Undocumented and Immigrant Californians

LAST UPDATED: May 7, 2020

Assistance for Undocumented and Immigrant Californians During the COVID-19 Emergency

Prepared by the Office of Senator Scott D. Wiener (D-San Francisco)


State Relief Program

On April 15th, the Governor launched a $125 million disaster relief program to help support undocumented Californians. The fund includes $75 million from the state and another $50 million from philanthropic sources. Many families will receive checks of $500-$1,000 to help with costs during COVID-19. Funding will be distributed through trusted non-profits, so that families do not have to identify themselves in order to receive the money. 

Although the program has already faced challenges in court, on May 6th the California Supreme Court ruled that the program will be allowed to go forward. 



People who are worried about their legal status or who don't have health insurance should be able to go to a public health center, a free clinic, or the emergency room.

Under the Affordable Care Act, many immigrants qualify for health coverage, including the following groups: lawful permanent residents or (“green card holders”), lawful temporary residents, persons fleeing persecution (including refugees and asylees), other humanitarian immigrants (including those granted temporary protected status), and non-immigrant status holders (including worker visas and student visas).

Both lawfully present and not lawfully present individuals can apply through Covered California to see if they are eligible for a health plan through Covered California or Medi-Cal. There is no “waiting period” or “five-year bar.”

Immigrants who are not lawfully present do not qualify for a health plan through Covered California but may qualify for coverage through Medi-Cal (up to age 19 or for pregnancy coverage). Immigrants who are not lawfully present can also buy private health insurance outside of Covered California.

Those who do not qualify for Medi-Cal or Medicare can join Healthy San Francisco, regardless of immigration status, if family income is below 500% FPL, they can prove SF residency, and they have been uninsured for 90+ days (w/ exceptions for loss of health coverage due to job loss). 

For more information on getting covered: 




Public Charge

The federal government has said that using health care services for COVID-19 prevention, testing or treatment alone does not make you a public charge.
Medi-Cal care for COVID-19 related testing or treatment does NOT count under the public charge rule because it is the treatment of an emergency medical condition.

Please don’t let fear stop you from getting necessary treatment, as the effects of avoiding health care services may be very serious. This will help keep you, your family, and your community healthy.

Additionally, seeking and using benefits for your citizen child will not impact your status under Public Charge.

Public Benefits NOT Considered for Public Charge:
1) Medi-Cal benefits received for the treatment of an emergency medical condition;
2) School-based services or benefits;

3) Medi-Cal benefits received by a noncitizen under 21 years of age;
4) Medi-Cal benefits received by a woman during pregnancy and during the 60-day period beginning on the last day of the pregnancy;
5) Public health assistance for immunizations with respect to immunizable diseases, and for testing and treatment of symptoms of communicable diseases whether or not such symptoms are caused by a communicable disease; and many more.

For more information on Public Charge: https://www.sfhsa.org/services/immigrants-benefits/understanding-public-charge


Employee Benefits

To be eligible for unemployment insurance, immigrant workers must satisfy the same basic requirements as other workers. Additionally, to collect UI benefits, you must show 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. You must also give proof that you are currently in satisfactory immigration status, and are authorized to work each week that you claim benefits. The EDD verifies immigration status and work authorization through the Department of Homeland Security.

However, all workers who are injured on the job, including undocumented workers, are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits in California to cover the cost of medical treatment and, in some cases, lost wages. However, undocumented employees may not be eligible for some job retraining benefits or protections from employer retaliation.

Undocumented workers can also apply for disability. The SDI system is funded by employee contributions. Undocumented employees have the right to benefit from the money they have contributed. If you have paid into the state disability system, you may be entitled to receive at least as much as they put into the system. To determine if you have paid into the system, you should look to see if SDI insurance was deducted from your pay stub. If you were paid in cash and did not receive a pay stub, you may be ineligible. 

If you care for a sick family member, you may also be able to get paid family leave. If your job has paid sick leave, you can use it to care for someone else. If not, you can apply for state Paid Family Leave.

For more information: 


For other questions and assistance, refer to: https://www.ilrc.org/areas-of-expertise?field_related_issues_target_id_1=910&type=All


Other Resources

  •  The state of California has allocated $50 million to the Small Business Finance Center at California’s IBank to support financial relief. This program is available to all California small businesses including undocumented immigrant entrepreneurs.
  • Certain immigrants may apply for food help at GetCalFresh.org. Others can apply for a family member who is eligible, including US citizen children. Public charge does not apply to food benefits received by other members of your family, including your children.
  • The state has developed an immigrant resource guide to provide more comprehensive information about COVID-19 related assistance, including public benefits, that are available to immigrant Californians.