This past week I attended a training about SNAP/Food Stamps. A small part of the presentation focused on immigrant eligibility for the SNAP program. Although it is not directly related to naturalization, since many of our clients are low-income and qualify for a fee waiver, I thought it might be helpful information to have and share with clients or their family as needed.



Immigrants with some form of legal status are eligible for SNAP benefits. This only includes immigrants, e.g. people who are planning on staying in the U.S. This does not include nonimmigrants, such as people on a tourist or student visa. It also does not include people on Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The difference between the groups of eligible immigrants lies in how long they are required to wait before applying for and receiving the benefit.


No Wait Time

  • Immigrants who are classified as “refugees” do not have to wait to receive benefits. This includes:
    • Asylees
    • Cuban/Haitian entrants
    • Amerasians
    • Refugees
    • People granted withholding of removal
    • Victims of trafficking
    • Iraqi/Afghan SIV holders


5 Year Wait Time

Other immigrants not included in the refugee group are eligible, but are required to wait for 5 years from the date of entry before he/she can receive SNAP. This includes:

  • Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs)
  • Parolees
  • Battered immigrants


Exceptions to the 5 Year Wait
There are some exceptions to those immigrants required to wait. This includes:

  • Children under 18
  • LPR who has 40 quarters of work history
    • Practice Tip: There are different ways to count this work history requirement. The work can be done by:
      • The person him/herself;
      • The person’s parents before the person turned 18 years old; or
      • The person’s spouse, if married.
    • Persons who receive a disability-based benefit or elderly benefit (EAEDC – Emergency Aid to Elders, Disabled, and Children), and can provide a doctor’s statement; or
    • The 5 years has elapsed in a combination of statuses.
      • Practice Tip: Sometimes, an LPR is turned away from applying for SNAP because he/she has not had his/her green card for 5 years. However, if the person was in another qualifying, legal status before adjusting to an LPR and the total time of both/all statuses is at least 5 years, the person qualifies immediately!


Exception for Battered Immigrants
Unfortunately, most battered immigrants are still required to wait for 5 years before applying for/receiving SNAP benefits. There is an exception for some immigrants:

  • No longer living with the abuser; and
    • Has an approved or pending family visa petition;
    • Has an approved or pending VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) self-petition; or
    • Is under cancellation of removal or suspension of deportation.
  • Practice Tip: There is no 5 year wait for a child of an LPR or battered immigrant!


Things to Know

  • When the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) is determining the SNAP household, any noncitizen may opt out of the application. However, the person’s income and assets will still be verified.
  • DTA will not report any undocumented persons to DHS. The only exception would be if a person has a final order of deportation.
  • SNAP does not make a person fall under the public charge grounds of inadmissibility.


Questions to Ask

  • What is your current immigration status?
  • When did you enter into that status (date)?
    • Did you have any status before?


Do you have any work history in the U.S., or does your spouse or parents?

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