Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal program that pays monthly benefits if you can't work because of a disability. Besides meeting the medical requirements, to qualify for SSDI, you must be:
If you've been legally working in the United States and paying Social Security taxes (FICA or self-employment tax), chances are good that you're insured for Social Security disability benefits—even if you're not a citizen or permanent resident.
This article will review which noncitizens are generally eligible for SSDI and under which conditions immigrants can qualify for disability benefits.
If you're not a U.S. citizen, you could still qualify for SSDI benefits if you meet all the SSDI eligibility criteria, including:
Qualified aliens are noncitizens who can qualify for SSDI benefits because they fit into one of these categories:
You've been lawfully admitted as a permanent resident in the U.S. If you have what's known as a "green card," you'll be eligible for SSDI benefits.
You've been granted "parole" into the U.S. for specific reasons (usually urgent humanitarian reasons). If you've worked and paid FICA taxes while in the U.S., you might be eligible for SSDI benefits.
The U.S. government is withholding your deportation or removal. If your deportation or removal is being withheld, you may be considered a "qualified alien" and be eligible for SSDI benefits, depending on why the government is allowing you to stay in the country.
You're a victim of "extreme cruelty." If you're an immigrant and you, your child(ren), or your parent(s) have suffered battery or extreme cruelty, you might be considered a "qualified alien" and be eligible for SSDI benefits.
You're a refugee. Amerasian immigrants and immigrants from Cuba and Haiti can be considered "qualified aliens." If you're considered a refugee or you've been granted asylum in the U.S., under certain conditions, you might be eligible for SSDI benefits.
Once you've determined that you are in one of the "qualified alien" categories above, you'll need to meet other conditions to be eligible for SSDI benefits.
If you have a green card (that is, if you're a lawful permanent resident) and you've worked long enough in a qualified job, you should be eligible for SSDI benefits.
If you served in the U.S. military and were honorably discharged, or are currently on active duty, 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 Social Security disability.
If you were getting SSDI benefits on August 22, 1996, you should still be eligible to receive SSDI benefits now.
If you're a "qualified alien," you should be eligible for SSDI benefits if you're:
However, you must file for SSDI benefits within seven years of being granted that "qualified alien" status. If you fall under this category and can show that you've made a good faith effort to become a United States citizen within seven years, the government might give you two more years beyond the seven-year limit to file your paperwork.
Besides the categories of "qualified aliens" listed above, certain other noncitizens may be eligible for SSDI benefits under specific exceptions.
Native Americans. If you're not a U.S. citizen but are a member of a federally recognized American Indian tribe, you might be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. Certain Native Americans born in Canada and now legally living in the U.S. are also eligible for SSDI benefits.
Iraqi or Afghan translators. If you're an Iraqi or Afghan national and worked as a translator or interpreter for the U.S. government abroad, you might be eligible for SSDI benefits.
Victims of human trafficking. If you were a victim of human trafficking (slavery), you might qualify for Social Security disability benefits.
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 to receive SSDI benefits.
Since Social Security requires you to have a specific immigration status to be eligible for disability benefits, if you're not a citizen, you might want to consult with an attorney specializing in immigration law.
You can also call Social Security at 800-772-1213 to get help. A Social Security representative should be able to help you determine your exact status and eligibility or direct you to someone who can.