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SNAP and Public Charge for Immigrants

Reviewed October 2019
Produced by based on a handout created by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Project Bread and Mass. Food Banks that was created from Protecting Immigrant Families materials.
Created September 2019

SNAP is a federal nutrition benefit that helps low income families put food on the table. SNAP eligibility is limited to low income U.S. citizens and certain “qualified” immigrants.1

What is Public Charge?

The “Public Charge” test is used by immigration officials to decide if a person can enter the U.S. or get a Green Card (Lawful Permanent Residency). Officials look at all of a person’s circumstances, including:

  • income,
  • employment,
  • health,
  • education or skills,
  • family situation and
  • if a sponsor signed an “affidavit of support.”

Public Charge does not apply to Green Card holders applying for U.S. citizenship or renewing their Green Card.

Where do I find more information or get help?

Get the facts at Protecting Immigrant Families or from Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.

You may be able to get help from a free immigration lawyer or a private immigration lawyer

Call Project Bread’s FoodSource Hotline to find food resources in your community: 1-800-645-8333

Contact Massachusetts Law Reform Institute if you are a Massachusetts organization with questions about SNAP rules for immigrants: Pat Baker at [email protected] (617 357 0700 x328), or Vicky Negus at [email protected] (x315)

What to know about Public Charge and SNAP if you have green card.

Are you applying for citizenship? (naturalizing)? There is no Public Charge test for you. Keep SNAP
Are you renewing your Green Card? There is no Public Charge test for you. Keep SNAP
Are you leaving the U.S. for 6 months or more? Public Charge may come up if you try to come back to the U.S. Talk to an immigration lawyer before you leave the U.S.

To get for SNAP, Green Card holders usually need to have Lawful Permanent Residency status for 5 years. Unless:

  • they are a child under 18,
  • have a severe disability,
  • have work history, or
  • had earlier humanitarian status such as refugee or asylee.

What to know about Public Charge and SNAP if you do not have a green card.

Do you get SNAP for your U.S. Citizen kids or other people living with you?2 Their SNAP has no impact on any future Public Charge test for you. Keep SNAP for kids/ family.
Are you a refugee, asylee, survivor of trafficking (T Visa), or battered immigrant (VAWA petitioner)? There is no Public Charge test for you. Keep SNAP.
Do you have DACA, TPS, a U Visa, or Special Immigrant Juvenile? There is no Public Charge test in this status, but.... You are not eligible for SNAP.



"Qualified” immigrants include Lawful Permanent Residents (non-disabled adults must be in status for 5 years), refugees, asylees, and certain battered immigrants. For a full list of “qualified” immigrants see MLRI’S SNAP Advocacy Guide. SNAP is notavailable to immigrants who are undocumented, have TPS, DACA, U visas, or have pending applications for legal status or are non-immigrants (e.g. students/visitors).


Ineligible adult immigrants may be able to get SNAP on behalf of eligible household members, such as your U.S. Citizen kids. If you get an EBT card on their behalf (with your name on it), benefits on the card are for eligible household members.

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