This article analyzes how forced migrants have been pushed further down in the hierarchy of social citizenship amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Drawing on evidence from research in six cities of north-eastern Italy, we show that their welfare rights have stratified due to national immigration policies that imply unequal access to social protection. Local-level forces – including regional welfare institutions, municipal governments, and civil society organizations – have either magnified or mitigated such state-driven stratification. This process resulted in uneven landscapes of social citizenship, with a minority of migrants relatively well-protected and the others entangled into downward, pandemic-induced spirals of marginalization. In this way various forms of exclusion were activated, and accumulated on, one another – what we define as COVID-19’s ‘ripple effect’. These findings travel beyond Italy as an exemplary case of rampant nativism and urge post-pandemic host societies to emancipate welfare rights from the immigration policies to which they are so often subordinated.