Can Green Card Holders Collect Unemployment?

A "green card" is the common name for an immigrant's permanent resident card, even though many of the cards aren't actually green. The federal government issues green cards to immigrants authorized to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis. Most permanent residents acquired their cards as family members of U.S. citizens or because they accepted a job offer to work in the country.

Permanent Residents

A green card holder has almost all the rights and responsibilities of a U.S. citizen, though she can't vote, except in some local elections. She has equal protection under the laws of the United States, state and local governments, and the same protection against discrimination as a full citizen. She also has to pay all the state and local taxes due on her income, and she's entitled to receive any benefits -- Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance -- that she qualifies for.


Each state sets its own criteria for workers to collect unemployment insurance, but they all follow similar general principles. The applicant, whether a permanent resident or a citizen, must be physically able to work, though the definition of "able" varies between states. He must actively look for work and if someone offers him a job in his field or close to it, he can't refuse. States use different methods for tracking an applicant's job search and confirming he's staying qualified.

State Specifics

A green-card holder who actively searches for a job may still find her state's rules disqualify her for benefits. Many states will reject an employee who was fired for misconduct, though they don't all define "misconduct" the same way. In some states misconduct only disqualifies the employee temporarily, while in others the ban lasts until she gets another job and earns new unemployment benefits. In some states, being fired for breaking workplace rules is sufficient misconduct to deny a worker benefits.

Work History

Like any other worker, a permanent resident qualifies for benefits based on his prior earnings, though the states use different formulas. A common approach is to pay benefits equal to half of the worker's wages, up to the average wages for a state resident: A permanent resident who makes four times the average may only qualify for a quarter of his former income. Some states provide extra benefits to unemployed workers supporting dependents.

About the Author

A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.