Must You Be a Citizen to Get Social Security Disability?

If you've paid FICA taxes, you're likely eligible for SSDI even if you aren't a U.S. citizen.

One of the non-medical requirements that you need to meet to be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), a federal program that pays monthly benefits to you if you are unable to work, is that you must be a United States citizen or national, or fall under a certain category of alien. "Alien" is a legal term for a noncitizen. If you have been legally working in the United States and paying Social Security taxes, chances are good that you are insured for SSDI, even if you aren't a citizen or permanent resident.

Which Non-Citizens Can Collect SSDI?

If you are not a U.S. citizen, you can be eligible for SSDI benefits if you meet all the other SSDI eligibility criteria, such as earning a certain number of work credits and having a medical condition that meets SSA's definition of "disability," and also if you fit in one of the categories that the SSA calls “qualified aliens.” Here are the main categories.

If you are lawfully admitted as a permanent resident in the U.S., you will have what is known as a "green card," and you will be eligible for SSDI benefits. Amerasian immigrants and immigrants from Cuba and Haiti may also be considered "qualified aliens." If you are considered a refugee or have been granted asylum in the U.S., under certain conditions you may be eligible for SSDI benefits as well.

If the U.S. government is withholding your deportation or removal, you may also be considered a "qualified alien" and eligible for SSDI benefits depending on why the government is allowing you to stay in the country.

If you have been "paroled in" to the U.S. for specific reasons, which are usually urgent humanitarian reasons, you may be eligible for SSDI benefits.

If you are an immigrant and you, your child, or your parent have suffered battery or extreme cruelty, you may be considered a "qualified alien" and be eligible for SSDI benefits.

Under What Conditions Can Non-Citizens Collect SSDI?

Once you have determined that you are in one of the "qualified alien" categories, above, you still must meet another condition to be eligible for SSDI benefits.

If you have a green card (that is, if you are a lawful permanent resident) and have worked for a certain length of time in a qualified job, you should be eligible for SSDI benefits.

If you were honorably discharged from the U.S. military or are an active duty member of the U.S. military, you should qualify for SSDI benefits.

Similarly, if your spouse is a veteran or active duty member of the U.S. military, you should be eligible for SSDI benefits.

If you were receiving SSDI benefits on August 22, 1996, you should be eligible to receive SSDI benefits now.

If you are a "qualified alien" based on your status as a refugee, an immigrant who was granted asylum, an immigrant whose deportation or removal is being withheld, or a Cuban, Haitian, or Amerasian immigrant, you must file for SSDI benefits within seven years of being granted that status. If you fall under this category and can show that you have made a good faith effort to become a United States citizen within seven years, the government may give you two more years beyond the seven years to file your paperwork.

What Other Non-Qualified Aliens Can Qualify?

Besides the categories of "qualified aliens" listed above, certain other non-citizens may be eligible for SSDI benefits under specific exceptions.

If you are not a U.S. citizen but are a member of a federally recognized American Indian tribe, you may be eligible for SSDI benefits. Certain American Indians who were born in Canada and are now legally living in the U.S. are eligible for SSDI benefits. If you are an Iraqi or Afghan national and worked as a translator or interpreter for the U.S. government abroad, you may be eligible for SSDI benefits. Victims of human trafficking may also be eligible for SSDI benefits.

If You Need Assistance

As you probably know, your immigration status, and the conditions under which you were granted that status, can be quite complex. And immigration status is only one of several eligibility requirements you need to meet in order to receive SSDI benefits. Since the SSA requires you to have a very specific immigration status in order to be eligible for SSDI benefits, if you are not a citizen, you may want to consult with an attorney who specializes in that area of law. You can also call the SSA and speak to a representative there who will be able to help you determine your exact status and your eligibility or who will be able to direct you to someone who can.

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