Many of our community members have reached out wondering if COVID-19 stimulus money or unemployment will hurt their chances of becoming a legal permanent resident, U.S. Citizen, or losing their DACA status. The fear stems largely from the new “public charge” definition put forth by the Trump administration. Let’s take a look at each program:
Unemployment and USCIS
USCIS considers unemployment benefits an earned benefit. This means that you did something (previously worked for a certain amount of time) and earned the right to the money. As such, unemployment benefits are not considered in the public charge analysis. USCIS has published a list of programs considered earned benefits which can be found here. As you will see, unemployment benefits are in the same category as worker’s compensation, social security, medicare, and SSDI.
Stimulus Checks and USCIS
COVID-19 stimulus checks from the federal government are considered tax credits. They are not considered a cash benefit that is being handed out but considered a future credit you will receive when doing your taxes. USCIS specifically states, “In addition to cash benefits for income maintenance identified in the rule (SSI, TANF, and GA), USCIS considers any other federal, state, and local tribal cash assistance for income maintenance (other than tax credits).”(emphasis added). Because the COVID relief money is being considered a tax credit, USCIS should not take this into account in their public benefit analysis.
Debit Cards Sent to Parents-Pandemic School Meal Replacement
Many parents have also received debit cards in the mail if they have school-aged children on free or reduced lunch programs. In Arizona, this is called the Arizona P-EBT Pandemic School Meal Replacement Program. The letter from the Arizona Department of Economic Security specifically states that you did not apply for the card and it is not considered a Nutritional Assistance benefit. The letter even states, “Receipt of P-EBT benefits by noncitizens will no affect admission into the United States, adjustment of status to legal permanent resident, becoming a naturalized citizen, and deportation.” Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is considered an enumerated public benefit and we very much thank the Arizona Department of Economic Security for clearly stating in their letter that this Meal Replacement is not considered a Nutritional Assistance benefit and will not impact immigration status.
Bottom line, community members should feel comfortable using any of the three programs mentioned above during these difficult economic times without fear of hurting their immigration cases. It is also important to remind folks that the public charge analysis does not apply to those seeking immigration benefits if they are applying as refugees, asylees, VAWA self-petitioners, or if they are seeking a U or T Visa. The public charge analysis is a big change in the immigration world, but it is often misunderstood. Please share this information with your friends and loved ones to ensure they are making use of these programs, which will not impact their immigration status. If you or a loved one are in need of immigration services please give us a call to speak with one of our experienced team members at 602-910-4040. For more on this topic, watch Abogado Ray’s video below: (Espanol y English)