Public Benefits FAQs

Applying Without a Social Security Number

What if applying for a benefit requires a Social Security Number (SSN) and my client either does not have one or is using a false SSN?

If your client is using a false SSN, you must advise them that they may be subject to criminal and immigration consequences. Immigrants without a SSN can apply for a non-work SSN. See our documents in the web library under Social Security Numbers for relevant forms and a step-by-step guide to applying for a non-work SSN.


Domestic Violence Shelters Housing Undocumented Immigrants

The local domestic violence shelter advocates in my community that their funding restricts them from sheltering undocumented immigrants. Is this correct?

In 2001, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued policy guidance defining “short-term shelter” to include emergency shelter and transitional housing programs for up to two years. There was also a joint agency letter released in 2016 to reiterate this existing policy. See below an excerpt from the 2001 memo:

“This policy directive clarifies that all programs administering HUD grants, which provide emergency shelter, transitional housing, short-term shelter and housing assistance to victims of domestic violence are deemed necessary, under the Order, for the protection of life and safety. Therefore, programs and services of this type that deliver in-kind services at the community level and do not condition the provision of assistance, the amount of assistance provided, or the cost of assistance provided on the individual recipient’s income or resources are to make their programs available to all personals without verification of citizenship, nationality, or immigration status, as set forth in the Order…”


Benefits Available to All

For what benefits and services are all immigrants eligible for regardless of immigration status?

The following public assistance programs provided by community-based agencies haven been designated by the U.S. Attorney General to be open to all persons without regard to immigration status. This non-exclusive list of programs has been deemed by the U.S. Attorney General to be services necessary to protect life and safety:

  • Crisis counseling and intervention programs
  • Services and assistance relating to child protection
  • Adult protective services
  • Violence and abuse prevention
  • Services to victims of domestic violence or other criminal activity
  • Treatment of mental illness or substance abuse
  • Programs to help individuals during periods of adverse weather conditions
  • Soup kitchens and community food banks
  • Senior nutrition programs and other nutritional programs for persons requiring special assistance
  • Medical and public health services
  • Activities designed to protect the life and safety of workers, children, and youths or community residents

Short-term shelter or housing assistance for the homeless. victims of domestic violence, and runaway, abused, or abandoned children.


State Public Benefits

Are qualified immigrants eligible for any state benefits during the time in which the 5 year bar is imposed against them for federal benefits?

Some states have supplemental programs – Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medical Assistance, Food Stamps, and State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) – which are available to qualified immigrants while they wait to become eligible. Whether or not supplemental programs are available differs by state. Please see the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) charts: State Funded TANF Replacement Programs Table, State Funded Food Benefits Programs Table, State Funded SSI Benefits Programs Table for more information.


Federal Benefits Eligibility 

If my client is a qualified immigrant, for what federal public benefits is my client eligible?

Qualified immigrants are eligible for an array of federal public benefits, including the following:

By the Department of Health and Human Services:

  • Adoption Assistance
  • Administration on Developmental Disabilities (ADD)
    • State Developmental Disabilities Councils (direct services only)
    • Special Projects (direct services only)
    • University Affiliated Programs (clinical disability assessment services only)
  • Adult Programs/Payments to Territories
  • Agency for Healthcare Policy and Research Dissertation Grants
  • Child Care and Development Fund
  • Clinical Training Grant for Faculty Development in Alcohol & Drug Abuse
  • Foster Care
  • Health Profession Education and Training Assistance
  • Independent Living Program
  • Job Opportunities for Low Income Individuals (JOLI)
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
  • Medicare
  • Medicaid (except assistance for an emergency medical condition)
  • Mental Health Clinical Training Grants
  • Native Hawaiian Loan Program
  • Refugee Cash Assistance
  • Refugee Medical Assistance
  • Refugee Preventative Health Services Program
  • Refugee Social Services Formula Program
  • Refugee Social Services Discretionary Program
  • Refugee Targeted Assistance Formula Program
  • Refugee Targeted Assistance Discretoinary Program
  • Refugee Unaccompanied Minors Program
  • Refugee Voluntary Agency Matching Grant Program
  • Repatriation Program
  • Residential Energy Assistance Challenge Option (REACH)
  • Social Services Block Grant (SSBG)
  • State Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

By the Department of Agriculture:

  • Food Stamps

By the Department of Housing:


Definition of a Qualified Immigrant

What does it mean to be a “qualified immigrant” and how do I know if my client is considered to be a “qualified immigrant”?

“Qualified immigrant” is a term of art used in benefits laws to designate who is eligible to receive federal public benefits. An immigrant that fits within one of the following categories is considered a “qualified immigrant” and is therefore eligible to receive federal public benefits:

  • Lawful permanent residents
  • Conditional permanent residents
  • Asylees
  • Refugees
  • Persons paroled into the United States for a period of at least one year
  • Persons granted withholding of deportation
  • Persons granted conditional entry
  • Cuban and Haitian entrants
  • Amerasian immigrants
  • A victim of human trafficking who had filed for, had prima facie determination or has been awarded a T-visa under INA § 101(a)(15)(T), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(T)
  • Persons who have been battered or subject to extreme cruelty by a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse or parent, who have VAWA self-petitions or petitions for suspension of deportation or cancellation of removal pending or approved and their undocumented children listed as dependents in their VAWA self-petition application

Parents of children who have been battered or subject to extreme cruelty by the other U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, and who have VAWA self-petitions or petitions for suspension of deportation or cancellation of removal pending or approved and their undocumented immigrant children listed as dependents in their VAWA self-petition application.


U-Visa Holder Benefits

What benefits are U-visa holders eligible for? U-visa holders at this time are not considered qualified immigrants, and therefore not eligible for federal public benefits other than those needed for life and safety, for which all immigrants regardless of status are eligible. Some states provide benefits for U-visa holders who are considered “lawfully present” or as “Persons Residing Under Color of Law” (PRUCOL). However, this varies from state to state and some states do not recognize this category.


Federal Financial Aid

I have a client who wants to apply for federal financial aid. Who is eligible for post-secondary financial aid? What options are available for those not eligible for post-secondary financial aid, for example U-visa holders?

Financial aid exists for qualified aliens if they meet the existing financial requirements for all applicants. Application for financial aid requires the following steps:

  • Go to
  • Check the box ‘eligible non-citizen’ (Please note that the worksheet does not explicitly include VAWA self-petitioners and derivatives with prime facie notice or approved applications in their list of eligible non-citizens, even though such applicants are eligible non-citizens.)
  • The form requires either an Alien Registration number (A number) or social security number

VAWA Self-petitioners and Derivatives

Because VAWA self-petitioners, as defined by INA 101(a)(51), are considered qualified immigrants, but have not been properly added to the list of qualified immigrants, there is often confusion in the field as to whether or not they qualify. If your client falls under this category, take your VAWA self-petitioner’s prima facie notice or approved application to the financial aid office along with the following memo. If the financial aid office has further questions or if you encounter any complications, contact Jessica Finkel at or by calling 202.502.7647.

U-visa Applicants and Derivatives

At this point, there is no law or policy providing access to secondary education for U-visa holders.

Even if an immigrant does not qualify for federal post-secondary financial aid, there may be a number of private scholarships or grants for which they can apply. Generally, scholarships and fellowships are reserved for students with special qualifications, such as academic, athletic or artistic talent. Awards are also available for students who are interested in particular fields of study, who are members of underrepresented groups, who live in certain areas of the country or who demonstrate financial aid.

The best way to search for scholarships and fellowships is to use a personalized search engine, like FastWeb Scholarship Search, that compares your background with a database of awards. Only those awards that fit your profile are identified as matches. Contacting the college/university directly your clients wants to attend may also be a good idea as they might offer some fee reductions and free credits. Another possibility is to contact local a minority organizations.  Finally, there remains the possibility of applying for a private school loan.