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I am Not a U.S. Citizen - Am I Eligible for Federal Benefits?


Are you present in the United States in a lawful immigration status, but are not sure if you qualify for any financial assistance under federal law?

There are four primary benefits offered under federal law. These include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance, and Medicaid.

Whether you qualify for any one benefit generally depends on your specific immigration status and how long you have lived and worked in the U.S.

Am I eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)?

• Refugees and asylees are eligible 
• Lawful permanent residents (LPRs) (green card holders) with a substantial work history—generally 10 years (40 quarters) of work documented by Social Security or other employment records—or a military connection (active duty military personnel, veterans, and their families) are eligible
• Disabled LPRs are eligible 
• LPRs who were elderly (65+) and legal residents as of August 22, 1996, are 
eligible 
• LPRs who have been legal residents for five years or are children (under 18) are 
eligible 

Am I eligible for the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program?

• Refugees and asylees are eligible for SSI for seven years after arrival, and after which time they generally are ineligible 
• LPRs with a substantial work history—generally 10 years (40 quarters) of work 
documented by Social Security or other employment records—or a military 
connection (active duty military personnel, veterans, and their families) are 
eligible, but note that LPRs are not eligible during the first five years even if they had 40 credits of earnings (e.g., as a temporary worker)
• LPRs receiving SSI as of August 22, 1996, continue to be eligible for SSI
• Disabled LPRs who were legal residents as of August 22, 1996, are eligible 

Am I eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance? 

• LPRs with a substantial work history—generally 10 years (40 quarters) of work 
documented by Social Security or other employment records—or a military 
connection (active duty military personnel, veterans, and their families) are 
eligible, but note that LPRs entering after August 22, 1996, are barred for five years, after which their coverage becomes a state option
• Refugees and asylees are eligible for at least five years after arrival, after which time they 
may be eligible at state option

Am I eligible for Medicaid? 

• LPRs with a substantial work history—generally 10 years (40 quarters) of work 
documented by Social Security or other employment records—or a military 
connection (active duty military personnel, veterans, and their families) are 
eligible, but note that LPRs entering after August 22, 1996, are barred for 
five years, after which their coverage becomes a state option
• Medicaid coverage is required for all otherwise-qualified SSI recipients (they 
must meet SSI noncitizen eligibility tests)
• Refugees and asylees are eligible for seven years after arrival, after which time they 
but may be eligible at state option

Read about the history of federal benefits for non-citizens and trends in use in this report from the Congressional Research Service: Noncitizen Eligibility for Federal Public Assistance: Policy Overview and Trends