The eligibility rules for SNAP are very complicated and sometimes require the advice of an advocate.
In June of 2011, the United States Department of Agriculture published a sixty-two-page guidance document on this matter entitled “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Guidance on Non-Citizen Eligibility.”
This document states that although many non-citizens are eligible for SNAP, the participation among non-citizen households is historically low. This is probably due to a lack of knowledge concerning their eligibility for the program.
If you are a “Qualified Alien,” then you may be eligible to receive SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps.
“Qualified Alien” is a technical term that means an individual who meets the specific definition of ―qualified alien‖ found at 7 CFR 273.4(a)(5)(i), which includes lawful permanent residents, asylees, refugees, parolees, individuals granted withholding of deportation or removal, conditional entrants, Cuban or Haitian entrants, battered aliens, and alien victims of a severe form of trafficking. See also PRWORA, 8 U.S.C. § 1641. The term qualified alien is not itself an immigration status, but includes a collection of immigration statuses. It is a term used for Federal public benefits purposes.
Full restoration of SNAP eligibility to certain noncitizens was a top priority under The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, Public Law 107-171, commonly referred to as the 2002 Farm Bill. The 2002 Farm Bill broadly restored SNAP eligibility to most lawfully present non-citizens, including individuals who resided in the United States for five years, children under 18, and individuals receiving disability-related assistance or benefits.
The Food and Nutrition Act of 2008, as amended, limits eligibility for SNAP benefits to U.S citizens and certain lawfully present non-citizens. Generally, a non-citizen must be a qualified alien as defined in Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) in order to be eligible for SNAP. Non-citizens like tourists and students are generally not eligible. Individuals who are eligible based on their immigration status must also satisfy other SNAP eligibility requirements such as income and resource limits.
There are some categories of non-citizens who are eligible for SNAP who do not have to meet the 5-year residency requirement or have 40 qualifying quarters of work. The following chart describes those who are eligible without a waiting period and without having to meet one additional condition:
|No Waiting Period or Additional Condition Needed to be Eligible for SNAP|
|Victims of severe trafficking|
|Asylees or Deportation Withheld|
|Cuban and Haitian entrants|
|Iraqi and Afghan special immigrants|
|Certain American Indians born abroad|
|Hmong or Highland Laotian tribal members|
|Qualified Alien children under 18|
|Individuals receiving benefits or assistance for blindness or disability1|
|Elderly who were lawfully residing in the U.S. and 65 or older on August 22, 1996|
A battered non-citizen under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a qualified alien if he or she meets the following 4 requirements:
1) The battered non-citizens must show that he/she has an approved or pending petition which makes a prima facie case for immigration status in one of the following categories:
1) a Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) filed by their spouse or the child’s parent;
2) a Form I-130 petition as a widow(er) of a U.S. citizen;
3) a self-petition under the Violence Against Women Act (including those filed by a parent on behalf of an abused child); or
4) an application for cancellation of removal or suspension of deportation filed as a victim of domestic violence; and
2) The non-citizen, the non-citizens child or the non-citizen child’s parent has been abused in the United States under one of the following circumstances:
- The non-citizen has been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty in the U.S. by a spouse or parent of the non-citizen, or
- by a member of the spouse’s or parent’s family residing in the same household if the spouse or parent consents to or acquiesces in the battery or cruelty; or
- The non-citizen’s child has been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty in the U.S. by a spouse or parent of the non-citizen, or by a member of the spouse’s or parent’s family residing in the same household if the spouse or parent consents to the battery or cruelty, and the non-citizen did not actively participate in the battery or cruelty; or
- The parent of a non-citizen child has been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty in the United States by the parent’s spouse, or by a member of the spouse’s family residing in the same household as the parent, if the spouse consents to or acquiesces in such battery or cruelty; AND
3) There is a substantial connection between the battery or extreme cruelty and the need for the public benefit sought; AND
4) The battered non-citizen, child, or parent no longer resides in the same household as the abuser.
There are no time limits for how long eligible non-citizens can receive SNAP. Qualified alien children under 18 are automatically eligible without a waiting period. Even if non-citizen parents may not be eligible themselves, they can apply for their children.
State agencies must still determine eligibility for SNAP for any remaining household members who are seeking assistance. States may not deny an entire household just because a non-citizen member is ineligible due to his or her immigration status.
 7 CFR 273.11(c)
Excerpt from the United States Department of Agriculture guidance document on this matter entitled “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Guidance on Non-Citizen Eligibility.”
For more information, contact the benefits office in your state. See also the following: