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I am a legal immigrant; will I be able to apply for benefits?

Disability may be paid through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and benefits through both of these programs are available to qualified, disabled immigrants. If you satisfy all the requirements, SSDI and/or SSI will give you monthly income, allowing you to meet your financial needs and obligations.

SSDI Eligibility for Immigrants

Immigrants who are in the U.S. legally are entitled to SSDI benefits under certain circumstances. In addition to satisfying the basic and technical eligibility requirements, you must also satisfy rules that pertain to your non-citizen status, including:

  • Holding an appropriate VISA: D-1, D-2, or B-1

    OR

  • Having a Social Security Number, assigned after 2004, which allows you to legally work in the U.S.

Non-citizen Eligibility for SSI

Only specific groups of non-citizens can receive support through SSI, including:

  • 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

You can learn more about SSI eligibility for non-citizens by reviewing the SSA’s pamphlet on the topic.

Basic Eligibility for Benefits

SSDI and SSI have basic or technical eligibility rules that immigrants and citizens alike must meet before they can receive benefits:

  • For SSDI, you must have worked, paid Social Security taxes on your income, and have enough years of Social Security taxes accumulated to equal between 20 and 40 work credits. The number of work credits you need depends on your age at the time you become disabled, and work credits accumulate at the rate of about four per year. Some immigrants however 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. You can learn more about basic eligibility here.

Medically Qualifying for Social Security

All disability recipients have a qualified medical condition. They either have an impairment that appears in the SSA’s Blue Book, or they prove their disability through an RFC or “residual functional capacity” evaluation. Either way, they have a severe medical condition that has or will stop them from working for at least 12 months or they have a terminal illness.

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.