Will unemployment affect your rights as an immigrant?

Published on
May 10, 2023

Losing your job is more than an inconvenience. It can be a real hardship. It can affect your finances and your self-esteem. For those who are immigrants, job loss can be even more serious than it is for United States citizens. Workers who lose their employment through no fault of their own can rely on unemployment benefits while they search for a new job after an unexpected termination or layoff. Some workers do not want to claim these benefits because they worry that unemployment claims will affect their immigration status.

Unemployment disproportionately affects immigrants

Immigrants have plenty of reason to feel concerned about their employment. According to research by the Pew Research Center, more immigrants than citizens experienced unemployment in the last two years. During the second quarter of 2020, for example, the overall unemployment rate spiked to 12.4%, but among foreign-born workers, it was a shocking 15.3%. More recently, the gap in unemployment between the two groups has declined to less than a tenth of a percent. Will those still unemployed or recovering after a brief period of unemployment face immigration penalties?

Unemployment has never triggered the public charge rule

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has to enforce federal immigration rules. One of the rules that affect an immigrant's rights is the public charge rule. The USCIS often won't approve status changes or other immigration requests by those who have needed extensive public benefits for multiple months. Benefits like housing subsidies and Welfare or cash assistance programs can theoretically trigger the public charge rule. Unemployment insurance does not trigger the public charge rule. It is a benefit earned by working and therefore does not make someone a public charge.

The USCIS does not enforce the public charge rule anymore

Although the public charge rule heavily influenced immigration hearings for years, recently that has changed. The USCIS is no longer enforces the public charge rule, so immigrants don't have to worry if they need benefits. Of course, losing your job can have other immigration implications, especially if you entered the country on a work visa. Learning about the laws that apply to United States immigrants can make it easier to enter or stay in the country.

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