Immigration attorneys have been getting questions from their clients about whether accepting the COVID-19 pandemic-related stimulus check, or unemployment benefits, are considered public benefits for purposes of public charge inadmissibility determinations. The following is a summary of highlights of these discussions.
Stimulus checks. The Trump administration is sending out checks to individuals below a certain income to aid them during the pandemic. Although U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has not clarified whether accepting the stimulus check is considered a public benefit for purposes of inadmissibility, some immigration attorneys believe it should not count as such. They note that the stimulus check is technically a 2020 tax credit paid in advance, and therefore does not fall under the income maintenance category per chapter 10 of the USCIS Policy Manual, which states, “USCIS considers any other federal, state, and local tribal cash assistance for income maintenance (other than tax credits).” For most people, the money will either be direct-deposited by their bank into their checking account or they will receive it electronically or in the mail. Once they receive the money, there is no option for them to return it. In addition, the stimulus check is not means-tested and thus is not a public benefit.
Unemployment benefits. Immigration attorneys note that there is a long history of unemployment being considered an earned benefit, which excludes it from public charge considerations. USCIS confirms (USCIS Policy Manual, Vol. 8, Part G, Chapter 10) that for the same reason, it does not consider unemployment benefits in the public charge inadmissibility determination.
Contact your Miller Mayer immigration attorney for advice in specific situations.