Immigration attorneys have been getting many questions about unemployment benefits, the stimulus package and what it might mean for them. This blog discusses the most common questions regarding the stimulus package as a result of COVID-19.
1: Do US citizens who filed joint taxes with their immigrant-spouse receive a stimulus check?
Similar to the 2008 stimulus package, the current stimulus package, also known as the CARES Act, does not include taxpayers who filed joint taxes with their spouse who does not have a social security number. If the immigrant-spouse using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) number filed joint taxes with the US citizen-spouse, the US citizen-spouse who would otherwise be eligible for a stimulus check will not be eligible to receive a stimulus check. The only exception to this rule is for military families. With the filing deadline extended, we recommend you talk with an accountant.
2: Is receiving a stimulus check considered a public benefit for purposes of inadmissibility?
USCIS has not explicitly answered this question but many immigration attorneys believe the answer is no. First, the stimulus check is not means-tested and, therefore, is not considered a public benefit. Second, the USCIS Policy Manual in Chapter 10 explains that “cash assistance for income maintenance” is a public benefit for purposes of the public charge inadmissibility. However, it also explains that “USCIS considers any other federal, state, and local tribal cash assistance for income maintenance (other than tax credits).” The stimulus check is considered to be a tax credit for 2020 paid in advance without an option to return it. Thus, it is not considered income maintenance but rather a tax credit which would not be considered a public benefit.
3: Can I receive unemployment benefits and will it be considered a public charge for purposes of inadmissibility?
Similar to receiving a stimulus check, unemployment benefits are not means-tested and therefore not considered a public benefit. To be eligible for unemployment benefits, all workers (whether citizen or noncitizen) must meet certain requirements as determined by state law. Noncitizens with valid work authorization and social security numbers who have met state requirements may receive unemployment benefits without being considered inadmissible. USCIS considers unemployment as an earned benefit which is excluded from the public charge assessment.