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Public Charge and Unemployment

Posted by Christopher Keen | Apr 09, 2020 | 0 Comments


            The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) has established certain requirements in order to gain lawful permanent residency in the United States. One of those requirements is to prove that the applicant is not likely at any time to become a public charge. INA §212(a)(4). In determining whether an applicant will become a public charge, the government will consider the following factors: 1) age, 2) health, 3) family status, 4) assets, resources, and financial status, and 5) education and skills. In addition, the government will also consider the applicant's past and present receipt of public benefits. No single factor will be determinative, however USCIS has broad discretion to weigh all factors in their totality to establish whether the applicant is inadmissible on the basis of public charge.

            Given the financial impact and economic uncertainty caused by COVID-19, many people have questions regarding the use of public benefits and unemployment and how this will impact their pending or future applications for lawful status. See below for response to frequently asked quWho is eligible for unemployment?estions regarding this issue.

Who is eligible for unemployment?

  • U.S. citizens
  • Lawful permanent residents (“Green Card” holders)
  • Anyone with a work permit/authorization issued by USCIS

How do I apply for unemployment?

  • Your Social Security Number
  • The names of all employers as they appear on your pay stub with the dates worked for all employers since January 1, 2019
  • The name and local number of your union hall, if you obtain work through a union
  • Your State Driver's License or Identification Card number, if you have one
  • Your Alien Registration Number, if you are not a U.S. citizen but are legally authorized to work in the United States
  • If you have any non-Utah employers, you must have an accurate mailing address and phone number for them

What qualifies as public benefits?

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
  • General Assistance
  • SNAP (“Food Stamps”)
  • Section 8 Housing Assistance under the Housing Choice Voucher Program
  • Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance
  • Public Housing under Housing Act of 1937
  • Federal-funded Medicaid.

Are there any exceptions to obtaining public benefits?

Yes. See the following exceptions/exemptions:

  1. Receipt of public benefits is not applicable to many categories of applicants including asylees, U-visa applicants, T-Visa applicants, most VAWA self-petitioners, and Special Immigrant Juveniles.
  2. There are certain categories of Medicaid enrollment that are exempt:
    1. Emergency Medicaid
    2. Services provided under the Individual with Disabilities Act;
    3. School-based services
    4. Benefits received by individuals under age 21; and
    5. Benefits received by pregnant women
  3. Benefits received by a U.S. citizen

How will being unemployed affect my application for lawful permanent residency (“green card”)?

The ability to earn income is one of many factors USCIS considers to determine whether someone is or will become a public charge. If you have been laid off and are subject to the public charge rule, you can submit a statement and evidence explaining how your inability to work is caused by social-distancing measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. USCIS will take evidence into consideration in the totality of the circumstances.

Has the receipt of certain public benefits due to COVID-19 changed?

USCIS will still consider the receipt of certain cash and non-cash public benefits, including those that may be used to obtain testing or treatment for COVID-19.

What if I have COVID-19? How will that affect my case?

USCIS will neither consider testing, treatment, nor preventative care (including vaccines) related to COVID-19 as part of a public charge of inadmissibility determination, nor as related to the public benefit condition, even if such treatment is provided or paid by one or more public benefits (e.g. federally funded Medicaid).

*This information is not intended as legal advice and should not replace a consultation with an attorney. For more information, go to and

About the Author

Christopher Keen

As the founding attorney for Keen Law Offices, LLC, J. Christopher Keen received a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Brigham Young University. He then went on to receive his Juris Doctor degree from J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University. Since that time, he has been admitted to practice before all of the state courts in Utah.


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“My father was a U.S. citizen, but I was born in another country.” Everyone in the government kept telling me I didn’t belong in the U.S., that I should give up and go “home” to the U.K. Immigration kept trying to get rid of me, and even issued a deportation order. Luckily, I found Keen Law Offices. Mr. Keen was the only person who believed I was a citizen; he fought my case, and after a long battle, Immigration gave in. They even issued me a certificate stating that I was a U.S. citizen since birth!”

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