Unemployment Benefits for Green Card and Visa Holders

Updated on April 8, 2024

At a Glance

  • Unemployment insurance offers financial support to individuals who are unemployed through no fault of their own, with the amount received based on previous earnings during a designated “base period.”
  • Eligibility criteria include being authorized to work in the U.S., having earned sufficient wages or worked enough hours, and experiencing unemployment without personal fault.
  • Documentation requirements for unemployment benefits vary by state but generally include a valid Social Security card, employment details, and citizenship status.
  • Permanent residents, non-immigrant employees, and individuals with work authorization can also apply for unemployment benefits without negative immigration consequences.

At this moment, COVID-19 is still a thing. Even though it’s been months since the virus started spreading, its effects are far from being gone. In fact, millions of people have been left with no jobs in the United States, including actual Americans and immigrants. If you’re part of the second category, you may be wondering whether you should apply for unemployment benefits or not. To give you a better idea of this, here is all you need to know about unemployment benefits.

What Is Unemployment Insurance?

Unemployment insurance refers to money received by a person without a job, as long as unemployment was caused by a reason that wasn’t their fault. That being said, if you left your job or were fired due to having the wrong type of behavior, you cannot receive unemployment insurance.

If you receive this type of insurance, the amount that you get is usually based on how much you were earning during the “base period”. Just like that, the base period can be different depending on the state too. As a rule of thumb, though, the period will be the last 12 to 18 months when you were still working at the job.

Since it may be tough out there when you’re unemployed, unemployment insurance can come as a huge help. It will support you financially when you have no way to support yourself at the moment and should be of use until you look for another workplace.

Immigrant Eligibility for Unemployment

If you want to get unemployment insurance, you need to make sure you are eligible first. As already mentioned, there are a few situations when this type of insurance is not available for you. Here are the situations that will make you qualify for unemployment insurance:

Have no Fault in Your Unemployment

If you want to be eligible for unemployment insurance, then you need to make sure that you are unemployed through no fault of your own. That means that you shouldn’t be the one who caused the unemployment by leaving the job or being fired due to bad behavior. If the COVID-19 situation caused your unemployment, then you are eligible for the UI in this regard.

Be Able to Work in the U.S.

Another requirement to meet the eligibility criteria is being authorized to work in the States. Basically, you need to be able, as well as available to work. If you own a work permit or a green card, then you shouldn’t have to worry.

You Must Have Earned Enough Wages or Worked Enough Hours During the Base Period

Base periods vary depending on the state, but in general, if you had a full-time job for the last 18 months, then you don’t have to worry. You certainly meet the eligibility criteria and can apply for insurance. Meanwhile, if you didn’t work full-time or didn’t work the whole base period, you will have a smaller benefit.

What You Need to Claim Unemployment

The first thing you need to know is that the requirements in terms of documentation for unemployment insurance claims differ in each state. But there are a few general ones that you need to know about, so you can have them ready when the time comes. This is what you need to bring for your claim:

  • A valid Social Security card and number
  • Gross earnings from your employment period
  • Information about the employers you had during the last 18 months, such as the name of the company, supervisor, as well as phone number and address
  • Employment dates and number of hours worked
  • Most recent working date and the reason behind your unemployment
  • Citizenship status
  • For non-citizens, you have to provide your employment authorization document for information

Unemployment and Permanent Residents

If you are a permanent resident and wish to receive unemployment benefits, then you will need a valid green card, as well as your green card number and alien registration number. In case you have an older version, you may not see both of them on the card, but on newer ones, both of them should be present.

Also, there are situations in which you may have lost your card, and if that happened, then you will have to file Form I-90. It is known as the Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card. However, it will take months for your new card to arrive, but at least you will get a response from USCIS within 2 or 3 weeks. The response will contain the receipt number as well.

Unemployment for Permanent Residents with Work Authorization

As a permanent resident with work authorization, such as an asylee, refugee, TPS recipient, DACA recipient, or adjustment of status applicant, you can apply for unemployment benefits too. To do so, you will need a valid employment authorization card that didn’t expire yet. The details needed are generally the expiration date of your card, as well as the alien registration number.

You can do something if you lose your card, though. You can file Form I-765, aka the Application for Employment Authorization, which will grant you a new card. Keep in mind, though – it may take several months until you receive your new card. USCIS will send you a response with the receipt number within 2-3 weeks, though.

Unemployment for Non-Immigrant Employees

Are you an H1B, O1, L1, or TN visa holder? Then you have an employment visa, and you can claim unemployment benefits as well. In order to do so, you will need your visa, your I-94, and your unexpired passport. The details required from these documents are the visa number, visa expiration date, and arrival/departure record.

Unemployment and the Public Charge Rule

Sadly, many immigrants are afraid to apply for their unemployment benefits, and it is all due to how the Trump administration interpreted the public charge rule. Basically, unemployment benefits are a type of insurance, and they are “earned benefits” that aren’t considered, due to public charge review purposes.

According to USCIS, they are not going to consider unemployment benefits in a public charge inadmissibility determination. If you are a naturalized U.S. citizen or a permanent resident, you shouldn’t be scared. There will be no public charge consequences if you apply for unemployment benefits.

At the same time, there shouldn’t be any bad impacts on green card applicants who apply and accept unemployment benefits either. There are situations when things may be different though – in this case, you should consider speaking to an immigration attorney.

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Unemployment insurance can be a great way for you to get some financial support if you lost your job because of the coronavirus pandemic. If you worked full-time during the last 18 months, then you should be eligible for this benefit, at least if you also meet the other eligibility criteria. You should make sure that you have all the proper documents before you apply. Hopefully, now that you read our post, applying for and obtaining unemployment benefits will be a piece of cake for you.

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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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