Can Immigrants Get Disability? SSD Eligibility for Non-Citizens

by Shay Fleming   ·  3 weeks ago  

An unexpected disability can upend your life. Fortunately, there are a number of government programs designed to support disabled individuals to achieve financial security when they can no longer work. However, the process of applying for disability benefits is complicated when you live in America as an immigrant. Can immigrants get disability? Here’s what you need to know about SSD eligibility for non-citizens.

Can You Get Social Security Disability if You’re Not a U.S. Citizen?

Whether or not you’re eligible for disability benefits as a non-citizen depends on your immigration status, your United States work history, and the type of disability benefits you’re pursuing. However, the eligibility requirements for non-citizens pursuing SSI and SSDI are different depending on the program.

Typically, you need to be a lawful immigrant, have a documented work history, be one of a specific group of protected classifications, and have resided in the United States for a fixed amount of time.

SSI Eligibility for Non-Citizens

In order to be eligible for SSI benefits (Supplemental Security Income) as a non-citizen, you must be lawfully residing in the United States as one of the following eligible groups:

  • Lawfully admitted as a permanent resident
  • Granted conditional entry into the United States
  • Paroled into the United States
  • Admitted as a refugee
  • Granted asylum from another country
  • Cuban or Haitian
  • Admitted as an Amerasian Immigrant
  • Admitted as an Afghan or Iraqi Special Immigrant
  • Admitted as an Afghan humanitarian parolee or Afghan Non-Special Immigrant Parolee
  • Admitted as a Ukrainian humanitarian parolee

SSI Qualifications for Immigrants

In addition to all of the above, you also have to satisfying one of the following requirements:

  • You were lawfully residing in the United States on August 22, 1996 and are blind or have developed a disability
  • You were already receiving SSI on August 22, 1996 and are lawfully residing in the United States
  • You were lawfully admitted for permanent residence and have a total of 40 credits of work or more, with spousal or parental work credits also possibly counting
  • You are a veteran or active duty member of the Armed Forces or are a spouse or dependent of a veteran or active duty member of the Armed Forces
  • You are an Indigenous American born in Canada
  • You are a noncitizen member of a federally recognized Native American tribe
  • You are a victim of human trafficking

August 22, 1996 is a relevant date for disabled immigrants seeking SSD benefits because of the passing of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), which prevents legal immigrants from receiving federally funded Medicaid or SSI for a minimum of five years after immigration.

SSDI Eligibility for Non-Citizens

In order to be eligible for SSDI benefits (Social Security Disability Insurance) as a non-citizen, you must have a Social Security Number assigned to you on or after January 1, 2004, which authorizes you to work in the United States. You must also have a non-immigrant visa (either B-1, D-1, or D-2), be able to prove that you’re in the United States lawfully for every month you would be paid out for those benefits, and satisfy all other technical and medical criteria for receiving SSDI benefits.

One of the important criteria for qualifying for SSDI is to have paid into the Social Security program. However, many immigrants are exempt from paying Social Security taxes, so even if you meet all other eligibility requirements, if you don’t pay into Social Security, you may still not be approved.

What If You Have an Immigration Sponsor?

If you are sponsored by someone when you enter the United States, it can complicate the process of being approved for disability benefits. Your sponsor has agreed to provide support to you, and when you apply for disability, a portion of their and their spouse’s income and resources are counted as yours on your application.

Because there are income restrictions on qualifying for disability benefits ($2,590 for blind individuals and $1,550 for sighted individuals as of 2024), the income from your sponsor may make you ineligible for disability.

What is the Seven-Year Limit?

Certain non-citizens are only eligible to receive SSI for up to 7 years, with that timeline being based around the length of time it takes to become a naturalized United States citizen. The 7-year rule applies to you if:

  • You are a refugee under Section 207 of the INA
  • You were granted Asylum under Section 208 of the INA
  • You are a non-citizen whose deportation was withheld under Section 243(h) of the INA
  • You are a “Cuban or Haitian entrant” under Section 501(e) of the Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980
  • You are an “Amerasian immigrant” according to P.L. 100-202 with a class of admission of AM-1 through AM-8

The INA, or Immigration and Nationality Act, sets a lot of standards on immigration status, eligibility for benefits, and immigration classes. Consulting with a disability or immigration lawyer can make it easier to untangle the web of eligibility requirements for disability as a United States immigrant.

Can I Collect Disability if I’m an Undocumented Immigrant?

Undocumented immigrants are a vulnerable group within the United States, as the lack of support available can mean they fall through the cracks and are left open to exploitation and harm. Unfortunately, undocumented immigrants do not qualify for SSI benefits or SSDI benefits, so if you are disabled or have a disabled child, you may not be able to receive benefits to help support you.

However, even though there are no federal Social Security disability benefits for undocumented immigrants, some states offer disability benefits regardless of immigrant status. In California, for example, undocumented workers can apply for California Disability Insurance (DI) and Paid Family Leave (PFL) benefits, which allow undocumented workers to take time off due to disability or to care for a disabled family member.

Am I Eligible for Disability Benefits as an Immigrant? Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can I Collect Disability if I’m a Permanent Resident? Yes, permanent residents may receive disability benefits if they meet all of the eligibility requirements for the program they’re applying for. Permanent residents are considered an eligible class.
  • Can Green Card Holders Get Disability Benefits? Yes, green card holders may receive disability benefits.
  • Can I Collect Disability if I’m an Asylum Recipient? Yes, asylum recipients can be eligible for disability benefits.

An Attorney Can Help With Your Disability Claim

Navigating disability benefits as an immigrant in the US is tricky due to different rules for various immigrant groups. While permanent residents and green card holders usually qualify, others like asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants face uncertainties. Seeking advice from legal experts can improve chances of getting needed support during times of disability.

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Shay Fleming is the SEO Content Manager at LeadingResponse, a prominent legal marketing company. A proud graduate of Texas State University, she has been based in Austin since 2016, where she lives with her dog. Shay has contributed extensively to various domains, writing and publishing articles about real estate, investing, disability, and urban living.