. Job Loss: Eligibility requires job loss due to firing or layoff. Quitting your job makes you ineligible.
  2. Employment History: A full-time employment history of at least 18 months during the base period is necessary for optimal benefits.
  3. Legal Work Authorization: You must possess the legal right to work in the country, signified by a valid work permit or Green Card.

Lawful permanent residents (Green Card holders) and legal immigrant workers can file unemployment insurance claims. The benefit amount paid is contingent on past wages. You’ll be informed of the calculated Weekly Benefit Amount (WBA) and the Maximum Benefit Amount. In Texas, the WBA ranges from $73 to $577.

Navigating Immigration Status

Understanding one’s immigration status is crucial for proper guidance. There are four types of immigration status in the US:

  • Citizen: It refers to a person born in the country or became naturalized after 3 to 5 years of residency

  • Permanent or Conditional Resident: Holds a Green Card through marriage for conditional residents or as a Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) for others.

  • Non-Immigrant Status: Temporarily residing and working with specific visa types (e.g., F-1, K-1, B-1, or B-2).

  • Undocumented Immigrant: Refers to individuals working or residing in the country without legal permission and lacking temporary or permanent status.

Intersection of Unemployment and Immigration

Non-citizens seeking unemployment benefits must comply with the exact requirements of other workers. The Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) verifies work authorization per the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. You’ll only qualify if you’re legally authorized to work in the United States. The current federal and state systems do not provide undocumented workers with unemployment benefits.

You must not attempt to falsify any document. The USCIS may decide to take legal action against those who submit false or altered documents for criminal purposes, including falsifying qualifications for unemployment benefits. 

Potential Risks of Filing for Unemployment on Immigration Status

The Public Charge Rule

The Biden Administration’s updated version of the Public Charge Rule took effect in December 2022. The rule considers someone to be a public charge as inadmissible.

According to this rule, a public charge primarily depends on the government for subsistence. This is shown by getting public cash assistance for maintaining income or long-term institutionalization at the government’s expense.

Many immigrants worry that becoming a permanent resident will be difficult if they need public assistance. However, it’s important to note that unemployment isn’t welfare but insurance. Employers and workers pay for the benefits, not American taxpayers. The USCIS clarified that unemployment is an earned benefit not covered in the public charge rule.

For questions about the Public Charge rules, speak with an experienced immigration attorney from Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law.

Visa Limitations

Visa holders authorized to work in the United States contribute to their company’s unemployment insurance. Unfortunately, not everyone is qualified to enjoy those benefits.

Your work authorization shouldn’t have any restrictions to become eligible for unemployment benefits. This means there should be no conditions on where or for whom you can work.

Examples of visas with restrictions are H-1B, TN, E, and L-1; thus, they’re not entitled to unemployment benefits. They’re not permitted to work for another employer or transfer to locations outside the Metropolitan Statistical Area. The sponsoring employer must file a Labor Condition Application (LCA) or Form I-129. The USCIS must first approve any changes in the terms and conditions of employment before an employee can start working.

If you plan to file a visa petition, file it anyway. It’s not advisable to wait and see how things turn out. You want to start the process as soon as possible. If you are uncertain about the documents you have, speak with a business immigration attorney in Texas regarding your current employment or unemployment situation.

Green Card Implications

A Green Card holder has no issue getting unemployment benefits. They are neither welfare nor government assistance, so they should not trigger the public charge rule. As a permanent resident, the right to accept these benefits is protected.

If you have a valid Green Card, expect to be asked to provide the following:

  • Alien registration number

  • Green Card card number

You can find both numbers if you own the current version of the Green Card. Older versions may not. In cases of lost Green Cards, the submission of Form I-90 for a replacement is required. It may take several months before you receive your new card. The USCIS will provide you with a receipt number within 2 to 4 weeks.

Let Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law, Address Your Immigration Queries.

Despite the assurance the USCIS gives, many still fear putting their status at risk because of unemployment. Some even say they’re willing to face hardship to avoid being deprived of permanent residence.

If you’re facing these concerns, consulting a trusted business immigration attorney in Texas is a prudent step before taking action. Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law, has a unique approach to immigration issues. We provide transparent and honest legal advice tailored to individual cases.

If you are unsure about managing your immigration case amidst unemployment, scheduling a consultation with us is a proactive way to address concerns and seek guidance.