We understand that as a result of COVID-19 many visa holders have been laid off, furloughed, and projects have been cancelled. If this has happened to you, you may have the following questions:
Do I qualify to collect unemployment benefits? and
If I do, will that harm my ability to get another visa or green card in the future?
1. Do I Qualify for Unemployment Benefits?
Historically, unemployment insurance has not been intended to cover independent contractors or self-employed people (unless they elect to pay in to the unemployment insurance program).
Unemployment has also always required that an applicant show that they are available to work. Most visa holders are only authorized to work for the company who sponsored them. Therefore, they are not available to work.
Agency-based O-1 visa holders are available to work within their field of expertise, but it is unclear as of the time of writing whether states’ unemployment programs will consider that availability sufficient for the purpose of collecting unemployment.
Whether foreign artists and other foreign workers will be allowed to collect unemployment benefits under the recently passed stimulus package remains to be seen. Please check your state's unemployment rules to see if you're eligible.
2. If I Do Qualify, Will Collecting Unemployment Disqualify Me from Getting a Green Card or Visa in the Future?
As of August 3, 2020, the public charge ground of inadmissibility has been eliminated.
However, temporary visa holders are generally supposed to be working while present in the U.S. Having a record of collecting unemployment insurance may show that you were not working, which could be considered a violation of your status if the period of unemployment is more than 60 days. As of August 3, 2020 it is not clear if USCIS will take this into consideration or not.