Unemployment Benefits for Illegals


There are numerous public benefit programs for which illegal aliens are not eligible, and a few for which they are. The programs available to illegal aliens are Head Start, Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the school lunch program, emergency medical treatment and labor and delivery services under Medicaid and AFDC for their citizen children. They are not eligible for Unemployment Insurance, Supplemental Security Income, AFDC for non-citizen children or food stamps.

Unemployment Eligibility

To collect unemployment benefits, you must meet certain criteria. Aside from having accrued enough quarters, you must be a U.S. citizen or a legal resident who is authorized to work in the United States. By sheer virtue of an illegal immigrant's work status in the United States, he is not entitled to any unemployment benefits, because he obtained his employment illegally.

Verification Issues

An inherent problem with the illegal employment is that the illegal immigrant may have a Social Security card, though not necessarily a valid one. With this card, he would be able to collect Unemployment Insurance benefits unless the the state in which he is applying verifies the Social Security numbers of everyone who applies. The states consider this burdensome and reportedly only check if the applicant indicates he is not a U.S. citizen.


The cost of illegal aliens collecting Unemployment Insurance is difficult to measure and can only be estimated. Studies have been performed in nearly every decade since the 1960s, trying to determine the cost of illegal immigration to the taxpayers as a result of collecting public benefits. Though the true cost is unknown and nearly impossible to quantify, a 1993 study by Donald Hubble estimated the cost of illegal immigrants collecting unemployment at $856 million.

Overpayment Studies

The Department of Labor conducted a study of the Unemployment Insurance system comparing trends from 1992 to 2001. Unrecovered overpayments by the states, for various reasons including false Social Security numbers and collecting other unreported income, totaled approximately $2.4 billion in 2001. One of the recommendations of the Department of Labor report was that the states should do more to verify claimants' identity and legal status. An audit of Georgia, North Carolina, Florida and Texas showed that almost 3,000 Unemployment Insurance claims that totaled $3.2 million were paid to individuals whose Social Security numbers either didn't exist or belonged to deceased people. In another instance, nine Social Security numbers used to collect Unemployment Insurance benefits, were used by 700 people in 29 states, seven of the nine numbers belonged to deceased individuals. In both instances, authorities determined that illegal aliens were using these numbers. None was currently being used to collect unemployment, but officials involved concluded that could happen in the future.

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