Trying to get financial help for immigrants can feel like an uphill battle. If you or someone you know is an immigrant, you may be hesitant to reach out for help.
Fortunately, it is not hopeless. There are financial resources available to immigrants from all over the world — and we are here to help you find them.
Financial help for documented immigrants
It goes without saying that seeking out financial help is easier for documented immigrants (as opposed to undocumented immigrants). If you have legal resident status in the United States, then you likely have all of the right documentation to apply for welfare, food stamps, and similar assistance. So first let’s take a look at some of the most common financial resources that are available to documented immigrants:
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI) – SSI is designed to provide a monthly income for people over the age of 65, the disabled, or those with insufficient household income.
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – SNAP provides a monthly stipend to low-income families for grocery shopping.
- Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) – TANF offers temporary financial support to families experiencing an emergency or hardship like a sudden loss of employment.
- Medicaid – Medicaid provides low-cost health insurance to qualifying individuals whose income falls below a designated threshold.
- Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) – CHIP provides low-cost health insurance to children in families that do not qualify for Medicaid based on their household income.
- Federal Student Aid – Financial assistance for costs associated with higher education, including college tuition.
- Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program – WIC offers pregnant women or women with young children financial aid to pay for food and other necessities.
It’s important to note that all of these programs have strict requirements for qualification, even for native-born U.S. citizens. This means that it will be even harder to qualify as an immigrant. While each program has its own requirements to apply and receive financial aid, you will generally need to fall into one of the following categories to even be considered:
- Lawfully admitted into the United States as a permanent resident
- Granted conditional entry into the United States
- Admitted into the United States as a refugee
- Granted asylum in the United States
- Admitted from certain countries, including Cuba, Haiti, Afghanistan, or Iraq
These are just some of the basic requirements. Depending on the program to which you are applying and the state in which you live, you may need to meet additional requirements. These requirements might include:
- Continuously residing in the United States since before August 22nd, 1996
- Working for at least 10 years in the United States prior to filling out your application
- Working as an active duty member of the United Stated State Armed Forces or being a spouse or dependent of a military veteran
- Having Native American ancestry (but born in Canada) or being a member of a recognized Native American tribe
- Being a victim of human trafficking
As you can see, even if you are a documented immigrant, you may struggle to qualify for many government financial aid programs. Most of these benefits are reserved for people who are experiencing extreme poverty or qualify due to very particular circumstances (like those outlined above).
Financial help for undocumented immigrants
As previously mentioned, it is far easier for documented immigrants (resident aliens, registered refugees, green card holders, permanent residents, etc) to seek financial aid from the United States government. This applies at both the federal and state level. Additionally, many undocumented immigrants are afraid to reach out for any help as they could be putting themselves and their families at risk of deportation.
Depending on the state in which you live, you may qualify for short-term or transitional housing assistance. In many cases, this could be as little as a one-night voucher for a motel.
The two main financial aid programs that do offer assistance to qualifying undocumented immigrants are SNAP and WIC. These can help many undocumented immigrants pay for food. However, these programs do not supply cash for other essential expenses like rent or utilities.
Fortunately, you don’t have to apply for government aid if you’re looking for financial help for immigrants. The government can make it difficult and, in some cases, even dangerous to get aid or even just fill out the forms. For this reason, many undocumented (and documented) immigrants turn to private and local organizations for help. At the local level, many churches and homeless shelters offer resources for undocumented immigrants. At the national level, 211.org is one of the absolute best resources for anyone in the U.S. who needs to find financial aid and resources in their area.
The bottom line
As you can see, getting financial help for immigrants can be complex. If you are documented, you will have to fill out a lot of forms and meet pretty stringent requirements to acquire government aid. Alternatively, if you are undocumented, you may have to forego government help entirely and rely on private organizations or local charities for help.
However, it’s important to remember that there is an ongoing debate in the United States over aid and assistance for immigrants. Your location could play a huge factor in your ability to acquire financial help for immigrants. For example, states like California, Oregon, and New York have state laws that make it easier for immigrants (regardless of status) to access government aid.