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Are Food Stamps (SNAP) available to immigrants?


What are Food Stamps (SNAP)?

Intended to help low-income families afford healthier food items, the USDA offers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) through its Food and Nutrition Service Agency. You might know of it by its former name: Food Stamps. SNAP operates in all 50 States and provides nutritional benefits to supplement the food budget of families in need, allowing them the freedom to work towards self-sufficiency.

Who Qualifies?

To be eligible for this aid program, you must meet specific requirements; resources and income are considered when applying for SNAP. Many non-citizens are eligible for this program; each state has its SNAP agency, so you must apply where you currently live. (Locate your SNAP state agency Here:

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to be a U.S. citizen to obtain SNAP benefits. Applying will not affect your ability to become a citizen, remain in the United States, or receive a green card. Undocumented parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent resident children can apply on their behalf. SNAP offices will never request immigration documents from individuals who are not applying for themselves but apply on behalf of their minor children. Lastly, people are permitted to apply in any language. Local SNAP offices will provide translation services as needed. 

Legal immigrants are eligible for federal programs like SNAP once they have been in the U.S. for at least five years and have accumulated credits for 40 quarters of work under an appropriate working visa. It is important to note that these work credits are also considered if you are a dependent child or spouse of the principal visa holder.

There are other instances where an immigrant may be eligible for public benefits.

“Qualified” Immigrants who entered the U.S. before Aug. 22, 1996, are eligible only if:

  1. They are receiving disability-related assistance.
  2. They are lawful permanent residents with accumulated credit for 40 quarters of work.
  3. They were granted refugee or asylum status or withholding of deportation\removal, Cuban\Haitian entrant, or are Amerasian immigrants. 
  4. They have been in “qualified” immigrant status for five years (Humanitarian immigrants and veterans or military members are exempt from this waiting period).

“Qualified” Immigrants who entered the U.S. after Aug. 22, 1996, are eligible only if:

  1. They are under the age of 18.
  2. They are receiving disability-related assistance.
  3. They have been in “qualified” immigrant status for five years.
  4. They were granted asylum or refugee status or withholding of deportation\removal, Cuban\Haitian entrant, Amerasian, a victim of trafficking, or Iraqi or Afghan special immigrant status, or most recently, certain Ukrainian parolees also qualify.

“Non-Qualified” Immigrants are eligible only if they are (or were):

  1. A member of Hmong or Laotian tribes during the Vietnam era, when the tribe military assisted the U.S., spouse, surviving spouse, or child of a tribe member who is lawfully present in the U.S.
  2. American Indians born abroad.
  3. Victims of trafficking and their derivative beneficiaries.
  4. Certain Ukrainian parolees.

Qualified immigrants and U.S. citizens are subject to eligibility depending on family composition, income level, work history, etc. Women, infants, and children may be eligible to access nutrition programs as undocumented immigrants in situations where it is deemed necessary to protect life. 

When seeking assistance, it is essential to note that if certain household members are ineligible for SNAP, there still could be remaining eligible household members. For example, if a parent is not qualified for SNAP because of her immigration status, they can still apply for their eligible children. Each state agency has its own directives and processes. The SNAP office will not request immigration documents from those not applying to receive benefits for themselves.

How to Apply? 

  1. Apply via your state agency or your local SNAP Office.
  2. Your application will be processed within 30 days. 
  3.  During the application process, the applicant (or a parent) will be interviewed and will have to submit documentary evidence as requested. 
  4. The applicant will then receive a notice informing them whether they are eligible for benefits. 

Most benefits periods last for six months; some can be as short as one month or as long as three years. For most adults between 18-50 (who do not have a child at home), SNAP benefits are limited to three months every three years. 

If you are a qualified immigrant residing in Texas, you can apply for the Lonestar Card Benefits. It is a debit card and part of the SNAP Program. Call this number at the Texas Health and Human Services: 877-541-7905. This card and all SNAP aid cannot be used to purchase tobacco or alcohol, pay bills, or buy anything other than nutritional items.

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