Legal Information: Federal


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This section answers basic questions about benefits for immigrants.  The New York City Public Advocate put out a detailed booklet explaining what benefits immigrants in NYC are eligible for.  However, it also gives information about what federal benefits are available to immigrants, which you may qualify for no matter what state you live in.  Click here to read the booklet in English.

How can I support myself and my children if I leave my husband?

There are many organizations that can help you figure out how you can support yourself if you leave. Look for a list of local shelters and domestic violence organizations on the Advocates and Shelters page for your state under the Places that Help tab at the top of the page.

You may be able to collect child support from the father of your children, even if you are living apart, even if you were never married to him, and no matter what your immigration status is. Some married women also may be eligible to receive spousal support or alimony.

If you are a lawful permanent resident, you may use your “green card” or resident alien card to demonstrate your eligibility to work. You will also be able to work if you have an approved VAWA petition or T-Visa. Also, if you are the spouse of certain non-immigrant professionals, you may be able to get work authorization if you can demonstrate that during the marriage you or a child have been battered or subject to extreme cruelty by the person with the principal non-immigrant visa. Refugees and other immigrants must apply for authorization to work. It is very important that you do not use false papers to work or make false claims of United States citizenship.

I am a legal permanent resident. Am I eligible to receive welfare and Medicaid?

It depends. Some legal permanent residents are eligible for Food Stamps, although most legal permanent residents are not. Eligibility for Medicaid, Temporary Aid to Needy Families, and general assistance by legal permanent residents varies from state to state.

I am a refugee. Can I receive welfare and Medicaid?

During the first five years after arriving in the United States, refugees are eligible for Food Stamps, Temporary Aid to Needy Families, Medicaid, and other public benefit programs to the same extent as US citizens.

Most refugees who have been in the United States for five years or more will no longer be eligible for these benefits.

If you are a refugee who has been here for five years or more, you may still qualify for some assistance based on the laws in your state.

I am undocumented. Can I receive welfare and Medicaid?

It depends. If you are a battered undocumented woman whose husband has applied for legal permanent residency on your behalf you are eligible for the same benefits as a legal permanent resident.

If you have applied for legal permanent residency under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), you are also eligible for the same benefits as a legal permanent resident.

If you are not eligible to apply for legal permanent residency, you will not be eligible for most forms of public assistance or welfare. However, you are still eligible for emergency Medicaid. Contact an immigration or domestic violence advocate to help you find “safe” hospitals that will not report your undocumented status. You also are eligible for services from community groups, such as food distribution by churches, and assistance from domestic violence shelters.

Are my US citizen children eligible for public benefits and Medicaid?

YES. Even if you are undocumented, your US citizen children are eligible for public benefits just as other citizen children are.

Remember that the welfare office does not need to know what your status is in order to give benefits to your citizen children.

If you are undocumented, you do NOT have to reveal your immigration status when applying for benefits on behalf of your children, even if you are asked.

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