Citizens, Non-Citizens, and Social Security Benefits

By: Disability Group

Who Is Eligible to Apply for Social Security Administration

Generally, all U.S. citizens and permanent residents are eligible to apply for Social Security benefits. Some immigrants and non-U.S. citizens are also eligible to apply for certain benefits.

What are the Citizenship Requirements for Social Security Disability Benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits?

Social Security Disability benefits, or Title II benefits, are based on a claimant’s work credits, that is, how many years the claimant has worked and paid taxes into the Social Security system. A claimant must be a U.S. citizen or legal resident in order to be eligible to apply for Title II benefits.

Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits, or Title XVI benefits, are benefits for people who are disabled and who have limited income and resources. A claimant must be a U.S. citizen in order to apply for SSI. Legal/Permanent residents are also eligible to apply for SSI benefits, so long as they became lawful residents before the Welfare Reform Act of 1996.

I am a legal resident non-citizen who became a legal resident after 1996 – am I eligible for Supplemental Security Income Benefits?

Legal residents who attained residency after 1996 are eligible to apply for SSI benefits if they meet two conditions:

  1.  Belong to a “Qualified Immigrant” category
  2. Meet a condition that allows immigrants to apply for SSI

Qualified Immigrants:

Qualified Immigrants (or “Qualified Aliens”) belong to one or more of the following categories:

  • Lawful Permanent Residents
  • Refugees and those who have been granted asylum
  • Certain Cubans and Haitians considered refugees by the Refugee Assistance Act of 1980
  • Certain people subjected to battery or extreme cruelty, or whose children or parents have been subjected to battery or extreme cruelty.

In addition to the above categories, certain Canadian-born Native Americans and Iraqi or Afghan immigrants who provided service to the U.S. military or government are considered qualified immigrants. Some victims of human trafficking are also considered qualified immigrants.