Afghan population in US surging 50%, most on welfare

The expected welcoming of 65,000 Afghan refugees by the Biden administration is likely to hit local welfare agencies hard if the current use of Medicaid and food stamps by those already here is any indication.

In a thorough review of the 133,000 Afghan migrants already in the United States, the Center for Immigration Studies found that they are nearly three times more likely to tap into welfare than native-born Americans.

What’s more, the share of those in poverty is about twice as high as native-born Americans, according to census data used in the new report.

But unlike some other immigrant groups, notably those from Central and South America, more have arrived in the U.S. at an older age, most have jobs, and 1 out of 9 earned at least $100,000 a year in 2019, higher than native-born Americans.

“The Census Bureau data analyzed in this report indicates that a large share of Afghans in this country have modest levels of education, with many living in or near poverty and dependent on the welfare system. It seems likely that a large share of Afghans allowed into the United States in the future will also struggle in a similar manner,” said the report’s authors Steven A. Camarota and Karen Zeigler.

So far, following the bungled military withdrawal from Afghanistan, about 24,000 refugees have arrived in the U.S., and about another 45,000 are set to enter, according to the State Department.

The Center for Immigration Studies and others have reviewed the current population to get an idea about where the new immigrants will go and what programs they will tap. The group is hosting a panel discussion on Tuesday to discuss the issue.

Most Afghans in the U.S. reside in California, Texas, and Virginia — states the government is sending the newcomers to.

Unclear is how many additional Afghans will come to the U.S. But the report said, “Given the oppressive nature of the new Taliban regime, the Biden administration will also be under political pressure to admit more Afghans on humanitarian grounds as refugees, asylees, parolees, and on Special Immigrant Visas.”

Highlights of the census data in the report:

  • The number of Afghan immigrants (also referred to as the foreign-born) was 133,000 in 2019, more than triple the 44,000 Afghans in 2000 and nearly 2.5 times the 55,000 Afghans in 2010.
  • The states with the largest Afghan-immigrant populations are California (54,000), Virginia (24,000), and Texas (10,000). The metropolitan areas with the largest Afghan populations are Washington, D.C. (26,000), San Francisco, and Sacramento, both with 16,000.
  • Since 1980, 79% of Afghan immigrants have been admitted for humanitarian reasons — as refugees, asylees, or, since 2008, on Special Immigrant Visas.
  • The educational level of Afghan immigrants has fallen both in absolute terms and relative to the native-born. The share of Afghans (25-64) with at least a bachelor’s degree fell from 30% in 2000 to 26% in 2019, while increasing from 27% to 35% for natives.
  • In 2019, the share of all Afghans (18 to 64) employed was only 64%, compared to 75% for the native-born. This reflects low rates of work among Afghan women. Among Afghan men, 84% were employed, higher than the 78% for native-born men.
  • Many Afghans have low incomes. Of persons in households headed by Afghan immigrants, 25% live in poverty — more than twice the rate of 12% for people in households headed by native-born Americans.
  • Although the share of Afghans with low incomes has not worsened in recent years, their use of welfare has increased significantly. In 2019, 65% of Afghan households used at least one major program (cash, food stamps, or Medicaid), while the usage rate in native-born households was 24%.
  • Food stamp use by Afghan households increased the most, from 19% to 35%, between 2010 and 2019.
  • The share of Afghan households with one or more persons on Medicaid increased from 47% to 62% over this time period.
  • The high rates of welfare use reflect the large share of Afghans who live in or near poverty and the success of refugee resettlement organizations in signing them up for programs, helping many assimilate into the welfare system.