Learn About Food Stamps for Non-Citizens

The guidelines for SNAP benefits firmly require any beneficiary to be a U.S. citizen or lawful non-citizen residing in the state. Undocumented non-citizens and temporary non-citizens residing in the U.S., including students and tourists, are not eligible for SNAP benefits. Any eligible non-citizen must also meet the other standard eligibility guidelines for SNAP benefits, including income level, work requirements and number of resources.

Most lawful U.S. immigrants must go through a five-year waiting period with qualified alien status before becoming eligible for food stamps. However, other non-citizens are immediately eligible for SNAP benefits. Although there are many different types of immigration statuses, the food assistance program places non-citizens eligible for food stamps into two distinct groups:

  • Certain non-citizens, who can receive food stamps immediately.
  • Qualified aliens, who can receive food stamps after a waiting period.

Below, you’ll find some more detailed information about the guidelines for non-citizen food stamps eligibility.

About Non-citizens Who Are Immediately Qualified for SNAP Benefits

Non-citizens who are immediately eligible for food stamps includes several beneficiary categories that are considered to be vulnerable, such as children, the elderly, disabled individuals and refugees. These vulnerable groups include some qualified aliens as well as other noncitizens who do not meet the criteria for qualified alien.

More specifically, the list includes qualified alien children under 18, lawful permanent residents who have served or are currently serving in the military and their spouses and children, lawful permanent residents who live in the U.S. and currently receive state or federal disability or blindness benefits, and elderly non-citizens who were born no later than August 22, 1931 and were lawful U.S. residents on August 22, 1996.

Additionally, non-citizen members of certain groups that are subject to laws and acts can receive food stamps immediately. Some examples of these groups include: Victims of Trafficking as defined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, Cuban and Haitian entrants covered under the Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980, and refugees and asylees admitted under sections 207 and 208, respectively, of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

About Non-citizens who Qualify for SNAP Benefits After a Waiting Period

Qualified alien non-citizens with specific immigration statuses who do not meet the specific eligibility criteria discussed above are also eligible for food stamps after a waiting period. Qualified aliens who do not meet any of the above guidelines can receive food stamps after five years of U.S. residence as a qualified alien. Other members of this group can be eligible for SNAP benefits if they meet SNAP eligibility criteria and are either a (1) Lawful Permanent Resident (green card holders) with 40 quarters of work or (2) a qualified alien with five years of qualified status who has met special criteria for eligibility.

Learn About Households with Ineligible Non-Citizen Members

Households may qualify for SNAP benefits even if they contain one or more ineligible non-citizen members. Lawfully present non-citizen or citizen children can receive food stamps even if immigration status currently renders their parent or guardian ineligible.

About Proof of Immigration Status

Non- citizens must be prepared to show proof of their immigration status and have their status checked by a SNAP official. Any food stamps applicant, including non-citizens, must also show proof of a social security number (SSN) or proof of application for a Social Security Number (SSN).

Low Use of SNAP among non-citizens

The rate of SNAP participation among eligible non-citizens has generally been much lower than the SNAP participation rate of eligible U.S. citizens. Some eligible non-citizens may believe that SNAP participation could negatively affect their immigration status, citizenship status or sponsor, however, SNAP participation has no effect on any of these decisions or individuals. Furthermore, non-citizens with limited English language proficiency may mistakenly believe that applying for SNAP requires proficiency in English. If you’re a non-citizen who meets the one of the above qualifications and the normal eligibility requirements for SNAP, there is no reason to hesitate when it comes to applying for SNAP benefits.