We are seeing a lot of clients asking the same questions in these unsettling times, and wanted to share our best advice.
- If I have an employment authorization card (EAD), can I apply for unemployment benefits?
Yes. If you have an EAD and you have been working lawfully in the United States, you will be eligible to unemployment benefits regardless of your immigration status. For more information, please refer to the Department of Labor resource page regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Is filing for unemployment going to affect my pending or future greencard or citizenship applications?
Most applicants for permanent residence in the United States (“greencard” applicants) have to show that they are able to financially support themselves. Receipt of certain public benefits could make them ineligible for a greencard. Greencard applicants who file for permanent residence based on their asylum or refugee status, or those that are victims of crime and abuse, do not have to meet this requirement.
Fortunately, receiving unemployment benefits will not affect your greencard application because it does not count as receipt of public benefits. If you have lost your job because of COVID-related issues, you should file for unemployment benefits without fear that it will affect your greencard eligibility.
USCIS has also stated that it will not count any medical benefits received related to COVID-19 related illnesses as public benefits. If you have any symptoms related to COVID-19 related illnesses, do not let fear of immigration related issues prevent you from getting medical help.
If you are already a greencard holder, filing for unemployment benefits will not affect a future greencard extension application or citizenship application.
- Can I extend my nonimmigrant visa due to the pandemic?
If you are in the U.S. on a temporary visa and unable to fly back to your country, you should file an extension of your status before it expires. You are allowed to remain in the United States while your request is pending. If you are in the U.S. without a visa (based on the Visa Waiver Program), USCIS has stated that it will consider that you have timely left the country for up to 60 days after your status expired.
- I am a greencard holder who is outside the United States. I am worried that I will not be able to return before six (6) months because of COVID-related travel restrictions. Am I going to lose my status?
If you are outside the United States and your permanent residence is in the United States, try to return home as soon as possible. If you are not able to come back before 6 months are over, carry as many documents as possible about your ties to the United States. This could include documents showing your US address, bank accounts, and other property. You will not automatically lose your status if you are outside the United States for more than 6 months as a greencard holder. However, it is recommended that you seek legal advice before traveling.
- My case is in the immigration court and my hearing is continued because the court closed due to the pandemic. When will the court hear my case again?
As of this writing, immigration courts will reopen on May 18, 2020. However, that date is subject to change and the closure could be extended. The courts will automatically reschedule your hearing date if it was previously scheduled during the closure. The date of your new hearing is completely in the court’s discretion.
- I have a visa to travel to the United States but it is going to expire before I am able to come to the United States because of COVID-related travel restrictions. What should I do?
The Department of State, which controls US embassies around the world, has indicated that it will allow visas to be reprinted if they have expired and were unable to be used to travel to the United States. Any expired documents, such as medical exams or police clearance letters, would have to be resubmitted, and visa fees would have to be repaid.