Can Green Card Holders Collect Unemployment?

A green card is a document that grants an immigrant living in the United States permanent resident status. The permanent resident status allows you to live and work in the U.S. indefinitely, as long as you don't commit a crime or action that renders you eligible for deportation.

Obtaining permanent resident status is a step on the path to citizenship but does not grant citizenship in and of itself. A green card gets you close, however, and generally affords you most of the legal obligations and protections of citizenship, although green card holders may not vote in federal elections. As a green card holder, you can collect unemployment benefits if you meet the eligibility requirements.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

There are a few requirements that need to be met to collect unemployment benefits if you're a green card holder.

Reason for Termination

As is true for citizens, green card holders can only receive unemployment benefits if they lost their job through no fault of their own. If you get laid off due to budget cuts or a lack of work, you may receive unemployment benefits. If, however, you got fired for refusing to work, violating safety rules, failing a drug test or for disciplinary reasons, expect the state to deny your unemployment application.

Evaluating Work History

Unemployment laws vary from state to state, but most determine the amount of unemployment benefits you will receive based on how much you earned last year. In order to qualify for unemployment, you typically must prove that you worked at least six months (two quarters) out of the last year (four quarters). Some states require a minimum earning level in addition to working a specific amount of time. Others require only that you worked for a certain length of time or made a certain amount of money. If you haven't worked in the United States for at least one year, you may have trouble getting unemployment benefits.

Assessing Work Availability

In order to receive unemployment benefits, both U.S. citizens and green card holders must make themselves available for work. If you are medically unable to work, lack transportation to get to work or refuse to work certain hours, the state may determine that you aren't making yourself available. If they do, you won't get unemployment compensation. Don't plan on taking a trip or going on vacation while you're laid off, either.

Leaving home renders you unavailable for work, so posting vacation pictures on social media could cost you your unemployment benefits. To keep yourself eligible for work, have a way to commute, stick close to home and keep childcare plans ready in the event you need them. If you're offered a new job in your field for similar pay, failing to take it could result in the state labeling you as unavailable to work and stopping your benefits.

Seeking New Employment

Unemployment's intent is to help you temporarily while you're between jobs. It is provided with the expectation that you will actively search for a new job. If you're not, the state may refuse to pay you unemployment. States have different ways of verifying that you're seeking work, but they will do so. You don't have to apply for jobs at local fast food restaurants if you were an accountant at your previous job, but you do have to prove that you're looking for suitable work.

Public Charge Fears

When applying for a visa or green card, the government will likely turn you down if they fear you will become a public charge. This means that the U.S. will deny you entry into the country if they believe that you are unable to support yourself financially. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services defines public charge as "an individual who is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.”

Accepting certain types of public assistance can increase the odds of obtaining public charge status. As a general rule, however, accepting unemployment benefits does not affect your public charge status. The odds of unemployment affecting your status decrease further every year that you live and work in the U.S. If you have concerns, however, consult your immigration lawyer before applying for unemployment.

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