The Covid-19 social distancing measures are propelling the US into a deep recession if not an outright depression, as millions of people have become unemployed almost overnight. This has raised concerns among immigrants who have lost their jobs or are otherwise expecting to endure financial hardship or increased healthcare expenses.
The reason for this concern is that just as the Covid-19 virus began taking hold in the US, the Trump administration began strictly enforcing the “public charge” rule, which allows the US to deny green cards and other immigration benefits to people who are considered likely to depend on public benefits (such as food stamps) at any point in the future.
Can You Be Declared a “Public Charge” for Receiving Unemployment Benefits?
The question that most often arises is, “Will accepting unemployment benefits place my immigration status in jeopardy?” The short answer to this question is no, because unemployment benefits are not included among the class of public benefits that will trigger “public charge” scrutiny. In any case, the first 26 weeks of unemployment benefits are administered and paid by state governments, which do not have immigration enforcement authority.
Nevertheless, losing your job could indirectly lead to a public charge designation against you. If your health insurance was provided by your employer, for example, and if you cannot afford to purchase health insurance on your own after you lose your job, your lack of health insurance can be held against you in a public charge determination. US immigration authorities, however, make public charge determinations on a case-by-case basis.
Can You be Declared a “Public Charge” for Seeking Covid-19 Testing or Treatment?
No, you cannot be designated a public charge for seeking Covid-19 testing or treatment, and this has been specifically confirmed by the USCIS itself. The fear is that immigrants will refrain from testng and treatment out of fear of the loss of immigration benefits, and thereby pass the virus on to others, accelerating the pandemic. It is thought that immigrant communities are particularly vulnerable to the Covid-19 virus for a number of reasons.