Will Receiving Public Benefits Hurt Your Chances of U.S. Citizenship?

As long as you received public benefits lawfully (without using fraud, for example), it will not hurt or affect your eligibility for naturalization.

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 these eligibility requirements, 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. In particular, they worry that needing government aid or support will cast 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 legally "admissible" to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Cases Where Immigrants Do Have to Show "Admissibility" to the U.S.

As you might 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 someone is "inadmissible" (Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act or I.N.A.) and therefore ineligible for LPR status if the person currently is—or is likely in the future to become—a "public charge."

Being a public charge means being dependent on government assistance in order to pay for the costs of living. This is why, if you immigrated through family, you had to have a financial sponsor.

There is, however, 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 cause USCIS to decide that you do not have "good moral character." And this, in turn, will 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. Under these circumstances, they will stop paying benefits. Since some people do not know about this requirement, they often receive benefits they are ineligible to receive because they are not in the United States. One example would be food stamps.

When you fill out your N-400 naturalization application, you will have to list your work history for the past five years. You will also have to list all of your international 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 see that you received public benefits at or around the same time that you were outside of the U.S. for 30 days or more. Then, the officer could ask you whether you stopped your public benefit payments during your long trip.

What to Do If You Have Received Public Benefits and Wish to Naturalize

If you have ever received public benefits in the U.S., and think you might have done so when you shouldn't have, talk to an attorney. The attorney can check your records and see whether you received the benefits legally, then analyze whether you still 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. Again, financial need alone does not reflect on your moral character.

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