By: Gladys Gervacio and Kevin Tung
The United States is experiencing high rates of unemployment due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The pandemic is particularly challenging for H-1B workers and their employers, since H-1B workers generally cannot collect unemployment insurance benefits if their position is terminated. This is because H-1B visas are tied to a specific employer. H-4 dependents, however, may be eligible for unemployment benefits in some states.
Eligibility requirements for unemployment insurance benefits vary by state. For instance, to be eligible for unemployment benefits in California, you must have earned a minimum amount of wages during a twelve-month base time period before termination. In addition, you must meet state requirements of being (1) totally or partially unemployed, (2) unemployed by no fault of your own, (3) physically able to work, (4) available for work, and (5) ready and willing to accept work immediately. Individuals must meet these criteria when certifying for benefits. While eligibility requirements may differ by state, most states require that you be available for work to qualify.
Are H-1B Workers Available for Work?
Generally, H-1B visa holders do not meet the criteria of “available for work.” This is because the H-1B is an employment-based nonimmigrant visa whose status is directly tied to working with a specific sponsoring employer. Once employment ends, so does the employer-employee relationship. The H-1B worker would then lose their status, and therefore not be available for work for the purposes of unemployment insurance.
H-1B workers are authorized to work only for a specific employer. They cannot freely work for just any employer. If terminated by their sponsoring employer, this effectively makes the H-1B worker not immediately available for work. For this reason, H-1B visa holders are not eligible for unemployment benefits. However, terminated H-1B workers will have a grace period (either 60-days or when their I-94 expires, whichever is sooner) to find a new job in the US. Your options will vary based on your individual circumstances, so it is best to consult with an experienced immigration attorney.
Unemployment Benefits for H-4 Workers
H-4 dependents may qualify for unemployment benefits in some states. This is because their work authorization is independent from any specific employer. H-4 dependents with work authorization can work for any US employer immediately, therefore meeting the criteria of “available for work.”
Each state has its own requirements for unemployment benefits, so it is important to check the rules for your state and consult with trusted immigration and employment law attorneys on your specific matters.