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Guidance on Immigrants Receiving Government Disaster Aid

Legal immigrants and undocumented workers who are victims of natural disasters may be eligible for various types of government financial assistance. Some programs are offered to victims no matter what their immigration status is, while others require permanent residency or other qualifications. There are generally two categories of disaster aid from federal, state or local agencies: short-term, non-cash, emergency assistance and long-term cash assistance.

1. Emergency Assistance

Everyone is eligible for emergency assistance including food, water, shelter, medical care, clothing and other non-cash disaster-related supplies. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides emergency assistance to anyone affected by disasters, regardless of their immigration status. "Anyone" includes undocumented immigrants, foreign travelers and other immigrants, even if they may have lost their passports, visas or other legal documents.

Receiving emergency aid does NOT make you a "public charge."

Other than government agencies, many non-profit and community organizations also offer tremendous help to disaster victims without consideration of their immigration status. The American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, some Religious Groups, are a few examples. You are encouraged to visit their websites or call their hotlines for more information.

2. Long-term Cash Assistance

FEMA and other federal government agencies also provide cash assistance and other longer-term help to disaster victims. These may include rebuilding their homes, renting apartments, replacing possessions, medical expenses, etc. However, such programs are usually "restricted" and are available only to U.S. citizens and Qualified Aliens:

"You must be a U.S. Citizen, Non-Citizen National, or a Qualified Alien in order to be eligible for FEMA cash assistance programs: Individuals and Households Program Assistance and Disaster Unemployment Assistance. A Qualified Alien includes, but is not limited to, anyone with legal permanent residence ("green card"), refugee or asylum status or Cuban - Haitian entrants. You will be asked to sign a Declaration and Release (FEMA Form 90-69 B) that you are a U.S. Citizen, Non-Citizen National, or a Qualified Alien."

However, if any member, even a minor child, in your household that meets the requirement, you may apply for cash assistance on their behalf without having to worry about your own immigration status. In this case you only provide the Social Security Number (SSN) of the eligible person:

"If you cannot sign the Declaration and Release form, another adult household member who is eligible can sign it and no information regarding your immigrant status will be gathered.

If you have a minor child who is a U.S. Citizen, Non-Citizen National or a Qualified Alien, you can apply for assistance on your child's behalf and sign the Declaration and Release. No information regarding your immigrant status will be gathered.

You do not have to be a U.S. Citizen, Non-Citizen National or a Qualified Alien for Crisis Counseling, Disaster Legal Services or other short-term, non-cash emergency assistance."

For immigrants who lost their documents, such as passports, green cards, I-797 approval notices, I-94 records, etc., do not hesitate to come forward when you need assistance. The federal agencies understand the situation and will work with you to complete the application process. We at strongly recommend keeping extra copies of all your important documents in a safe place other than your home or office. For example, store a CD/DVD with digital copies in a bank's safety deposit box, or upload backup files to a secure storage website. This way you can quickly start replacing your critical documents when the originals are lost or destroyed during a disastrous event.

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