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Immigrant Worker Rights Under the New Coronavirus Federal Laws

Updated 4/9/2020

Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to provide emergency relief to workers and businesses. Immigrant workers are on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. Below addresses what restrictions may apply to immigrant workers and their families.

The programs created by Congress which you may qualify for, include:

  • Free testing for COVID-19.
  • Emergency paid sick leave and emergency paid family and medical leave.
  • Direct Cash payments of $1200 to $2400, plus $500 for each child.
  • Assistance via three new federal “Pandemic” Unemployment Insurance programs:
    1. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) provides unemployment benefits for those individuals who are not eligible for State Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits, like gig workers and independent contractors.  The PUA benefits will be available through December 31, 2020.
    2. Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) gives workers an extra 13 weeks of state UI benefits that will be tacked onto the end of state UI benefits and runs thru 12-31-2020
    3. Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) provides an extra $600 per week that all state UI, PEUC, and PUA recipients will receive through July 31, 2020.

Unfortunately, millions of immigrants are ineligible for one or more of these programs.  Depending on the state, immigrants who are ineligible for federal programs may qualify for state benefits, including:  

  • State or local medical assistance programs (these go by different names)
  • State unemployment benefits; and
  • Additional paid family and medical leave or paid sick leave on top of the federal paid sick and family leaves.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Which immigrants can get free testing for COVID-19?

A: All people, regardless of immigration status, are eligible for testing for the COVID-19 virus. The challenge is meeting the requirements for testing in your locality and finding a health care provider who will provide the test without a fee. If you have insurance through your employer or other private or public insurance, and you meet the requirements for testing, you should not be charged. Check out our Know Your Health Care Rights page.

Q: What about people with DACA, TPS, or who are undocumented, will they have access to free treatment for COVID-19?

A: Unfortunately, in most states if you have DACA, TPS, a U visa, or even, in some cases, are a green card holder who arrived within the last 5 years, you may have a harder time finding free care because Congress neglected to clarify that immigrants regardless of status can obtain Medicaid for that purpose. Medicaid is the top provider of healthcare funding for low and moderate income individuals, and for new immigrants in the above categories remain ineligible for Medicaid in most states and must seek out providers who will not charge for tests. State laws vary, and are changing quickly, so even if you are in one of those categories you should check with your healthcare provider to see if you qualify for Medicaid in your state for testing and treatment of coronavirus.

Q:  Are immigrant workers eligible for the new emergency federal paid sick leave?

A: All public sector employees and employees of private businesses with less than 500 employees, who meet one of the qualifying reasons for taking the leave, are covered under the new emergency paid sick leave. There are no explicit immigrant exceptions to the new paid sick leave eligibility requirements, but these provisions only help those working in a traditional employment relationship. The paid sick leave provisions will be enforced by the Wage and Hour division of the U.S. Department of Labor which doesn’t ask about workers’ immigration status.  Other exceptions related to federal employees, workers employed by healthcare facilities, or employers with less than 50 employees may apply.

Q:  Are immigrant workers eligible for the new emergency paid family and medical leave?

A:  All employees who have worked for at least 30 calendar days for a state or local government, or a private business with less than 500 employees can use the leave if they can’t work because they need to care for a child (under 18) due to school or childcare closure due to a coronavirus-related declaration of public health emergency by a federal, state or local authority.  Employers with less than 50 employees and healthcare providers may not be required to comply with the law.  The family and medical leave law is enforced by the Wage and Hour division of the U. S. Department of Labor which doesn’t ask about workers’ immigration status.

Q:  If I request paid sick leave or paid family leave, can my employer ask to check my work authorization papers?

A:  There is no requirement that your employer ask to check your work authorization documents again based on having requested to take or because you have taken paid sick or paid family leave.  By law, an employer is not required to verify work authorization documents for employees who are continuing in their employment. Should an employer ask to verify your work authorization documents because you request or have taken paid sick or paid family leave, your employer may likely be violating state and federal anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation laws. 

Q:  Who is eligible for the direct cash payments?

A:  All tax filers who earn up to $75,000 and individuals who receive social security benefits will be eligible to receive $1200 for individuals.  Joint filers who earn up to $150,000 will receive $2400 and $500 for children claimed as dependents.

Q:  What type of identification do I need to have to receive the direct cash payments?

A:  To receive the cash payment, you must have a valid social security number (SSN).  This means that each individual tax filer, those who file jointly, and any dependents listed on the tax filing must have valid SSNs to receive the cash payment.  If you file taxes with an individual tax payer identification number (ITIN) and do not have a valid SSN, you are not eligible for the cash rebate.

Q:  What are the requirements for Unemployment Insurance Benefits?

A:  Each state has its own Unemployment Insurance requirements.  Generally, you have to be unemployed through no fault of your own and meet your state’s requirements for wages earned and time worked.

Q:  If I am not a citizen, but am authorized to work, am I eligible for Unemployment Insurance Benefits?

A:  Only individuals that are legally authorized to work are eligible for Unemployment Insurance (UI), which is a federal program that the states operate.  You must have been legally authorized to work while working and continue to be work-authorized while unemployed and seeking UI.

Q:  I am self-employed, am I eligible for unemployment insurance benefits under the new law?

A:  The new federal law provides unemployment benefits to independent contractors and self-employed individuals.  Every state has its own process for applying for the new disaster unemployment insurance for independent contractors.  Check with your state agency for more information.  You can find your state’s requirements here.

Q:  I am not a lawful permanent resident, will receipt of the direct cash payment, unemployment benefits or testing for COVID-19 count against me?

A:  No.  The public charge rule does not count against earned benefits such as unemployment insurance, COVID Testing, one-time direct cash payments, community health clinics, or emergency care.  For more information check out our Know Your Health Care Rights and COVID-19 Resources for Immigrants section.

Q:  I file my taxes with an ITIN, will I be eligible for the direct cash payments?

A: Unfortunately, no.  Only individuals with a valid SSN are eligible for the direct cash payments.

Q: My husband has an ITIN, but I am a US citizen.  We file our taxes jointly.  Will I be eligible for the direct cash payments?

A: Unfortunately, no. Every person in the household must have a valid SSN to be eligible for the direct cash payments.  An exception applies to military families.

Q: My spouse and I don’t have a valid SSN, but we have two US citizen children, will we receive the $500 for each child?

A: Unfortunately, no.  Every person in the household must have a valid SSN to be eligible for the direct cash payments.  An exception applies to military families.

Q: My son is 18 years old and is a student.  He has been working and files his taxes on his own.  Will he be eligible for the direct cash payment?

A: Likely, as every tax filer is eligible for the direct cash payment.

Q: I am self-employed, am I eligible for unemployment insurance benefits under the new law?

A: The new federal law provides unemployment insurance benefits to independent contractors and self-employed individuals. This new program, called the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), will provide up to 39 weeks of benefits to self-employed workers, free lancers, independent contractors, workers seeking part-time work, and workers who do not have a long enough work history to qualify for unemployment.  You must have valid authorization to work to receive unemployment benefits.    

Q: I have DACA and my work is closed due to the coronavirus.  Am I eligible for unemployment insurance benefits?

A: In most states, DACA recipients are eligible for unemployment benefits.  Every state has its own requirements for unemployment insurance.  Generally, a person must have been lawfully authorized to work while working, and continues to be authorized to work while unemployed and seeking unemployment benefits. 

Q: I work part-time, will I be able to get the unemployment benefits?

A: Each state sets its own requirements for unemployment insurance.  Some states allow workers to obtain unemployment benefits even if you work part-time.  Usually, you qualify for unemployment if you:

  • are out of work through no fault of their own.
  • meet your state’s minimum requirements for wages earned or time worked during a set time called the “base period.”
  • are able, available, and actively seeking work.

Q: I am 18 years old and just started working last year, my hours have been cut at work, will I be able to apply for unemployment insurance?

A: Each state sets its own requirements for unemployment insurance. Usually, you qualify for unemployment if you:

  • are out of work through no fault of their own.
  • meet your state’s minimum requirements for wages earned or time worked during a set time called the “base period.”
  • are able, available, and actively seeking work.

If you do not meet your state’s requirements, you may be eligible for unemployment  benefits through the new federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which will provide up to 39 weeks of benefits to self-employed workers, free lancers, independent contractors, workers seeking part-time work, and workers who do not have a long enough work history to qualify for unemployment.  You must have valid authorization to work to receive unemployment benefits.    

Q: I work with an ITIN number and my boss told me not to come to work anymore, can I get unemployment benefits?

A: Unfortunately, no.  Only individuals who are legally authorized to work can obtain unemployment benefits.  Nonetheless resources may be available for immigrant workers who do not have work authorization.  You can find resources for immigrant workers here.  

Q: I have a work permit, do I qualify for unemployment insurance benefits?

A: In most states, yes. Every state has its own requirements for unemployment insurance.  Generally, a person must have been lawfully authorized to work while working, and continues to be authorized to work while unemployed and seeking unemployment benefits.  You would also have to meet your state’s minimum earnings and time worked requirements.  

Also, under the new law, you will receive an extra $600 a week until July 31, 2020.  And, the new law provides an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits tacked on to the end of your state unemployment benefits.

Q: I was just diagnosed with coronavirus and can’t work, what do I do?

A: First, let your employer know of your diagnosis and request leave from work.

Second, under the new law, you may be eligible for emergency paid sick leave.  Full-time workers, who work for employers with less than 500 employees, can take up to two weeks of paid leave.  Employers with less than 50 employees and health care providers can be exempted from the law’s requirements.  To obtain this leave from your employer, you must provide your name, date(s) that you are seeking leave, and an oral or written statement that explains that you cannot work due to a coronavirus qualifying reason - as required by the law.  For more information visit the USDOL website here.   

Third, you may be eligible for more paid sick leave under state or local law or a union contract.

Fourth, if you need additional time, you may be eligible for protected leave under existing family medical leave laws, if you work for an employer with more than 50 employees and have worked at latest 1,250 hours in the last 12 months.

Fifth, depending on what state you live in, you may qualify for your state’s disability insurance should you need to take more time off due to your illness.

Sixth, if you contracted the coronavirus while working, you may be eligible for workers compensation benefits.

Q: How do I apply for unemployment benefits?

A: To apply for unemployment benefits, you will need to file a claim with the unemployment insurance program in the state where you worked.  Depending on the state, claims may be filed in person, by telephone, or online.  For more information you can visit the USDOL website here.

Q: If I am still working, will I be eligible for the direct cash payments?

A: Every tax filer will be eligible for the direct cash payment.  The IRS will rely on the 2018 and 2019 filed tax returns to send the direct cash payments. More information about the direct payments can be found at the IRS website here.

Q: I am taking care of my husband who has coronavirus and cannot work, what benefits can I receive?

A:

  1. Under the new law, you may be eligible for emergency paid sick leave.  Full-time workers, who work for employers with less than 500 employees, can take up to two weeks of paid leave.  Workers who work for employers with less than 50 employees or who work for healthcare providers can be exempted from the requirements of this law. 
  2. You may be eligible for more paid sick leave under state or local law or a union contract.
  3. If you need additional time, you may be eligible for protected leave under existing family medical leave laws, if you work for an employer with more than 50 employees and have worked at least 1,250 hours in the last 12 months.  

Resources for Immigrant Workers

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