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Can you get unemployment pay as an immigrant?

The current health crisis has left people around the country in unforeseen, dire straits. Many have lost their jobs and are suddenly struggling to pay rent and put food on the table without a source of income.

With so many Americans already living paycheck to paycheck, unemployment insurance has become a lifeline to keep many in this country afloat during this difficult time. But what if you are an immigrant worker? Do you also have access to unemployment benefits if you lose your job?

Your resident status

In order for an immigrant to be eligible for Unemployment Insurance (UI), you must be legally residing in the U.S. This includes:

  • Legal permanent residents
  • Asylees/refugees (those with approved status or application-pending status)
  • Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients
  • Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients
  • Legal migrant workers

The above list is not exhaustive. However, undocumented immigrants are not eligible for UI.

Work permit status

In addition, you must have a work permit that is valid for both of the following time periods:

  • Benefits period: The time during which you’ll be receiving unemployment benefits
  • Base period: The previous length of time during which you were employed

Unfortunately, this is bad news if you have an employment-based visa (such as H-1B or L-1). Such workers have to obtain a new, employer-sponsored work visa anytime they change employment. Therefore, if you don’t already have another job offer on the table – and another visa application in the works – you will be considered ineligible for unemployment benefits.

Texas requirements

Unemployment Insurance (UI) is funded through the state – so criteria may vary from state to state. In Texas, non-citizens are also required to satisfy the requirements of Form I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification) in order to receive unemployment benefits. This requires applicants to have a Social Security Number.

This is a challenging time for many people across the U.S. – and the entire world. It’s worth understanding your rights and options for support along the way.

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