Why legal immigrants are afraid to file for unemployment benefits

On Behalf of | Aug 15, 2020 | US Immigration Law

The global health crisis has hit the U.S. economy hard – leaving millions of people unemployed. While the federal government has responded by creating unemployment insurance programs that can assist nearly all categories of workers, many legal immigrants are afraid of what accepting unemployment benefits could mean for their immigration status.

Legal immigrants can get unemployment benefits

As we discussed in a recent post, legal, foreign-born workers can seek unemployment benefits – just like American citizens can. However, many immigrants are reluctant to apply for such benefits, as they worry that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services could use this against them in the future.

Why the mistrust?

The current administration has made drastic changes to immigration policy over the last few years. Factors that previously never counted against immigrants seeking to gain permanent residency or citizenship now do.

For instance, last year, the White House instituted a new policy known as the public charge rule. This regulation gave preferential treatment to wealthy immigrants applying for green cards. Meanwhile, applicants who were deemed likely to need public assistance – i.e., taxpayer-funded welfare – at any time after arriving in the U.S. were less likely to be accepted.

Unemployment insurance is different from public assistance. Unemployment insurance is paid for by employers – not taxpayers. Nonetheless, many immigrants are understandably worried that if they seek such benefits now, the White House could later deem this to be a negative factor in their immigration petition.

Immigration policy seems less certain and more in flux than ever. This has left many immigrants fearful of taking any benefits that could be used against them in the future. As a result, immigrants in this country are going without the benefits they deserve – and struggling more than most during the pandemic.