Do Non-U.S. Citizens Qualify for Social Security Benefits?

by Dell Markey ; Updated July 27, 2017

Non-U.S. citizens can qualify for Social Security benefits such as Social Security Disability Income, Supplemental Security Income and retirement benefits. To qualify on your own, you must fall into a qualified category of noncitizen. Additionally, you must meet all of the qualifications that U.S. citizens must meet for any Social Security benefit. Finally, you must provide proof of your immigration status at the time you apply for benefits.

Qualified Categories of Noncitizens

The qualified categories of non-citizens, whether they are claiming benefits based on their own work records or as widows or survivors are:

  • Those who have been legally admitted for permanent residence 
  • Those who were granted conditional entry under the Immigration and Nationality Act before April 1, 1980
  • Cuban and Haitian immigrants
  • Those whose deportation or removal is being held under the Immigration and Nationality Act
  • Those who have been granted asylum
  • Those who have been paroled into the United States under the Immigration and Nationality Act for at least a year
  • Refugees who have been admitted to the United States under the Immigration and Nationality Act

Those who have been admitted to the United States without qualified alien status as victims of sexual trafficking or extreme violence or who served the U.S. government in Iraq or Afghanistan may also be eligible for SSI benefits.

Social Security Disability Income

To qualify for SSDI, noncitizens -- just like citizens -- must demonstrate that they are completely disabled and cannot be expected to do any kind of work for which they are qualified or could reasonably be trained. The disability must be expected to last at least one year or to cause death. You must also have worked at jobs that are covered under the Social Security Disability program (any job in which you pay FICA tax).

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Supplemental Security Income

SSI is a Social Security program designed to pay benefits to people with limited income and resources who are either disable, blind or over 65 years old. To qualify, you must have less than $2,000 worth of resources (your residence, household furnishings and one vehicle do not count toward this total). If you have a sponsor, your sponsor's income and resources may also be considered.

Another qualifications noncitizens must meet for SSI include having worked for 40 quarters -- equivalent to 10 years. Time worked by your spouse or parent may qualify if you are a dependent. You may be eligible for SSI without the 40 quarters of work if you were a legal, long term resident before Aug. 22, 1996, who was previously receiving SSI. Refugees, those who have been granted asylum and those whose deportation has been withheld may only receive SSI for seven years.

Social Security Retirement Benefits

Noncitizens legally residing in the United States are eligible for Social Security retirement benefits if they are fully insured under Social Security. Generally, those who have worked and paid FICA tax for 10 years or more qualify. Additionally, you must be of legal retirement age -- as of June 2015, that's 62 years old for early retirement, at least 65 for full retirement.

Noncitizens Living Outside the United States

In some cases, noncitizens living outside the United States who are otherwise eligible can receive Social Security benefits, depending on where you live. The U.S. government divides countries into several categories relating to how they handle the rules surrounding collecting Social Security while living outside the United States:

  • In some countries, noncitizens may continue to receive Social Security to which they are eligible no matter how long they stay outside the United States whether you are eligible based on your own work or dependent status, regardless of how long you stay out of the country.
  • In some countries, noncitizens may continue to receive Social Security benefits based on their own work, but not if they are dependents.
  • In some countries, you may receive Social Security payments only if you return to the United States periodically. Generally, you must reside in the United States for a full calendar month before receiving benefits and must return for at least one day per month. 
  • Some countries have specific Social Security agreements with the United States. If you live in one of these countries, these specific agreements govern whether and under what conditions you may receive Social Security as a non-citizen. 
  • There are some countries to which U.S. Department of the Treasury regulations will not allow Social Security benefit checks to be sent, either to citizens or noncitizens. These countries are North Korea and Cuba at the time of this writing.
  • There are some countries to which the U.S. Dept. of Treasury regulations will generally not send Social Security payments, though exceptions might be made and picked up at the U.S. Embassy under certain conditions. As of June 2015,  these countries are Vietnam, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Belarus and Azerbaijan. 

Tips

  • If you are eligible for Social Security benefits and living in a country to which the U.S. Department does not allow benefits to be sent, you may be able to collect your benefit payments when you return to the United States.

About the Author

Dell Markey is a full-time journalist. When he isn't writing business spotlights for local community papers, he writes and has owned and operated a small business.

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