Are Immigrants Eligible for the CARES Act?

It has been a month since President Trump declared a public health emergency for COVID-19, and its impact on the American economy has been daunting. Soon after, at least 46 states and Washington, D.C., have enacted policies to close nonessential businesses in an effort to slow the spread of novel coronavirus in the United States. With some variations on the implementations per state, recreational spaces like museums, movie theaters, gyms, daycares, music venues and malls, including personal care retailers and service providers like spas, nail and hair salons, most likely fall under nonessential businesses category. Although these measures have been undoubtedly necessary to prevent the rapid spread of the virus, tens of thousands of American workers lost their jobs as a result.

Lawmakers worked hard in coming up with legislation that would provide emergency financial assistance for individuals, families, and businesses in the United States. The bill aptly called CARES or  Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act has been signed into law by the President. The historic $2 trillion stimulus package stands as the largest emergency aid package in US history that aims to boost the struggling economy with provisions to help American workers, small businesses and industries grappling with the economic disruption.

This post aims to uncover financial relief for individuals and families, as well as which individuals are qualified to receive financial assistance.

How will individuals and their families benefit from the CARES Act?

A centerpiece of the stimulus package is that it will provide direct financial assistance to American in the form of checks with the amount received based on income as explained below:

  • Individuals who earn $75,000 in adjusted gross income or less would get direct payments of $1,200 each
  • Married couples earning up to $150,000 will receive $2,400.
  • Families will also receive $500 per child.
  • Individuals and families making more than these amounts can still receive payments, but at reduced amounts until they reach certain thresholds.
  • Individuals making more than $99,000 and married couples making more than $198,000 will not receive any of these cash payments.

Who are eligible to receive assistance?

The CARES Act specifically excludes “any nonresident alien” from the definition of “eligible individual.” Notably, “nonresident alien” is defined by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rather than by the immigration statute. The IRS states that a non-U.S. citizen is considered a nonresident alien unless he or she meets one of two tests: the green card test or the substantial presence test.

  • The Green Card test: This is applicable to you if you have a U.S. permanent or conditional residence or a green card. This is directed to a person who is a citizen of another country, who is authorized to live and work in the U.S. on a permanent basis (or, in the case of a conditional resident, for two years that may then be continued into a permanent stay). Lawful permanent residents, or “green card” holders, are considered resident aliens unless they voluntarily renounce and abandon their status in writing to USCIS, or their immigrant (permanent residence) status is administratively terminated by USCIS or judicially terminated by a U.S. federal court.
  • The Substantial Presence Test: Even without having a green card, a person who spends 31 days in the United States during the current year and 183 days during a three-year period that includes the current year and the two years immediately before that, is considered a resident alien. This affects many people who are in the U.S. on temporary, otherwise known as nonimmigrant visas. There are various exemptions, such as for time people spent in transit (less than 24 hours in the U.S.), time during which the person couldn’t leave because he or she required medical treatment, as well as for teachers and students (on an F, J, M, or Q visa) who haven’t stayed in the U.S. beyond a certain period of time.

It goes without saying that if you are not able to meet (or are exempt from) either the green card or the substantial presence tests, then you are most likely a non-resident alien. Take note that students and teachers are often classified as non-resident aliens in the early years of their U.S. stay. Non-resident aliens are not eligible for the tax credit.

If you are a resident alien, have a social security number, and earn less than $75,000 as a single individual, or less than $150,000 married filing jointly, you can expect to receive the tax credit.

If I receive a rebate, will I be considered a Public Charge?

Since the rebate is classified as a tax credit and not a public benefit under the public charge rule, you will not be considered a public charge. This will have no effect on your future immigration filings.

Can I avail of unemployment benefits?

The law granted so form of flexibility for the eligibility requirements of individuals, including those who are furloughed or out of work as a direct result of COVID-19, self-employed or gig workers, and those who have exhausted existing state and federal unemployment benefit provisions.

The only individuals expressly excluded from coverage are those who have the ability to telework with pay and those who are receiving paid sick leave or other paid benefits (even if they otherwise satisfy the criteria for unemployment under the new law)

Under the CARES Act, workers will be paid an additional $600 per week on top of what they would normally receive from the state (50% of earnings plus $600) for up to four months until July 31st.

In order to be eligible for unemployment benefits, you must establish that you were in satisfactory immigration status and authorized to work in the United States when earning the wages you used to establish your claim. It is best to get in touch with the state’s unemployment agency to find out if you are eligible based on your immigration status.

Does the CARES have anything to say about student loans?

The CARES Act further provides temporary student loan relief. All federally held federal student loans are temporarily suspended and interest will not accrue through Sept. 30. The suspension is retroactive to March 13. To get the automatic relief, your loan needs to be both federal and federally held — meaning your lender is the federal government, and not a bank or other commercial lender.

Are you still wondering how immigrants can get relief in this current state of emergency the U.S. is under? Call us our immigration lawyers in Virginia.

Our immigration attorneys at Van Doren Law will be available to address any questions about the current immigration landscape. We understand how these can be trying times. As such, we offer free initial consultation. So pick up that phone or chat with us online and let our experienced immigration lawyers help you.

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