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Will getting government benefits keep me from getting a Green Card or becoming a U.S. citizen?

July 2018

There is a newer version of this article with information that is current as of October, 2019. Please read the new article: Frequently Asked Questions About the Public Charge Rule. It is also available in Spanish: Preguntas Frecuentes sobre la Regla del Cargo Público


I am in the United States legally and I want to stay. Will getting government benefits hurt my chances of getting a Green Card or becoming a U.S. Citizen?

If you do not have a Green Card:

When you apply for a Green Card to become a lawful permanent resident, immigration officials determine whether you will be able to support yourself financially in the future or whether you are going to be a public charge. They consider whether you have ever received cash assistance in the past. They also consider such things as your age, health, family status, assets, resources, financial status, education, and skills.

It will not hurt your chances of getting a Green Card if you, your children, or other family members lawfully use benefits that are not cash, such as:

  • Health care assistance, such as Medicaid – HUSKY A, B, C or D, or other free or low-cost medical care.
  • Food programs such as SNAP (food stamps), WIC, school meals, soup kitchens and pantries, or other food assistance.
  • Other programs that do not provide you with cash such as public housing and other housing assistance, emergency shelter services, child care assistance, energy and weatherization assistance, foster care and adoption assistance, educational assistance, Head Start, job training, and disaster relief.
  • Earned benefits like unemployment compensation, veteran’s benefits, Social Security insurance benefits, and government pensions.

You may have a problem getting a Green Card later if any of the following things are true:

  • You received government benefits unlawfully. For example, you gave false information to the government to get benefits for you, your children, or other family members.
  • You get cash welfare assistance, such as:
    • TFA (Temporary Family Assistance) from DSS (CT Department of Social Services); or
    • SAGA (State Administered General Assistance) from DSS.
  • If a family member (immigrant or U.S. citizen) gets cash welfare assistance and these benefits are the family’s only income.
  • You are in a nursing home or other long-term institutional care paid for by Medicaid.

But remember, immigration officials still have to determine if you can support yourself in the future. If you are healthy and have a job, having received benefits in the past may not hurt your chances of getting a Green Card.

If you are a refugee or a victim of abuse or a crime and are applying for a Green Card:

Receiving health care, food, cash or other welfare assistance should not be counted against you, if

  • you are a refugee or have been granted asylum in the US;
  • you are a survivor of a serious crime and have applied for or been granted a U non-immigrant visa;
  • you have filed a self-petition under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA);
  • you needed cash welfare assistance because you or your children were victims of violence or extreme cruelty by your spouse or your parent, or a member of your family, your spouse’s family, or your spouse’s parent’s family living in your household, and you did not participate in the violence or agree to it; or
  • you have been certified as a victim of trafficking.

There are other categories of immigrants where receiving cash assistance will not cause problems with getting a Green Card. Check with an immigration lawyer for more information or if you think the wrong standard may have been applied in your case.

If you already have a Green Card:

You should not lose your green card if you, your children or other family members get health care, food, cash, or other welfare assistance.

But, you might have a problem if:

  • You leave the US for more than 180 continuous days (about 6 months) and have used cash welfare assistance or long-term care; or
  • within the first 5 years after your green card is approved:
    • you receive cash benefits for reasons which existed at the time your green card was approved (for example, illness or disability), and
    • the government demands that your sponsor repay benefits you received and your sponsor refuses to or cannot pay.

If you are applying for citizenship:

You cannot be denied citizenship for lawfully receiving health care, food, cash, or other welfare assistance.

If you want to sponsor a relative:

Getting health care, food, cash, or other welfare assistance should not prevent you from sponsoring a relative, but you will not be able to count the government benefits when you show that you earn enough money to support your relative.  You may need to have a co-sponsor.