I Have an H1B Visa. Can I Get Disability Benefits From the SSA?

Did you come to the United States from another country to perform professional services in a specialty occupation? You likely have an H-1B visa. The H-1B visa is a nonimmigrant classification that applies to people in your situation. To qualify for this visa, a foreign employee must be sponsored by a U.S. employer. 

This type of visa is also provided to those who can offer services of exceptional merit and ability relating to a Department of Defense (DOD) cooperative research and development project. Those who are in the U.S. on an H-1B visa may be admitted for a period of up to three years and generally cannot stay in the country beyond a total of six years.

If you become disabled while in the U.S. and hold a H-1B visa, you may wonder what benefits or compensation is available to you under current law. Please read on for answers to this important question. 

Can I Get Disability Benefits with an H-1B Visa? Key Takeaways

  • H-1B visas are for foreign workers in specialty occupations, sponsored by U.S. employers, and typically valid for 3-6 years.
  • Becoming disabled may force H-1B visa holders to stop working, affecting their ability to remain in the U.S.
  • SSDI requires 10 years of work credits, making it difficult for H-1B holders with only 3-6 years of work history to qualify.
  • An H-1B visa is dependent on the ability to work. If disabled, consulting an immigration attorney for an alternative visa is crucial.
  • H-1B visa holders pay Social Security taxes, but often don’t qualify for benefits due to insufficient work history.
  • The U.S. has agreements with some countries to coordinate Social Security benefits, helping workers who have paid into multiple systems.
  • Long-term disability insurance can provide financial protection and support residency status for disabled H-1B visa holders.
  • Some disability policies limit benefits if the policyholder resides outside the U.S., emphasizing the need to review policy terms carefully.

How Do Disabilities Impact Visa Holders?

If you become injured or ill with an H1B visa status, you may have to stop working. This can affect your ability to stay in the United States. Before you make plans to return to your home country, however, you may be wondering if there are benefits or compensation available to you under current law.

This question is relevant because as you probably know, H1B employees are entitled to the same benefits as their coworkers who happen to be U.S. citizens. Also, most non-citizens who work in the United States are required to pay Social Security taxes. 

Social Security Disability Insurance, funded by Social Security taxes, is a U.S. government program designed to provide financial aid to individuals unable to work due to a disabling condition. These benefits offer ongoing assistance with living expenses and medical bills. However, they are only available to those individuals who have accrued enough “work credits” to receive them – and it usually takes ten years to get there.

Will I Lose My Visa If I Become Disabled?

It is possible to lose your visa if you become disabled in such a manner that you’re no longer able to work. One in four workers will experience a disabling condition in their lifetime. If this has happened to you, you are not alone. While your H1B visa is dependent on your ability to work, there are options to pursue if you find yourself unable to do so.

You can consult with an immigration attorney and try to get an alternative visa to stay in the country. If you are not approved for another temporary visa, you will have to leave the country voluntarily. 

Of course, working with an attorney takes time, which is why it is important to carry disability insurance outside the Social Security system so you have a steady and sufficient income while you work with your lawyer to get an alternative visa or getting well enough to return to your job.

Can I get SSD Benefits with an H1B Visa?

Most H1B workers have three-year work contracts (though they can extend up to six years) through U.S. employers. Because you need at least 10 years of paying Social Security payroll taxes to qualify for SSDI, the answer is usually “no.”

Again, three to six years is not long enough of a work history to qualify for this federal benefits program. If your employer extends your contract enough so you meet the required history, it would be theoretically possible. But under your specific H-1B status, you generally have to leave the U.S. if you aren’t working. 

How Long Have You Worked in the U.S. on Your H-1B Visa?

Usually the answer to this question is three to six years. However, if you as an H1B via holder are laid off, fired, quit, or stop working for your employer, you generally have up to 60 consecutive days or until the end of your authorized validity period to find new employment, change status, or depart the country. 

If you do find new employment, then, it is possible that you could pay into Social Security long enough to qualify for disability benefits.

Paying Into Social Security

The average salary of an H-1B visa holder is over six figures. Thus, you and others in your shoes pay an average $28,344 per year in taxes. Of that, H-1B visa holders pay 6.2% of their annual income toward Social Security benefits, amounting to $7,322 per year. 

Generally, these are benefits that H-1B visa holders do not ever get back, including Social Security Disability Insurance and Medicare benefits. 

Social Security Retirement Benefits May Still Be Available to Some H1B Workers

Non-citizens can claim Social Security benefits. But like U.S. citizens, those without citizenship need to have earned at least forty work credits to do so. Forty credits usually takes at least ten years of work to accrue. 

There is good news, however. The United States and many other countries have established “totalization agreements” that coordinate the U.S. Social Security program with similar programs in other countries. These agreements are in place so only one country taxes one worker for Social Security. 

They also ensure that workers who have paid into Social Security programs in two countries are not left without benefits when they retire. In some cases therefore, the Social Security Administration does pay retirement benefits to those who do not live in the United States.

Here is a list of countries with which the United States has agreements:

  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • Chile
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Slovak Republic
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • South Korea
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom
  • Uruguay

Rules for H1-B visa holders differ from green card holders or asylum seekers who need disability, which is why it’s important to consult with an immigration lawyer or a disability lawyer to better understand your situation.

Alternatives to SSA Government Support

A long-term disability poses a serious risk to both the earning ability and the residency status of workers without U.S. citizenship. There are alternatives to SSA disability benefits, however. For example, an own-occupation long-term disability (LTD) policy can offer protection to visa and green-card-holding workers like you. 

This is basically a private insurance policy that pays out benefits to you if you become disabled while in the U.S. on an H-1B visa.

How Can Disability Insurance Protect Your Residency Status?

Long-term disability insurance is protection against losing your residency status and being deported. Instead of trying to apply for disability benefits through the U.S. government so you can pay your bills, it is better to receive income after a disability from an own-occupation long-term disability policy. This allows you the time and resources to work with an immigration attorney to secure a different visa OR recover from your injury or illness and return to your job.

Can Policyholders Receive Benefits Internationally?

It is perfectly understandable that you wish to return home if you become disabled in the U.S. The pull to be around family during a difficult time is a strong one. However, it is wise to pause and review the terms of your policy before doing so.

Though it’s common for foreign-born workers to voluntarily leave the U.S. when they experience a serious illness or injury, certain disability insurance policies restrict the benefits they will pay out to policyholders who are living internationally. 

For example, some long-term disability insurance policies only pay 6-12 months of benefits to a policyholder who is outside of the United States. Others exclude all payouts while the individual is in a different country. (U.S. insurance companies usually want policyholders claiming disabilities to be under the care of a U.S. doctor.) 

Protect Yourself from Financial Hardship on Your Visa

To speak with a Social Security attorney in your state who is familiar with navigating disability benefits for immigrants, please click the button below now. It costs you nothing to speak with an expert about an injury or illness you suffered while in the United States on a work visa.

You deserve to find out if your Social Security disability claim has merit. If it does, an attorney charges you nothing in legal fees until after the SSA awards you benefits. And if you win, then you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee.

Shay Fleming is the SEO Content Manager at LeadingResponse. 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.