Will Filing For Unemployment Hurt My Green Card

This year got off to a busy start for Daphne and Alex. After almost five years together, they got married. Daphne was training for a new job at a local theater in Colorado. Alex was juggling gigs as a motion-graphics freelancer and a barista.

When the coronavirus hit, they found themselves among the millions suddenly jobless. Compounding this bad news was an unexpected anxiety: Is it safe to apply for unemployment?

“We were just wondering for a long time … how is it going to affect the green card application?” Alex said.

“Immigration-wise, I just don’t know if it would hurt me,” Daphne said.

Alex is American, but Daphne is from Germany. NPR is using only their first names because they are waiting for the U.S. government to decide whether to grant Daphne a green card. This piece of paper would turn her from a temporary visitor — a foreign student — into a permanent resident, extending her right to work and live with her husband in the United States.

Theirs were among a half-dozen stories NPR gathered about legal immigrant workers, people earning a living and paying taxes in the U.S. yet fearful that collecting unemployment might jeopardize their immigration cases. Some were waiting on their first green cards; others were extending their residency or were even on the verge of becoming citizens.

“What I’m seeing is a lot of clients who are eligible to apply for unemployment are simply too afraid to do so,” said New York-based immigration lawyer Tsui Yee. “Does [unemployment] somehow trigger a red flag for immigration services? Since COVID started, that question has come up repeatedly.”

At the heart of these worries is a new Trump administration policy, often called the “public charge” rule, which made it more difficult for immigrants to gain permanent resident status if it looks like they may need public assistance.

“I am tired of seeing our taxpayers paying for people to come into the country and immediately go onto welfare and various other things,” President Trump said while discussing the new rule in August.

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