Can Non-Citizens Receive Disability Benefits?

The vast majority of individuals who receive Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits are U.S. citizens, but both the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs contain provisions under which certain non-citizens may qualify for disability benefits.

To qualify for benefits under SSDI, all non-citizens must meet the following basic requirements:

  • They must have a Social Security Number that was assigned to them on or after January 1, 2004 authorizing them to work in the U.S., OR
  • They must have a non-immigrant visa that is a B-1, D-1, or D-2, AND
  • They must be able to prove that they are in the U.S. lawfully in any given month for which benefits would be paid through SSDI, AND
  • They must be able to satisfy all other eligibility criteria (technical and medical) for receiving SSDI benefits.

It is important to note that while some non-citizens may meet all the eligibility criteria for receiving SSDI benefits, many do not. Even if an individual is in the U.S. lawfully and is authorized to work by the Social Security Administration, many non-citizen students and other workers are exempt from paying Social Security taxes.

The lack of contributions to the SSDI fund over the course of these non-citizens’ employment disqualifies them from receiving disability benefits, as they do not meet the basic technical criteria to be eligible for SSDI.

Qualification for SSI benefits for a non-citizen is even more complex. Not only does the individual have to meet the basic eligibility criteria (medical and technical), for the program, but they must also:

  • be a “qualified alien”, and
  • meet one of the predefined “conditions” or circumstances for eligibility.

Notably, all categories and conditions for SSI are based on the effective date of August 22, 1996, which is the legal date under which the SSI provisions for non-citizen benefit eligibility under the program went into effect.

There are eight primary categories of qualified aliens under the provisions of SSI. To meet one of these categories, non-citizens must satisfy one of the following requirements:

  • He or she must be an LAPR, or Lawfully Admitted Permanent Resident of the U.S.
  • He or she must have been conditionally admitted to the U.S. under the “Conditional Entrants” laws prior to April 1, 1980
  • Under specific circumstances, he or she must be a parolee in the U.S. for a period of one year or more
  • He or she must hold refugee status
  • He or she must have been granted asylum in the U.S. if removal or deportation from the U.S. is not possible for specific reasons
  • He or she must be a Haitian or Cuban non-citizen who was granted admittance to the U.S. under the Refugee Education and Assistance Act of 1980
  • He or she must be an alien (or in some instances, a family member of another alien) who has suffered extreme cruelty or battery in one’s own nation

Under a few other circumstances, non-citizens may also sometimes qualify for SSI benefits. These include:

  • American Indians that hold membership in a federally recognized tribe and who were born in Canada.
  • Special immigrants from Afghanistan or Iraq who gave the U.S. government or military assistance while overseas.
  • Human trafficking victims, under specific circumstances.

In addition to meeting one of the categories previously listed, non-citizens must also satisfy one of the SSA’s predefined conditions or circumstantial criteria. To learn more about qualification under these conditions, visit the SSA’s website.

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