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Unemployment Benefits for Immigrants During Coronavirus

Unemployment benefits are available to employees in every state. To qualify for unemployment benefits, immigrant workers must meet the same basic requirements as other workers.

General Overview of Immigrants and Unemployment Benefits

Unemployment benefits are typically paid on a weekly basis, at a certain percentage of your past earnings, for a set period of time (usually up to 26 weeks).

Although the requirements vary state to state, these are the basic requirements to receive unemployment benefits:

  1. You must be unemployed “through no fault of your own”; 
  2. You must have enough wages earned or hours worked to establish a claim; and 
  3. You must be able and available to work. Also, you must be looking for, and not refuse, “suitable” work.

The first two requirements are the same for both U.S. citizens and non-citizen immigrants. However, the third requirement impacts immigrants in a different way than citizens.

As an immigrant worker, in order to show that you are “available to work” you must have a work permit, or a status in the U.S. that allows you to work without a work permit. When you apply for unemployment benefits, you must show proof of your immigration status, including your social security number, alien registration number (A-number), and document number (work permit or green card). This will indicate whether or not you are “available to work”, and therefore qualify for unemployment benefits.

If you are an immigrant, you will typically meet the third requirement for unemployment benefits if you fit one of the following categories:

  • Lawful Permanent Resident
  • Working in the U.S. on an employment based visa
  • Refugee
  • Asylee
  • An immigrant who has been granted a lawful immigration status that allows you to remain in the U.S. for an indefinite period of time (for example Temporary Protected Status or DACA)

If you are unsure if you fit into one of these categories, please contact an experienced immigration attorney before you apply for unemployment benefits with your state.

How does the COVID-19 pandemic affect applying for benefits?

As mentioned above, specifics for unemployment benefits vary state to state. Due to the COVID-19, or Coronavirus pandemic, different states have different crisis management plans in place.

For example, in Wisconsin, as a result of Governor Evers’s Emergency Order you do not need to search for work in order to qualify for unemployment benefits during the governor’s declared emergency. The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development is currently making the necessary updates. No action is needed on your part regarding the work search.

If you live in Wisconsin, please view the Unemployment COVID-19 Public Information page from the Department of Workforce Development (DWD).

In addition, you can visit for general information on how to file a claim for unemployment benefits in Wisconsin.

If you live in another state, please contact your state’s labor office or search online to find out the specific requirements that apply to you.

Public Charge and Unemployment Benefits

Unemployment benefits are not “means tested benefits” as defined in the public charge rule. Therefore, unemployment benefits should not negatively affect a noncitizen’s immigration status or result in a Public Charge bar to residency or other nonimmigrant status in the future.

In other words, if you qualify for unemployment benefits, it will not hurt your immigration status to accept them.

Some immigrants exposed to the Coronavirus may hesitate to seek necessary medical treatment or preventive services because they fear that accepting assistance will hurt their immigration status.

However, USCIS encourages everyone, including undocumented immigrants, with symptoms that resemble Coronavirus (fever, cough, shortness of breath) to seek necessary medical treatment or preventive services. USCIS will not consider testing, treatment, or preventative care (including vaccines, if a vaccine becomes available) related to Coronavirus as part of a public charge inadmissibility determination.

Please do not hesitate to get the medical treatment you need.

Last updated: 3-23-20

Immigration law is always changing. We will do our best to keep our website as up-to-date as possible, but the latest information might be more readily available at These pages were written to help you better understand your legal options, however, none of the information published by Catholic Charities Milwaukee should be considered legal advice. If you plan to open your own immigration case, hire an immigration attorney to consult you personally.