How Unemployment Benefits Work for Green Card Holders

In this article...
  • Can green card holders get unemployment benefits? Citizenship and residency status have an effect on your ability to collect benefits. Find out how it works.

Can Green Card Holders Get Unemployment Benefits?

Legal residents of the United States, often called green card holders, have many of the rights of citizens with regards to working and collecting the benefits attached to having a job. Foreign-born workers who have a legal right to work in the United States pay into the unemployment system just like any other workers, and they are allowed to file for unemployment compensation in the same way citizen workers are able to.

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How Unemployment Benefits Work

Unemployment benefits are paid by each state to support workers who have found themselves out of work for whatever reason. Usually, workers pay into the unemployment insurance system with every check, creating a fund they can draw from if they lose their jobs.

When Can You Get Unemployment Benefits?

Every state has its own unemployment compensation system, and each uses its own set of rules for establishing eligibility and benefit award amounts. As a rule, you are probably eligible for unemployment payments if you worked for the required length of time and made the minimum required payments into the system. Many states require that you prove that you either got your hours reduced, or you were let go through no fault of your own, such as an economic layoff or restructuring. In some states, you can still get benefits even if you were fired for cause or quit on your own. This is true for workers with a green card, just as it is for workers who hold U.S. citizenship.

How to Claim Unemployment Benefits

If you are out of work and need to file a claim for benefits, you can usually do that online or by phone with your state’s unemployment compensation department. You should be prepared to give your personal information as part of the application process, including your Social Security number, and information about your most recent employer. The unemployment department may ask you to submit documentation to support your claim, such as a letter of termination, as well as documentation of your prior wages during the one- or two-month lookback period. Once approved, your benefits will be paid out on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, depending on your state.

Citizenship and Residency for Immigrant Workers

In order to legally work in the United States, you must either be a citizen, permanent resident or hold a work visa, such as an H1B visa. Visa holders do not have citizenship, though they are allowed to live in the country and earn wages from work. Citizens, whether native born or naturalized later on, are treated equally under the law, as if both had been born in the United States, for almost all work purposes. Legal permanent residents, who hold a document called a green card, are allowed to live and work in the United States without sponsorship from an employer.

For many of the most common purposes, green card holders can live and work as if they are citizens. Though they are not allowed to vote or hold some offices of the public trust, they can apply for, work at and quit any job they like. Green card holders can also collect unemployment compensation the same way citizens do, provided they meet the same eligibility criteria as other workers. Green card holders do not have their benefits reduced, delayed or blocked because of their citizenship or residency status, nor can a legal permanent resident be deported for being unemployed, the way an H1B holder might be.

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Talk to a licensed agent today to find a plan that fits your needs.

Collecting Unemployment for Non-Citizen Workers

If you are a permanent legal resident of the United States, and you have recently lost your job or seen your hours reduced, you may be eligible for unemployment compensation. To file a claim, follow the same procedure that citizens use to get benefits. By law, your citizenship status cannot be used to reduce your benefits or prevent you from claiming the amount you are eligible to receive.

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