I’m a Legal Immigrant; Will I be able to Apply for Social Security Benefits?
The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides financial assistance to those who are disabled via Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or to those whose total income is well below a set maximum via Supplemental Security Income (SSI). These programs are intended to help disabled immigrants as long as they meet the SSA’s criteria to qualify for benefits.
SSDI Eligibility for Immigrants
Legal U.S. immigrants can qualify for SSDI benefits depending on a few factors. Immigrants need to meet the SSA’s standard eligibility criteria for benefits as well possessing one of the following to completely satisfy the requirements for Social Security benefits:
- A valid VISA: D-1, D-2, or B-1
- A Social Security Number, assigned after 2004, which allows you to legally work in the U.S.
Non-citizen Eligibility for SSI
SSI can provide assistance to non-citizens but they have to belong to one of the following:
- Lawfully admitted permanent residents (LAPRs) of the United States, or people who hold Green Cards
- Immigrants conditionally admitted to the U.S. before April 1, 1980
- Certain refugees and individuals that have been granted asylum
- Some survivors of human trafficking
Basic Eligibility for Benefits
Both SSDI and SSI programs enforce standard eligibility guidelines that immigrants, as well as citizens, must meet if they wish to begin collecting benefits:
- For SSDI, you must have worked, paid Social Security taxes, and have enough years of Social Security taxes totaled to equal between 20 and 40 job credits. The number of work credits you need depends on how old you were when you became disabled, and work credits accumulate at the rate of about four per year. Some immigrants don’t pay Social Security taxes, so you’ll need to know your status before knowing if you qualify for SSDI.
- For SSI, no work history is necessary, but you must meet the strict income and asset limits for this need-based program.
Medically Qualifying for Social Security
The primary factor for trying to determine if someone is eligible for Social Security disability benefits is whether or not they have a valid medical condition that prevents them from working. This condition must be an eligible condition on the SSA’s “Blue Book” or proved through a residual functional capacity (RFC) evaluation. Regardless, if you want to qualify for SSD benefits then your medical condition must be expected to last at least one year or to result in death.
Getting Help with Your Disability Claim
Work closely with your doctor to understand the medical eligibility rules. An SSA representative or a disability advocate or attorney can also help you know if you meet medical requirement for disability approval. Whether you apply for SSDI, SSI, or both, you may need assistance with understanding the basic and immigrant-specific eligibility criteria as well. An SSA representative or Social Security disability advocate or attorney can help.
You can consult an attorney or advocate even before completing your application for benefits. He or she can work with you throughout the application and review processes, helping you clearly communicate your disability and build a stronger claim for benefits in the process. You can start this process by filling out this free evaluation form that will put you in contact with a Social Security Disability advocate.