H4 Visa Layoffs and COVID-19 Unemployment

Updated on April 10, 2024

At a Glance

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has led to layoffs for many non-citizens in the US, including those on H1B and H4 visas.
  • H4 visa holders have the advantage of being able to work for any employer, making it easier for them to find new jobs.
  • Fortunately, H4 visa holders are eligible for unemployment benefits, unlike H1B visa holders.
  • Eligibility for benefits varies by state and requires valid work authorization. Claiming unemployment benefits does not make H4 visa holders a public charge, but additional government assistance may have implications for future visa applications.

COVID-19 is affecting many people. Aside from being dangerous enough to give people bad symptoms, it also leaves people without jobs. Because of the lockdowns, a lot of places are closed, hence why so many are unemployed at the moment. If you’re an H4 visa holder, then you may be wondering if you are eligible to apply for unemployment benefits. Here’s all you need to know about this.

H4 Visa Layoffs and COVID-19

Many non-citizens in the United States are there under a work visa – such as an H1B. But now that COVID-19 is taking over, a lot of people have to deal with layoffs. People who lose their job may end up losing their status too, which means they have to leave the U.S. not long afterward. Of course, this applies unless you can find a new job or change your status.

H4 visa holders are another category that may experience layoffs due to COVID-19. The difference between H1B visa holders and H4 visa holders is that the latter can work under pretty much any employer. They can get another job immediately, so if you’re a spouse with an H4 visa and work authorization, you have it much better than H1B visa owners.

Do H4 Visa Holders Qualify for Unemployment?

Fortunately, H4 visa holders qualify for unemployment. Because many H4 spouses have work authorization, they can work under any United States employer immediately. As such, they will qualify for unemployment benefits, which is amazing.

This is different from H1B holders. People from this category will lose their status along with their job, which puts them at risk if they are unable to find a new job in the same field soon enough. Not to mention that they will not qualify for unemployment benefits. The reason is that they are not tied to a particular employer, so they are not immediately able to get a new job.

Requirements to Apply for Unemployment

You have to be aware of the fact that each state works differently when it comes to unemployment benefits eligibility. Before you decide whether it’s time to apply or not, you have to check the laws of the state you live in.

For the most part, though, states will have unemployment benefits available for people who have been working at their last job for a certain period but lost it due to a problem they didn’t cause. That being said, if an employee was fired because he/she did something bad or if the employee quit the job, then unemployment benefits are not available for them. Not to mention that most states will ask an unemployed person to be immediately available for employment as soon as they are not working for their other job anymore.

As such, these benefits would only be available for people who can work for any employer and do not require sponsorship.

People who can qualify for unemployment benefits will usually need to:

  • Have a work authorization (either an employment authorization document or an EAD card)
  • Have a valid work authorization at the time of employment
  • Continue to have a valid work authorization when collecting unemployment benefits

Because of this, there are many situations when losing a job or having an expired work authorization will not make an unemployed person qualify for unemployment benefits. This is where you need to seek the help of an attorney.

You should also keep in mind that there are states that do not offer benefits to nonimmigrants. Illinois is one example. In this state, people applying for benefits need a U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent residence.

How to Apply for Unemployment on an H4 Visa

If there is no issue and you are qualifying for unemployment benefits, then what you have to do is apply in the state where you worked.

Certain documentation will be required for you to proceed with the application. You will need your Social Security card or any document that shows the Social Security Number. Aside from that, you will need recent pay stubs and other wage records, as well as documents that show evidence of your unemployment.

The unemployment forms will have specific questions. Make sure to not write paragraphs. In general, they want a short and simple response. One of the first questions will ask you why you left your last job, and here’s where you barely have room to write too much.

Try not to use the word “fired” unless you are unemployed due to something that you did wrong. Using the word “fired” may make you less likely to receive benefits.

In case you have no job at the moment because the business was slow, make sure to use the term “laid off”. At the same time, if you were discharged by the employer, write something like “Quit for good cause personal reason” or “Discharged without any misconduct”. Don’t give too many details either.

Does Claiming Unemployment Benefits Make You a Public Charge?

One of the things that non-citizens of the United States are thinking about if they want to apply for a future visa or status in the country is whether they can prove they are not inadmissible as a public charge. Basically, being a public charge means that you need government assistance or “welfare” in order to be able to live properly in the United States.

But most people would want to prove that they are in a good, stable condition financially, or else their process of obtaining U.S. residency will not have positive results. Now that there are so many unemployed people and you may be one of them, you might be worrying that claiming unemployment benefits will make you a public charge.

Well, it won’t. Thankfully, unemployment insurance will not make you seem like a possible public charge, so you’re good to go.

There will be a problem if you’ll need more assistance types than the unemployment insurance coverage one. But luckily, USCIS came up with a statement for people who are dealing with COVID-19 symptoms. If you have symptoms, then you should “seek necessary medical treatment or preventive services”. They also stated that this will not make you a potential public charge case either. It’s important to note that only the medical treatment will be covered.

However, if something happens and you need to rely on help from the government, then you will have to think about how to approach the situation in the future. In case you’re planning to apply for a green card or visa in the future, then you should also attach an explanation letter about the COVID-19 pandemic period and how it affected you. Do your best to explain why you needed to seek government help due to the way it impacted your ability to work or deal with other activities.

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The Bottom Line

If you’re on an H4 visa and currently unemployed due to COVID-19, you may want to get unemployment benefits. Luckily, you qualify, so make sure you take all the necessary steps to prove your unemployment and apply for your benefits. Also, it’s good to know that this will not make you a potential public charge case.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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