48. Am I eligible for SNAP if I am a legal immigrant?

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Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

Many legally present immigrants are eligible for SNAP. The federal SNAP eligibility rules for immigrants and refugees are very complicated, but it is important to make sure immigrants eligible for federal SNAP get them wherever possible.

State-funded SNAP: In December 2023 DTA received funding from the MA Legislature to offer state-funded SNAP benefits to many legally present immigrants who did not qualify for federal SNAP.  Over 4,400 families were issued state SNAP benefits. Unfortunately, the funding was not enough for the current fiscal year (FY24), and DTA ended state SNAP benefits in April 2024. The Feeding Our Neighbors Campaign is continuing to advocate for continuation of this critical benefit. For more information and updates, join the Feeding Our Neighbors Campaign at FeedingOurNeighborsMA.org.

Federal SNAP benefits

If you fall into one of the three groups below, you may qualify for federal SNAP1. But for some categories of immigrants, you may also need to wait five years for SNAP benefits.

Group 1: Immigrants who have fled persecution

You qualify under the federal SNAP eligibility requirements if you:

  • Entered the U.S. as a refugee
  • Granted asylum in the U.S.
  • Granted withholding of deportation or removal
  • A Cuban/Haitian entrant—Nationals of Cuba or of Haiti with humanitarian parole, pending applications for asylum or in removal proceedings. Also includes persons granted legal status through special federal laws for Cubans and Haitians.
  • A Vietnamese Amerasian immigrant (offspring of a U.S. citizen conceived during the Vietnam war),
  • A victim of Trafficking in persons (slavery or sex trafficking) and has applied for status under a special process with the Department of Health and Human Services, or
  • Nationals of Iraq, Afghanistan and Ukraine granted certain legal statuses including Special Immigrant Visas (SIV), Humanitarian Parole or other special categories authorized by Congress.

If your immigration status falls under one of the above, there is NO five-year waiting period. That is true even if you got a green card (LPR status) after you had one of these refugee-type statuses.

Group 2: Green card holders, parolees and battered immigrants

You may qualify under the federal SNAP rules if you are:

  • A Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR), often called a “green card holder,”
  • Granted Humanitarian Parole for 365 days or longer (note special rules for parolees from Cuba, Haiti, Afghanistan, Iraq and Ukraine who are in Group 1), or
  • Battered immigrant who meets the requirements in the special immigrant rules for battered immigrants.

Five year waiting period for Group 2 immigrants

Unfortunately, under federal law, some of the qualified immigrants listed above may need to wait five years in status to qualify for federal SNAP. The five-year wait starts from the date you entered into “qualified” status, but it includes the time the immigrant had parole or a pending VAWA before getting LPR status.

Exceptions for Group 2: NO five year wait for

  • An immigrant child under age 18,
  • An immigrant who is blind or has a severe disability and is receiving a state or federal disability benefit. See showing DTA you are disabled, or
  • An immigrant with 40 qualifying quarters of work history. See work history and the five year wait for SNAP.
  • An immigrant from Haiti, Cuba, Iraq, Afghanistan, or Ukraine who was granted humanitarian parole, a Special Immigrant Visa or other special statuses for nationals from these countries (see below).
Group 3: Immigrants with other statuses

You meet the federal SNAP eligibility requirements, without the 5-year waiting period, if you:

  • are a Native American born in Canada or Mexico (Native Americans born in the U.S. are already U.S. citizens),
  • were a Hmong or Highland Laotian tribe member during the Vietnam war or are the spouse, surviving spouse or unmarried dependent child of a tribe member, or
  • are a veteran of the U.S. military, an active-duty service member, or the spouse, widow or dependent of a veteran or active duty service member lawfully residing in the U.S. (even if not an LPR). See 106 C.M.R. § 362.240(A) for a list of immigrants considered to be lawfully residing in the U.S.

Unless you fall within one of the above three groups, you are not eligible for federal SNAP2.

You may still file an application for U.S. citizen or qualified immigrant dependents who meet the SNAP eligibility rules. Your income will count in determining their benefits, but you will not receive any benefits for yourself.

The following immigrants are not eligible for SNAP

See children getting benefits if you are an ineligible immigrant for how ineligible immigrant parents can apply for eligible children, and counting income of an ineligible immigrant for how income is counted to the rest of the household.

Resources and Troubleshooting Tips

Immigration documents

For copies of USCIS documents and a key to the immigration codes, see materials from the National Immigration Law Center at NILC.org/issues/economic-support/updatepage/

Cuban and Haitian Nationals

DTA’s Online Guide includes extensive guidance on the SNAP and cash eligibility of Cuban and Haitian entrants. See Appendix G. Note that Haitians and Cubans with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) may still qualify for SNAP if they entered with or were granted other statuses - even if they have TPS. For information on the range of federal benefits available to Cuban or Haitian nationals, see also US Office of Refugee Resettlement’s Fact Sheet, Benefits for Cuban Haitian Entrants See also US ACF letter on ORR Services for Cubans and Haitians without Work Authorization, Memo 19-0 of 8/19/19.

Afghan and Iraq Special Immigrant Status and Parolees

DTA’s Online Guide includes extensive guidance on the SNAP and cash eligibility of Iraq Afghan nationals and their dependents (spouses and children). See Appendix G. See also USDA guidance re Afghan nationals issued October 15, 2021 and updated 1/5/23.

Ukrainian humanitarian parolees

DTA’s Online Guide includes extensive guidance on the SNAP and cash eligibility of Ukrainian parolees. See Appendix G. Note that Ukrainians paroled into the U.S. on or after February 24, 2022 are also eligible for SNAP and other federal benefits, regardless of the length of their humanitarian parole. See USDA guidance re Ukraine nationals issued June 7, 2022.

Pending Verification

If DTA has sent a request to USCIS for verification of immigration status, and that request is pending, DTA should issue SNAP benefits for up to 6 months pending the results (if the immigrant meets the other eligibility rules)3,4. If your documents are lost or stolen, contact Legal Services or an immigration specialist who can help you get replacement documents from USCIS and also provide an affidavit (sworn statement) on your status.

Expired documents

An expired document does not mean immigrant’s legal status has expired. The DTA worker should presume the immigrant may still have current legal status and do SAVE check. DTA Transitions FYI pg 9 (Oct. 2007)

Fixing incorrect immigration information

USCIS has a special process to correct wrong or incomplete information in SAVE. See USCIS.gov/save. You can also check your status here: USCIS.gov/save/save-casecheck. However, you should work with an immigration specialist to correct the information USCIS has on file.

DTA Online Guide

See Appendix G for links to the DTA’s BEACON 5 Online Guide for this section.


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