The Impact of the Seven-Year Limit on Refugees’ Eligibility for Supplemental Security Income
Publication Date: May 2004
Author(s): Shawn Fremstad
Special Collection: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Keywords: Citizenship; Economic projections; Naturalization; International migration
Refugees, persons granted asylum, Cubans and Haitians with refugee-like status, and certain other “humanitarian” immigrants who have fled persecution, often including violence and torture, in their home countries, are subject to a provision in the 1996 welfare law that limits their SSI eligibility to their first seven years in the United States unless they are able to become naturalized citizens. All of the refugees and other humanitarian immigrants who could lose SSI as a result of this provision are disabled or elderly. Many are unable to naturalize within seven-years, often for reasons beyond their control. Recent data from the Social Security Administration (SSA) provide insight into the impact of the eligibility limit. Bipartisan legislation pending in Congress — similar to a provision in the President’s FY2005 budget — would provide needed temporary relief from the restriction.
Refugees and other humanitarian immigrants generally arrive in the United States with little more than the clothes on their backs and often have no relatives here. SSI benefits are the
sole source of income for many refugees and other humanitarian immigrants who receive SSI. Those losing SSI benefits due to the seven-year limit are elderly or individuals with disabilities, generally are unable to work, and rarely qualify for Social Security or other retirement benefits. If their SSI and Medicaid benefits are terminated, many will face extreme hardships and likely destitution.