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Are Legal Immigrants Eligible For Federal Public Benefit Programs?

Updated: Mar 25

According to the National Immigration Forum only those with lawful permanent resident (LPR) status, but not until they have resided as a legal resident for five years are eligible for federal public benefit programs. LPRs – sometimes referred to as green card holders – do not have full access to all public benefit programs and are subject to limitations before being eligible for federal means-tested benefits, including Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), TANF, SNAP, and SSI. Such limitations include the “five-year bar,” which requires the individual to have maintained LPR status in the U.S. for five years before being eligible for benefits. However, under some federal benefit programs, this requirement can be bypassed when the recipient has worked 40 quarters under a visa. Quarters worked by parents when the immigrant was a dependent child, or by a spouse while married to the immigrant, count towards the immigrant’s 40 quarters.


Immigrant Seeking Healthcare
Are Legal Immigrants Eligible For Federal Public Benefit Programs?




LPRs are eligible to apply for Medicare and Public/“Section 8” Housing as well, as long as the five-year bar is fulfilled. For LPRs to become eligible for Social Security benefits for both retirement and disability, they are required to have completed 40 quarters of work in addition to having maintained LPR status for five years.


Certain additional categories of immigrants, specifically refugees, asylum seekers, and victims of human trafficking or domestic violence have the same eligibility requirements for federal benefits as LPRs. Individuals on non-immigrant and temporary visa holders are ineligible for benefits.

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