Dear Sophie: Is unemployment considered a public benefit?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

“Dear Sophie” columns are accessible for Extra Crunch subscribers; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie: I have an H-4 visa and work authorization. I currently have a job that’s considered nonessential during the coronavirus emergency. If I get laid off, I would need unemployment assistance while I look for another job.

Would getting unemployment benefits hurt my or my spouse’s green card petition under the new public charge rule?

— Nonessential in NorCal

Dear Nonessential:

Thanks for your timely question. The short answer is no, getting unemployment benefits alone right now won’t jeopardize your or your spouse’s green card. This is because receiving unemployment benefits, getting tested for coronavirus and seeking emergency medical treatment (even if it’s covered by Medicaid) are all exempt from consideration as government benefits under the new public charge rule.

Immigration officials have long had the authority to deny individuals a visa or green card if they are likely to be dependent on public benefits. The new public charge rule, which went into effect on February 24, expands the factors immigration officials will consider. An additional form seeking health and financial information must now be submitted with most visa and green card applications. Immigration officials will use that information to determine whether applicants are or are likely to become dependent on government benefits.

If you have received a public benefit in the past, your application won’t necessarily be denied, but given what’s at stake, it’s important to consult an experienced immigration attorney.

Individuals who will be subjected to the increased scrutiny of the expanded public charge rule are:

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