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Special Information For Immigrants

Are immigrants eligible to receive public benefits?

The rules concerning eligibility of documented and undocumented immigrants for public benefits are complex. In general, in order to qualify for most federally funded public benefits, you must either be:

  • A U.S. citizen;
  • A Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) or other “Qualified Immigrant” who entered the United States before August 22, 1996;
  • A Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) or other “Qualified Immigrant” who entered the United States on or after August 22, 1996, and has lived in the United States for at least five years;
  • A refugee; asylee; Cuban or Haitian entrant; AmeriAsian immigrant; person granted withholding of deportation or removal; or a victim of severe forms of trafficking; or
  • A noncitizen who has experienced abuse and has a pending or approved self-petition under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

All noncitizens regardless of immigration status are eligible for: 

  • AllKids
  • Child care assistance
  • Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC)
  • Prenatal, labor and delivery, and postpartum care
  • Community resources such as food pantries, short-term housing shelters, child protection services, and mental health, and disability and substance abuse services
  • School lunch and breakfast and Head Start
  • Domestic and sexual violence services including crisis counseling, intervention,  and shelter for the protection of life or safety

Even if you personally do not qualify for benefits because of your own immigration status, you may apply for your children or others in your household who do qualify.

Agency workers are not allowed to ask you for information about your personal immigration status if you are requesting benefits for your children or other family members only, but they may require you to verify your income.

What benefits may “qualified immigrants” receive?

  • If you are a “qualified immigrant” who entered the United States before August 22, 1996, you may generally receive the same public benefits available to U.S. citizens, except for SNAP and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits (unless you were receiving SSI on August 22, 1996).
  • If you entered the United States on or after August 22, 1996, you are subject to a five-year bar on receiving federal benefits.  After you have lived in the United States for five years, you may become eligible for select programs depending on your status.
  • Exempted from the five-year bar are some immigrant groups, including refugees; AmeriAsians; asylees; Cuban and Haitian entrants; veterans andimmigrants on active military duty; immigrants granted withholding of deportation or  removal; and battered immigrants. These exempt groups may also generally receive the same public benefits available to U.S. citizens.

For more information about what benefits immigrants are eligible for, you may also look at this chart from the National Immigration Law Center.

Will enrolling in public benefits programs affect my application for citizenship or permanent residency?

  • Receiving public benefits should not affect your application for citizenship unless you committed public aid fraud to obtain the benefits.
  • Receiving public benefits usually will not affect your application to adjust your status to Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR), or bar you from reentering the United States after an absence of more than six months, unless you are found to be a “public charge” based on your having received Medicaid for long-term nursing home care, SSI, or TANF (if your family’s only source of income is your child’s TANF benefit).
  • If you are a VAWA self-petitioner, receiving public benefits will not prevent you from obtaining Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status.

Who is a VAWA Self-Petitioner?

 The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) includes special immigration law provisions that provide protections to abuse victims who are not U.S. citizens. If you are an abuse victim, a VAWA self-petition is a way for you to apply for lawful status in the United States on your own, without the assistance of your abuser, by submitting an application and required documents to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) for “Battered Immigrant–Qualified Alien” status. You may file a VAWA self-petition to apply for this lawful status without a sponsor if you were abused by:

  • Your spouse and he or she is a U.S. citizen (USC) or Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) (or if you are the spouse of a USC or LPR and he or she has  abused your child);
  • A USC or LPR parent (including a stepparent); or
  • A USC adult son or daughter (but not an LPR son or daughter).

NOTE: There are additional requirements for each of the above categories that go beyond the scope of this guide. Because immigration law is very complicated, you should consult an attorney with experience in VAWA cases if you or someone you know might benefit from self-petitioning.


For help in filing a self-petition under VAWA, contact the National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project (NIWAP) at 202-274-4457 or NIWAP staff members are national experts on VAWA cases and can help you in self-petitioning and answer your questions.

After you submit a VAWA petition with the help of an attorney, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) sends a receipt to the address given on your petition (make sure that a safe address is used, such as your lawyer’s) stating the date when the application was received. While reviewing the application, the USCIS may request additional evidence from you. Having a pending or approved VAWA self-petition will qualify you for most public benefits, but it is not a final approval notice. Once USCIS determines that you indeed meet all of the requirements, it will send you a final approval notice.

May “qualified battered immigrants” receive financial aid?

Yes, in some cases. If you are a self-petitioner who has been approved by the USCIS for “Battered Immigrant-Qualified Alien” status under VAWA, you and your designated children are eligible for federal student financial aid.

In order to receive financial aid you must submit certain documentation directly to your school’s or training program’s financial aid officer. You must submit any one of the following documents:

  • An I-360 self-petition (either your approval notice or notice of prima facie case) which proves your status as a Battered Immigrant–Qualified Alien under VAWA;
  • An approved application for suspension of deportation or withholding of  removal under VAWA; or
  • A cancellation notice of a removal case under VAWA

Your school must keep your status as a “Battered Immigrant-Qualified Alien” and all supporting documents confidential. Talk to your school’s or training program’s financial aid administrator for assistance completing FAFSA.

Am I eligible for financial aid as an undocumented immigrant student?

You have a right to an education regardless of your immigration status. The Illinois DREAM Act qualifies eligible undocumented students for in-state tuition while attending a public college or university in Illinois. The Act also created the Illinois Dream Fund Scholarship.

The scholarship fund offers financial resources to undocumented students and does not require an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN). To be eligible you must meet these requirements:

  • Lived with your parents or guardians while attending high school
  • Graduated from a public or private high school in the state of Illinois or earned an equivalent diploma (the GED) in Illinois
  • Attended school in Illinois for at least three years before graduating high school or earning an equivalent degree
  • Sign an affidavit stating you will file an application for U.S. citizenship at the earliest opportunity
  • Be an incoming freshman or current undergraduate student with at least a 2.5  G.P.A. on a 4.0 scale

The Illinois DREAM Act does not offer a path to citizenship.

For more information on and to apply for the Illinois Dream Fund Scholarship, visit

For more information on the Illinois DREAM Act, visit

More Information and Resources


For more information, contact the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) at: phone 312-332-7360; fax 312-332-7044; e-mail; or on the web.


For more information about VAWA laws for domestic violence victims, contact the National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project (NIWAP) at 202-274-4457 or

Northern Illinois:

National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) at Heartland Alliance provides legal consultation in-person at its Chicago office or during monthly intake hours in Lake County, Illinois. The NIJC’s Chicago office is located at:

208 S. LaSalle St., Suite 1818
Chicago, IL 60604

For survivors of domestic and sexual violence, Life Span provides legal and counseling services, including immigration help:

70 E. Lake Street, Suite 700
Chicago, IL 60601

Central and Southern Illinois:

The Immigration Project. Call 1-800-298-3235 about new cases on Mondays from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. or go to

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