Health and Financial Risks for Noncitizen Immigrants due to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a disproportionate toll on some groups of individuals, including lower income individuals and people of color. One group who faces risks and challenges associated with the pandemic is the nearly 22 million noncitizen immigrants living in the U.S. today. Non-citizen immigrants were already facing a range of challenges prior to the pandemic, including increased fear and uncertainty due to shifting immigration policy that was leading some to turn away from accessing programs and services. As virus hotspots have risen in the Southern and Western regions of the country, with reports of increases in towns along the U.S.-Mexico border, understanding the risks and challenges facing noncitizen immigrants is of increasing importance. This brief analyzes key characteristics of noncitizen immigrants to examine the health and economic risks they face amid the pandemic. It finds:

  • Noncitizen immigrants are more likely to live in large households and in urban areas compared to citizens. Overall, 33% of noncitizen immigrants live in a household with more than four people compared to 21% of citizens. Noncitizens also are more likely than citizens are to live in an urban area (96% vs. 86%).
  • There are nearly 13 million noncitizen immigrant workers who make up 8% of the overall workforce and are concentrated in jobs that cannot be done virtually. Nearly one in four (23%) noncitizen workers are in the construction and restaurant and food services industries. Occupations that employ the largest numbers of noncitizen workers include construction laborers, cooks, janitors and building cleaners, agricultural workers, and maids and housekeepers, where they also account for a high share of all workers.
  • Noncitizen workers are more likely to rely on public transportation to commute to their job and to be low-income compared to their citizen counterparts. Nearly one in four (24%) noncitizen workers rely on public transportation or carpools to commute to their job compared to 12% of citizen workers. They also are twice as likely live in a low-income household compared to citizen workers (36% vs. 18%).
  • Noncitizen immigrants are significantly more likely to be uninsured than citizens. Among the nonelderly population, 33% of noncitizen immigrants are uninsured compared to 9% of citizens.

Taken together, noncitizen immigrants’ living, working, and commuting situations increase their risk for exposure to coronavirus. They are more likely to live in larger households in densely populated areas that make social distancing challenging. Moreover, because many noncitizens workers are employed in jobs that cannot be done from home and have lower incomes, many cannot afford to stay home to limit risk of exposure and/or if they are sick. Their lower incomes and work in service industries that have experienced cutbacks amid the pandemic also increase their risks of experiencing financial hardship. Noncitizen immigrants also may have difficulty accessing testing and treatment due to their higher uninsured rate and immigration-related fears. Although noncitizen immigrants face increased risks associated with the pandemic, restrictions limit immigrants’ eligibility for federal health and financial relief provided in response to COVID-19. Further, those who are eligible for assistance may be reluctant to access services or supports due to immigration-related fears. The extent to which COVID-19 response efforts address challenges facing immigrant families has implications for immigrant families as well as the health and economic stability of the broader population, particularly given the role immigrants play in the nation’s workforce.

Issue Brief

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