Medical Benefits are Available to Illegal Immigrants in MI, but Not Disability


By Phil Yacuboski

This is the next article in's “Undocumented, and Unprotected?” series, as our writers explore what is it like to be an undocumented worker in the U.S., and what it means regarding workers' compensation.


Lansing, MI ( – In Michigan, undocumented workers are entitled to medical benefits, but they are not entitled to disability benefits. The state statute says because they are illegal, they are essentially committing a crime.

And insurance companies are asking questions…

“That question is whether or not they can confirm that all of their employees are legal to work in the United States,” said David Walker, President of Hartland Insurance Co. “I’m sure it’s a question that many people just gloss over.”

Walker said claims are paid to undocumented workers who are hurt on the job.

“The statute doesn’t really speak to your citizenship,” he said. “It has more to do with geography.”

He said he’s not sure what happens in cases where the Social Security number submitted by the injured worker is false or stolen.

Walker said there’s a need for more clarity at the federal level.

“There should be some standardization,” Walker said. “I’m loathed to do this because I’m not a big fan of federal regulation, but I think because they are the ones that control the status of immigration, for every state, not just Michigan, there should be some federal standard or guidelines that insurance carriers and employers would have to live with to hiring someone that is a foreign worker.”

He said there should be an OSHA-type standard that’s enforced by federal law.

“If the state decides to be more aggressive, that’s fine, but at a minimum standard there should be some guidelines at the federal level,” Walker said.

In numbers collected in 2014, Michigan has about 130,000 undocumented workers, according to the Pew Research Center.

Joel Alpert, a workers’ compensation attorney in Southfield, said there are loopholes in the law.

“It’s pretty bad,” he said. “Once an employer finds out there’s no documentation, there’s a determination that their employment is illegal and as a result, no wage-loss benefits are payable to the injured worker,” he said. “It’s incongruous. It doesn’t make sense to me. It never made any sense to me.”

Alpert said he’s had several cases involving undocumented workers where he’s told clients there wasn’t much they could do to get them more than medical benefits.

“We don’t take the cases because we’re running a business here and it just doesn’t work,” he said.

He said mixing state and federal laws likely wouldn’t happen.

“I don’t see any movement from the federal government that’s going to help us anytime soon,” he said. “Maybe when we get a new administration in the governor’s office, which is likely a long way off, there might be some help. We’d also need the legislature.”

Republicans lead the MI Statehouse, including Gov. Rick Snyder.

“Employers here can hire undocumented workers and essentially not have to pay them workers’ comp,” Alpert said.  

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