Personal tools

Issue Alert - Special Immigrant Benefits (BEM 225)

Document Actions

Apr 28, 2010

Program Area:


Issue Summary:

Effective December 19, 2009, the five year bar for food assistance (FAP), Family Independence Program (FIP), SSI and federal Medicaid (MA) eligibility no longer applies to Iraqi and Afghan citizens who entered the U.S. with Special Immigrant Visas rather than as refugees or asylees.

Persons Affected:

Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrants (SIVs)

For More Information:

Center for Civil Justice 320 S. Washington, 2nd Floor Saginaw, MI 48607 (989) 755-3120, (800)724-7441 Fax: (989) 755-3558 E-mail:

Michigan Poverty Law Program 220 E. Huron, #600A, Ann Arbor, MI 48104-3000 (734) 998-6100 (734) 998-9125 Fax


Prior to December 19, 2009, eligibility for Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrants for these federal means tested benefits had been limited to a period of eight months. They are now to be treated the same as refugees and asylees for benefit purposes by virtue of an amendment contained in the Department of Defense Appropriation Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-118). This policy is has been incorporated within the Department of Human Services at BEM 225.

For SSI - Prior to this law, Iraqi and Afghan special immigrants were eligible for SSI benefits for up to eight months only. This legislation extends eligibility to seven years. See Emergency Message (EM) 10023.

What's Happening?

The Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2010 (Section 8120, P. L. I I l-118)enacted on December 19, 2009, provides that Iraqi and Afghan Special lmmigrants (SIVs)are eligible for federal public benefits to the same extent and for the same time period as refugees. The new legislation supersedes prior legislative authority that limited SIVs to refugee status for an 8 month time period. Specifically, the legislation amends prior authority under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-l8l) and the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009 (P.L. I I l-8) that provided SIV eligibility of benefits for a period not to exceed 8 months from the date the immigrant was granted SIV status. The new legislation provides that SIVs are eligible for all benefits available to the same extent and for the same period of time as refugees pursuant to Section 207 of the Immigrations and Nationality Act. Provided that other eligibility requirements are met, refugees are eligible for Food Assistance (FAP) indefinitely.

The application of this provision is not retroactive, and therefore, those persons whose eligibility expired due to the 8 month eligibility time period under the prior legislation must
reapply for benefits. However, current SIV recipients who were certified for FAP prior to the legislation remain eligible until their certification period ends and can be recertified.

SSI Policy
As of October 1, 2009, the date the appropriations bill became effective, Iraqi and Afghan special immigrants’ eligibility for SSI is extended for up to seven years from the date the individuals were granted status as Iraqi or Afghan special immigrants as shown on each individual’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) document and pursuant to Section 101(a)(27)of the Immigration and Nationality Act. This date is the date the alien was admitted to the U.S. as a special immigrant, or if the alien was already in the U.S. under another non-qualified alien immigration classification, the date that DHS approved the special immigrant status.

What Should Advocates Do?

We encourage advocates to search their own files for Iraqi and Afghan clients who may have been cut off from food stamps or SSI after eight months and encourage them to reapply. Those who are currently receiving benefits but have been notified that their benefits will cease because of the eight month time limit should appeal such terminations.

Finding Help

Most legal aid and legal services offices handle these types of cases, and they do not charge a fee.

You can locate various sources of legal and related services, including the free legal aid office that serves your county, at

You can also look in the yellow pages under "attorneys" or call the toll-free lawyer referral number, (800) 968-0738.