Many immigrants in the U.S. will likely face some tough legal challenges in 2020. The coronavirus pandemic is testing American support institutions and health insurance infrastructure as protective measures send non-essential workers and others to quarantine at home. These workers include America’s 15 million authorized immigrants.

The legal status of many immigrants in America is often dependent upon employment, vocational training or school. As such, out-of-work immigrants worry that filing for unemployment may nullify their legal status and risk deportation.

The public charge rule

In 2019, the Trump administration made changes to immigration law that defines how legal immigrants can use public benefits. Before, the law prohibited immigrants from receiving cash benefits, but these new regulations increase those restrictions. Immigrants no longer have access to nutrition assistance, subsidized medical insurance or housing vouchers. These changes also affect applications — immigrants hoping to enter the U.S. must prove they will not need government assistance “at any time.” The law requires applicants to meet specific income thresholds before entering.

The public charge rule does not apply to unemployment benefits. Common discourse leads many immigrants to believe that filing for unemployment uses public benefits funded by taxpayer money, but this is an incorrect assumption. Unemployment is not welfare; it is an insurance product. Employees and their employers pay for the costs, not taxpayers. These earned benefits are due to anyone who has worked for them and should have no bearing on one’s immigration status.

Immigrants are still hesitant about filing, however. Public perception offers a different take on benefits like unemployment, especially for immigrants. Many believe that filing could bring attention to their potentially delinquent status and risk deportation. Those unsure about how to access the benefits they need during this time can check the resources at the National Immigration Law Center.

Consult with a lawyer

Immigrants concerned about their legal status can contact a local lawyer familiar with immigration law. An attorney can provide answers to the questions of concerned families and direct them toward helpful information and resources.