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 December 19, 2019.

These answers have been vetted with government and non-profit partners to ensure that they are complete and accurate.

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Text benefits to 650-376-8006 to learn more about how people with different immigration statuses could be affected.

Many immigrants can get CalFresh.

A household can get CalFresh if at least one person:

  • Has citizenship
  • Has a green card
  • 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 or DAPA
  • They are here under TPS, unless you meet the other qualifying factors
  • They are undocumented

(Note: People who are not eligible because of their immigration status can always apply on behalf of other household members, like US born children)

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

It is common for a household to have some people who qualify and some who don’t. Make sure to include everyone on your application — CalFresh will only grant benefits to people who qualify in the household. Household member information is only used to determine eligibility for CalFresh. The CalFresh office is not allowed to share information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

After you submit your application, your local CalFresh office will reach out to you to schedule an interview. This interview is required to go over the information you provided on your application. If you are missing any documents, the case worker will let you know what to provide.

Know your rights! If a non-citizen in your home is not requesting benefits, the CalFresh office is not allowed to ask for proof of their immigration status.

These documents are usually required to get CalFresh:

  • A copy of your ID
  • Proof of any income from the last 30 days
  • Proof of student status (for college students)

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 US 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 immigration status.

These documents are optional but can increase your benefit amount:

  • Proof of housing expenses
  • Proof of child support paid
  • Proof of child/dependent care paid
  • If you are 60+ or disabled, proof of medical expenses

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:

  • It is common for an undocumented parent to apply for children who have citizenship or eligible immigrant status.
  • CalFresh does not share information with immigration enforcement officials.
  • If you tell your case worker that a non-citizen in your family does not want to be considered for benefits, they are not allowed to ask for proof of their immigration status.
  • Benefits used by children or other household members don’t negatively impact undocumented family members.
  • Be honest about your immigration situation (and everything else) when applying for CalFresh.

Any non-citizen can opt-out of receiving CalFresh benefits if they choose. If you would like to opt out, and apply only for others in your household, leave the social security number question blank on the application. When you talk to your case worker, make sure to let them know that you are a non-citizen and that you don’t want benefits for yourself. You can do the same for any other non-citizens in the household who do not want to receive benefits. Anyone who opts out of receiving benefits should still be listed on the application, and should still provide income and expense information so that the county can determine whether or not your household meets other CalFresh requirements.

Some immigrants, like U 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.

Under current rules, getting CalFresh will not make you a public charge. There is a federal proposal to change the definition of public charge, but it has been stopped by federal courts. The public charge test does not include current or past use of CalFresh, or CalFresh use by family members. This page will be updated frequently with current information. Read more below to understand what public charge is and what you might need to know about it.

What is public charge?

Public charge is a test that is used when someone applies to enter the U.S. through an immigrant visa or apply for permanent residence. In this test, immigration officials look at all of a person’s circumstances, including income, employment, health, education or skills, family size, sponsor support, and some public benefits usage.

You may have heard that a stricter public charge rule was planned to go into effect in October 2019 that would include CalFresh. However, lawsuits challenging this policy have stopped it in federal courts, meaning that it will not go into effect. Even if this rule goes into effect in the future, current and past use of CalFresh do not impact you. Many immigrants are exempt from public charge. The rule does not apply to anyone who already has a green card, unless they leave the U.S. for more than 6 months. It also does not apply to anyone who is applying for one of the following:

  • US Citizenship
  • Green card renewal
  • Refugee status
  • Asylum
  • A U or T Visa
  • Immigration relief through VAWA
  • Temporary Protected Status (TPS)
  • Special Immigrant Juvenile Status

Keep in mind that almost all immigrants who are eligible for CalFresh are exempt from the public charge test.

Even if the stricter public charge rule passes in the future, getting CalFresh would not affect your ability to get citizenship. This is because the public charge test does not apply to anyone applying for citizenship. It also does not affect most people applying for a green card, except in very rare cases.

This is true even if the stricter public charge rule were to pass because almost all immigrants who are eligible for CalFresh are exempt from the public charge test. For more information, refer to this official USCIS guidance.

If you still have questions, consult an attorney who is knowledgeable about public benefits and immigration.

Your personal information is protected and only used to determine your eligibility for benefits. Federal and state laws protect the privacy of people who apply for and receive CalFresh. Additionally, 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 only to determine your eligibility for benefits, with limited exceptions.

There are lots of people and 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 see information on this page that is incorrect, talk to us on our live chat.