Will Receiving Public Benefits Hurt Your Chances of U.S. Citizenship?
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When you apply for U.S. citizenship (naturalization), you must show that you meet the basic requirements. These include, for example, having spent sufficient time in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident (LPR), having been physically present in the U.S. for at least half your required years of LPR status, and showing good moral character. For a complete description of the eligibility requirements for naturalization, see “Who Can Apply for U.S. Citizenship.”
Applicants often worry that the fact that they have received public benefits (financial or other assistance from a government agency) will hurt their application for naturalization, for example by casting doubt on their showing of good moral character.
The short answer is that, as long as you received the public benefits lawfully (without using fraud, for example), it will not hurt or affect your eligibility for naturalization in any way. The main reason is that you do not have to show that you are “admissible” to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Cases Where You Do Have to Show “Admissibility”
As you may remember from the green card process, any past, present, or likely-future receipt of certain public benefits can be a problem. The U.S. government can decide that you are “inadmissible” and therefore cannot receive LPR status if it is clear that you are -– or are likely in the future to become -– a “public charge.” (That's why, if you immigrated through family, you had to have a financial sponsor.) Being a public charge means being dependent on government assistance in order to pay for the costs of living.
There is no "public charge" bar to receiving naturalization in the United States.
Illegal Receipt of Public Benefits Can Affect Your Eligibility for Naturalization
If you have ever illegally received public benefits, or even owed but not paid back debts resulting from an overpayment of public benefits, this could could cause USCIS to decide that you do not have “good moral character,” which would result in a denial of your application for naturalization.
It is possible that you received public benefits when you should not have, but do not even realize it. For example, many U.S. government agencies that provide public assistance require that you let them know if you are going to be outside of the country for 30 days or more at a time. And, during your time outside the country, they will stop paying benefits to you. However, some people do not know about this requirement and end up receiving benefits while they are not in the U.S. and are therefore ineligible to receive, for example, food stamps.
When you fill out your naturalization application, you will have to list your work history for the past five years. You will also have to list all of your trips since receiving LPR status. Although it does not happen at every naturalization interview, it is possible that the immigration officer will review your travel and work history closely and will see that you were receiving public benefits at or around the same time that you were outside of the U.S. for 30 days or more. Then, the officer may ask you whether you stopped your public benefit payments during your long trip.
If you think that you received benefits when you shouldn't have, talk to an attorney about whether you will still be able to qualify for U.S. citizenship. If you did not receive public benefits illegally or improperly, however, your receipt of public benefits will not affect your chances of becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen.