Can Non Citizens Get Food Stamps – Get the Facts Right

Can Non Citizens Get Food Stamps – Get the Facts Right

Just about anyone can experience difficulty putting food on the table, regardless of national origin, race, or gender. In this regard, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a nondiscrimination policy for all its federally funded financial assistance programs, including Food Stamps, now known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

However, while nearly all Americans with limited resources and income may get Food Stamps, undocumented non-citizens do not qualify for SNAP benefits. Still, the rules can be a bit confusing for many, prompting the question: can non citizens get Food Stamps?

This detailed guide sheds more light on SNAP rules and clarifies the common misconceptions about Food Stamps eligibility for non-citizens.

Reasons for Low SNAP Participation Among Non-Citizen Households

The 1996 welfare law excluded a significant portion of lawfully residing immigrants from the Food Stamp program. Unfortunately, many of these non-citizens have lived and worked in the United States for several years before the welfare policy came into existence.

Although Congress restored eligibility for some immigrant categories by enacting two bills in 1998 and 2002, many non-citizens still can’t receive SNAP benefits on the same basis as other citizens. In many cases, non-citizens must live in the US for five years, which is the waiting period to become a qualified immigrant.

Additionally, many non-citizen households that may be eligible for SNAP are reluctant to participate in the program for various reasons, such as:

  • Concerns that receiving Food Stamps may affect their sponsors.
  • Not understanding how the SNAP rules apply to the various non-citizen categories like immigrants, aliens, qualified aliens, and Lawful Permanent Residents (commonly called green card holders).
  • Fear that applying for SNAP benefits may prevent non-citizens from becoming American citizens or negatively affect their immigration status in some other way.
  • Being unaware that eligible non-citizens can apply for and receive SNAP benefits.

Can Non Citizens Get Food Stamps?

Non-citizens can get Food Stamps if they are lawfully residing immigrants. However, they must meet the income and resources requirements for SNAP eligibility to receive benefits.

The USDA does not extend Food Stamps eligibility to undocumented immigrants. You must be lawfully present in the US or be a qualified alien to receive Food Stamps.

To be clear, you may only enroll in SNAP and receive assistance as a non-citizen if you meet any of the following conditions:

  • You are a qualified alien who has lived in the US for a minimum of five years.
  • You are a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) who has worked for 40 qualifying quarters.

In some cases, a non-citizen parent of a battered child or a battered non-citizen child or spouse may be eligible for Food Stamps.

There are exceptions to the 5-year waiting period for non-citizens. You may be eligible for SNAP benefits without the waiting period if you are:

  • A qualified alien under 18 years old
  • A blind or disabled green card holder
  • A Lawful Permanent Resident on active military duty or veteran
  • Spouse or child of a veteran or active duty service member with Lawful Permanent Resident
  • A victim of trafficking
  • Granted asylum after entering the US, or you are a legal refugee under the appropriate sections of the law

Older people born on or before August 22, 1931, may also be eligible for Food Stamps without a waiting period, provided they lawfully lived in any part of the United States on August 22, 1996.

Additionally, the USDA extends Food Stamps to certain categories of non-citizens based on origin as long as they meet the income and resources limit for SNAP eligibility. These categories include:

  • Non-citizens with one American and one Asian parent
  • Haitian or Cuban entrants
  • People from the Highland Laotian tribes or the Hmong people
  • Special immigrants from Afghanistan and Iraq, under the appropriate section of the law
  • Certain Native Americans (American Indians) born outside the United States

Which Non-Citizens Are Ineligible for SNAP?

Now that we’ve answered the question, “Can non citizens get Food Stamps?” let’s see what categories of non-citizens are ineligible to participate in the government assistance program.

Generally, an undocumented immigrant or a non-citizen who is out of status cannot receive SNAP benefits. Also, non-citizens with non-immigrant visas are not eligible to get Food Stamps. This category includes visitors, tourists, students, diplomats, and people with business visas.

Other categories of non-citizens that can’t get Food Stamps are:

  • “Not qualified” immigrants (even if they have work authorization or are lawfully present in the US). This category may include non-citizens granted Temporary Protected Status, applicants for adjustment, and asylum applicants.
  • Immigrant adults with parole or Lawful Permanent Resident status but are less than five years, don’t have up to 40 qualifying quarters, or are not disabled.

Even if you are ineligible for SNAP as a non-citizen, you may still file for any lawfully present immigrant dependant in your household, provided they meet the Food Stamps eligibility requirements.

Common Misconceptions About Food Stamps for Non Citizens

SNAP eligibility rules for non-citizens are not without a few misconceptions, and that’s not surprising, considering the complexity of the rules.

Here are the facts to help clarify some of the common misconceptions.

Misconception 1: You can’t get Food Stamps if your spouse is an undocumented immigrant.

Fact: SNAP benefits, as well as eligibility requirements, apply to the entire household, not just one individual. This means you or someone in your household who is a lawfully present non-citizen might be eligible for Food Stamps, even if your spouse is ineligible because of their undocumented status.

Misconception 2: You must speak English to apply for Food Stamps.

Fact: Any eligible person living in the United States can apply for SNAP benefits, no matter the language they speak. You don’t have to be fluent in English or speak, write, or read the language to apply for Food Stamps.

If you are a lawfully present immigrant and meet the eligibility requirements for SNAP, get in touch with your local food stamp office for assistance. Even if you don’t speak a word of English, SNAP offices often have translation services. Alternatively, a friend or someone in your household who speaks English can help you apply.

Misconception 3: Non-citizens risk deportation if they apply for Food Stamps.

Fact: Applying for Food Stamps does not hurt your chances of becoming an American citizen and won’t put you at risk of being deported. No one gets in trouble by simply asking about the Food Stamp program, regardless of their immigration status.

Misconception 4: Undocumented non-citizens who ask about SNAP benefits will be reported to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Fact: While it is true that the SNAP representatives cross-check all immigration documents submitted to the office with the USCIS, information regarding Food Stamps is confidential. Besides, you are not eligible for SNAP if you are an undocumented immigrant, so you won’t be asked to submit your immigration documents.

Misconception 5: Children of undocumented non-citizens are not eligible for SNAP.

Fact: Children of undocumented non-citizens may be eligible for SNAP benefits if they are legal permanent residents. Also, children born in the US may qualify for Food Stamps, regardless of their parent’s immigration status.

Bottom Line

Can non citizens get Food Stamps? It depends on whether they meet the immigration status requirements as well as other SNAP eligibility requirements.

Indeed, SNAP eligibility rules for non-citizens are complicated, but no lawfully present immigrant in the United States should go hungry.

Many immigrants work as hard as US citizens, but considering they mostly have low-wage jobs, they are more likely to be poor. If you are a lawfully residing immigrant struggling to put food on the table, don’t hesitate to seek government assistance. You might qualify for Food Stamps to feed yourself and your family. Learn how to apply for Food Stamps here.