Can You Receive Food Stamps if You Are Not a United States Citizen?

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Immigrants who are not U.S. citizens may be eligible to receive food stamps in certain instances, according to the Food and Nutrition Service, the agency that regulates the food-stamp program at the federal level. In addition to meeting the income and financial resource limits for all food-stamp applicants, non-citizens must fulfill other requirements. Certain applicants who have not yet attained citizenship may be automatically ineligible.


Non-citizens may be eligible for food stamps if they are legal immigrants who have lived in the United States for five years. Regardless of entry date, legal immigrants may also be eligible if they receive disability-related assistance or benefits, or are children. Other non-citizens may be eligible if they gained admittance into the country for humanitarian reasons or received permission to enter for permanent residence. Eligible non-citizens may receive food stamps even if other members of their household are ineligible.

Eligible Groups

A few narrow groups of non-citizens, such as those born in American Samoa or Swain's Island, are automatically eligible for food stamps if they meet the financial limitations for all applicants. Others must be "qualified aliens," as determined by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Refugees and immigrants who entered the country after receiving asylum are among the groups of qualified aliens who may immediately receive food stamps. Immigrants who were in the country lawfully as of Aug. 22, 1996, and are either younger than 18 or born by Aug. 22, 1931, likewise are eligible. Another eligible group is immigrants who are in the country lawfully and receive government payments for blindness or a disability.

Waiting Periods

Other non-citizens may receive food stamps, but only after a waiting period. Lawful permanent residents are eligible after earning 40 quarters of work. Other lawful permanent residents may be eligible if they have been in the U.S. for five or more years. Certain other groups, including battered spouses and children, or parents and children of battered people, also may be eligible if they have been a qualified alien for at least five years. Within those groups, anyone younger than 18 is eligible for food stamps without a waiting period.

Not Eligible

Food and Nutrition Service guidelines prohibit non-citizens from receiving food stamps if the INS has not granted them qualified status and they are not exempt from the restrictions relating to immigrants. Examples are students and aliens who have been qualified for less than five years. Undocumented immigrants, such as temporary residents whose visas have expired or who entered without a visa, likewise are ineligible.