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Many Are Still Excluded in Active Legislation


Who are the workers that are not included under the headings of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance under the CARES Act passed in late March?

The impact of the pandemic on essential workers has been astronomical. In New York City, the hardest-hit communities were Elmhurst, Corona, and Jackson Heights, Queens – where 47% of residents are immigrants.

Of the large pool of essential workers who had to continue to work through the pandemic crisis, 54% of them in New York City are immigrants.

While the CARES Act allowed freelance and gig workers to qualify for unemployment benefits, it didn’t include undocumented immigrants for unemployment benefits, nor did it include them for the one-time federal stimulus check if even one member of their family files taxes using an ITIN (Individual Tax ID Number in lieu of a Social Security Number).

In addition to undocumented immigrants who, in the past, have worked in cash economies and under an ITIN, people who are currently incarcerated – who are disproportionately Black and Brown – are seeing the coronavirus surge through their prisons at unprecedented rates with little to no government intervention or assistance.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the arts and entertainment industry shut down under guidelines stating that mass gatherings over 10 people were not safe or advisable.

Most immigrant artists working in the United States come in under an O-1B Artist Visa, which is given to individuals “with an extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television industry." If they cannot find work within their industry, they are in danger of committing a visa violation for “Failure to Maintain Status," which can jeopardize any future visa applications/renewals they file.

While these artists are technically “unemployed," immigration law remains unclear about whether or not they qualify for unemployment benefits during this time period, leaving many of these artists choosing not to apply so as to avoid their immigration status becoming a target.

Government relief, including Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, under regular unemployment benefits, does not include this group of Visa holders, and these artists are unclear and unsure of when they will be able to go back to work, leaving many of their statuses in jeopardy and their financial situations severely lacking.

This is happening even considering the fact that foreign-born and undocumented workers held 49% of all private jobs and are now accounting for 54% of all lost jobs in New York City, a beacon of arts and entertainment where Broadway has now announced will not be returning until January 3rd, 2020 (at the earliest).

Expanding the PUA to include these artists would ensure the arts and entertainment industries could come back with BIPOC creatives at the helm.

Source: Covey - Information on O and P Visas

Source: Colorado Fiscal  - Pitfalls of unemployment in regards to immigrants in the US on O1 Visas. is not a source of legal advice or counsel. All information contained on is an educational tool. Where specific facts are referenced, every effort has been made to verify the accuracy and truthfulness of the information presented. Occasionally our information will become out of date because of the rapidly evolving nature of the movement. If you spot something out of place, please contact us at

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