SSI Beneficiaries Will Receive Expedited Processing of Green Card and Naturalization Applications

July 17, 2008

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will now expedite the green card applications (I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status) and citizenship applications (N-400 Application for Naturalization) of current or former Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries if the application has been pending with USCIS for more than six months. This comes out of a settlement on the class action Kaplan, et al. v. Chertoff, et al., filed by elderly and disabled refugees and asylees who claimed that the U.S. government unjustly terminated their SSI benefits when their naturalization applications were not processed in time.

Supplemental Security Income is intended for low-income elderly, disabled, or blind U.S. citizens and is administered by the Social Security Administration. It is available on the same basis to humanitarian immigrants, who are largely refugees and asylees, on the condition that they become U.S. citizens within seven years. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the benefit constitutes the sole source of income for nearly all beneficiaries, without which many would not be able to meet their most basic needs.

Completing the naturalization process in seven years has, however, proven difficult for many of these humanitarian immigrants. The individuals must first become permanent residents, a process which for one class representative took five years to complete due to USCIS' delayed ruling. Then, they must accrue five years of permanent residence before applying for citizenship. For some the final naturalization application process will take just under a year, while for others it may take many years. When naturalization does not occur before the individual reaches the seven year statutory limit on SSI for non-citizens, the benefit is terminated. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, approximately 16,500 humanitarian immigrants have already lost SSI benefits since 2003, and an additional 4,000 will lose their benefits each year.

In the settlement USCIS agreed to identify and expedite the I-485 green card applications and N-400 naturalization applications of all current or former SSI beneficiaries if the application has been pending for more than six months. USCIS will also identify and expedite the applications of individuals who have lost or will lose their SSI benefits within the next year, even if the application has not been pending for six months. The agency will collaborate with the Social Security Administration to identify these individuals. This change does not guarantee citizenship, just that USCIS will prioritize processing of the application. The settlement took effect March 5, 2008 and will remain in effect until February 5, 2011. USCIS estimates it will begin the automatic expedites within a year.

What Should SSI Beneficiaries Do Next?

If you are a non-citizen receiving SSI benefits or you lost eligibility for SSI benefits due to the seven year limit, you should receive a blue letter from USCIS and the Social Security Administration about the Kaplan settlement and how it may affect you.

Past or present SSI beneficiaries with an I-485 or N-400 pending can expect to have their application automatically expedited by USCIS. The agency has announced that you can also actively request expedited processing by calling USCIS at (800) 375-5283 or (800) 767-1833 (TTY), or contacting the USCIS office where your application is pending (if going in person you will need an InfoPass appointment). As with all communication with USCIS, be sure to keep a record of it. If 90 days pass after making this request and you have not received notice of a decision or a satisfactory response to your request, contact USCIS again. If after 45 days from that follow-up you have still received no response, contact the attorney for the plaintiffs, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, at (215) 981-3700.

Past or present SSI beneficiaries without pending applications for permanent residence or citizenship will receive information in the blue letter on how to apply for those immigration benefits, if eligible. USCIS encourages you to apply before reaching the seven year limit on SSI benefits. If you decide to apply, include the blue letter with your application. If for some reason you do not receive a blue letter, you should include any other documents showing proof that you are receiving or have received SSI benefits. Everyone applying for permanent residence or citizenship and wanting to benefit from the settlement should include a written request for expedited processing with their application, and write the word "KAPLAN" on the outside of the mailing envelope. You can receive free assistance with USCIS applications by visiting one of the CUNY Citizenship and Immigration Project centers in New York City.

Copies of the settlement can be obtained at <pdf>.

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