What Types of Federal Programs are Available for Immigrants?

A common source of questions and debate is whether non-citizen immigrants are eligible for assistance through federal programs.  This area of law is one of the more confusing portions of immigration law, as standards are often subject to change.  In general, the main Federal Programs closely associated with alien non-citizen immigrants are:

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI- not to be confused with Social Security)
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (FANF)
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP- commonly known as the “food stamps” program)

In addition to these federal programs, there are a number of other federal and state benefits that immigrants can receive, including: Child/adult protective services; medical, mental, and public health services; certain disability programs; soup kitchens/ “Meals on wheels” programs; and programs involving shelters.

Many immigrants and immigrant families are eligible for such assistance, though they might not apply for such benefits due difficulties in understanding immigration laws.

What are the Eligibility Requirements for Immigrants Applying to Federal Programs?

The eligibility of immigrants for federal programs and government assistance may vary depending on the type of benefits extended, as well as the background of the applicant(s).  In general, Congress has classified non-citizen immigrants into two different eligibility categories:  “Qualified” and “Non-Qualified”. 

Generally speaking, only immigrants in the Qualified category are immediately eligible to receive government benefits.  Non-qualified immigrants are either not eligible, or are subject to other requirements such as providing additional documentation.  There are also many exceptions to the various eligibility rules.

Immigrants who are considered “Qualified” for federal assistance include:

  • LPRs or Lawful Permanent Residents (green card-holders)
  • Persons who have been granted asylum, persons under refugee status
  • Conditional entrants and persons granted withholding of deportation/removal
  • Persons who have been granted parole by DHS for at least one year
  • Haitian and Cuban immigrants
  • Certain immigrants who have been subjected to abuse, including their parents and/or children
  • Victims of certain types of trafficking

Again, even immigrants who fall under the category of Qualified may need to provide additional documentation in order to participate in federal programs.

If I Apply for a Federal Program, Will I be Subjected to an Investigation?

The eligibility of immigrants for federal programs often involves “Reporting Requirements” depending on the program.  Reporting requirements refers to the requirement that some administrative agencies report immigrant applicants to the Department of Homeland Security. 

With regards to reporting requirements, the following rules apply:

  • Reporting requirements only apply to three federal programs- SSI, TANF, and public housing programs
  • The agency is only required to report those immigrants whom they know are not lawfully present in the country (this must be backed by sufficient evidence)

Regarding the last point, a person is only deemed “unlawfully present” in the U.S. if the claim is supported by documentation from immigration authorities, such as an Order of Deportation.  Mere written or oral admission by an applicant will not trigger the reporting requirement.

Also, reporting requirements are enforced only if the immigrant is applying to receive federal benefits, not if they are contacting the agency for other reasons. 

Do I Need a Lawyer to Help Regarding the Eligibility of Immigrants for Federal Programs?

If you or a loved one needs assistance with eligibility requirements for federally funded benefits, you may wish to contact a qualified immigration lawyer in your area.  Your attorney can advise you regarding current immigration laws and reporting requirements.  Also, your attorney can represent you during court hearings if an investigation has been ordered regarding your claim.