A CalFresh guide for immigrants.

Here are answers to common questions we get about CalFresh and immigration. For questions about other public benefits, please consult legal aid.

This information is current as of June 1, 2021.

We worked with government and non-profit partners to ensure that they are complete and accurate.

Find help near you
Start an application

Logos of Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County, Protecting Immigrant Families, and California Protecting Immigrant Families

CalFresh is safe to use for you and your family!

Getting CalFresh will not affect your immigration status, or your chances of getting legal permanent residency in the future. For more information about immigration and public benefits, visit keepyourbenefits.org or text the word benefits to 650-376-8006. You’ll be able to use a free immigration screening tool from the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo. You’ll be asked a few general questions and get specific guidance. The tool is anonymous and confidential.

Many immigrants can get CalFresh.

A household can get CalFresh if at least one person (including children):

  • Has citizenship
  • Has a green card (for any length of time)
  • Has refugee status, asylum, or parolee status
  • Has, or is applying for, a U-Visa or T-Visa
  • Is an applicant for VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) relief
  • Is a Cuban or Haitian entrant

An individual does not qualify for CalFresh if:

  • They are here on a student, work, or tourist visa
  • They are here under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals)
  • They are here under TPS (Temporary Protected Status), unless they meet the other qualifying factors
  • They are undocumented

If you are not eligible because of your immigration status, you can always apply on behalf of other household members, like U.S. born children.

If you don’t see your immigration status here, talk to a local expert on public benefits and immigration. Immigrants who can get CalFresh benefits still need to meet the regular CalFresh income guidelines.

Many households have some people who qualify and some who don’t. Make sure to include everyone in your household on your application — CalFresh will only grant benefits to people who qualify. The information you share is only used to see if your household qualifies for CalFresh. The CalFresh office will not share information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Yes, new green-card holders are still eligible for benefits! There is no 5-year waiting period for green-card holders to receive CalFresh benefits in California. You can apply as soon as you get your green card, and getting CalFresh will not be counted against you in citizenship determinations.

After you submit your application, your local CalFresh office may reach out to you to schedule an interview. The interview may not be required if you submitted proof of ID for everyone in your household and any other necessary documents. An interview is required if your case worker has any questions about your application, or if they need more documents from you. If you are missing any documents, the case worker will let you know what to submit.

These documents are usually required to get CalFresh:

  • A copy of your ID (like a driver’s license, consular ID, passport from another country)
  • Proof of any income from the last 30 days (like paystubs or a letter explaining how much you earn)
  • For college students: copy of financial aid award letter and class schedule

Immigrants may also be asked to provide proof of status to get benefits:

  • Copy of your green card (both sides)
  • A copy of your most recent paperwork for a U Visa, T Visa, Asylum, Refugee or Parolee status, or VAWA petition
  • Naturalized U.S. Citizens may be asked to provide a copy of their US passport or naturalization papers

Important: If you are only applying for other people in your household, you don’t have to provide proof of your immigration status.

These documents are optional but can increase your benefit amount:

  • Proof of housing expenses, like rent costs
  • Proof of child support paid
  • Proof of medical expenses for people who are 60+ and/or have a disability

What if I can’t get the proof? Tell your case worker during your CalFresh applicant interview. CalFresh will generally accept a sworn statement as a last resort if you cannot get the documents needed.

Yes, you can apply for CalFresh even if someone in your family is undocumented. Here are a few helpful points to consider:

  • As of March 9, 2021 the CalFresh program is not considered for public charge. This means that getting CalFresh will not be counted against you when you apply for a green card. CalFresh also does not count against you if you apply for citizenship.
  • It is common for an undocumented parent to apply for children who have citizenship or eligible immigrant status.
  • CalFresh will not share information with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).
  • Benefits used by children or other household members are not counted against undocumented family members.
  • Be honest about your immigration situation (and everything else) when applying for CalFresh. Remember, you do not have to provide proof of immigration status for anyone who is not applying for benefits for themselves.

Unfortunately, no. Undocumented individals are not eligible for CalFresh. If you are undocumented and have children or other household members who have citizenship or eligible immigrant status, you can apply for them.

Some immigrants, like green card holders (legal permanent residents), U or T visa applicants, and survivors of human trafficking, may be eligible for CalFresh before they have Social Security numbers.They can still get CalFresh, so be sure your case worker knows if they want to be included.

You can also contact your local food bank for more information about community food help.

No! As of March 9, 2021 CalFresh is not considered a public charge program. This means that getting CalFresh will not be counted against you when you apply for a green card. CalFresh also does not count against you if you apply for citizenship. CalFresh is safe to use and won’t impact your status.

No! As of March 9, 2021 CalFresh is not considered a public charge program. This means that getting CalFresh will not be counted against you when you apply for a green card. CalFresh also does not count against you if you apply for citizenship.

If you are applying for benefits only for another person in your family or household, you do not have to share your immigration status with CalFresh. The CalFresh office may share information with other government agencies like Health and Human Services and the Social Security Administration, only to see if you qualify for benefits, with limited exceptions. CalFresh will not share information with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).

For more information about your specific situation, visit keepyourbenefits.org or text the word benefits to 650-376-8006. You’ll be able to use a free public benefits and immigration screening tool from the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo. You’ll be asked some general questions about your household and get specific guidance. The tool is anonymous and confidential.

There are also lots of organizations that can offer legal aid on public benefits and immigration. Local non-profits may also be able to provide help and legal advice. Click here for a list of organizations near you.

If you have other questions or have concerns about any of this information, talk to us on our live chat.