Can Non-Citizens Receive Social Security Disability?

Lloyd King Law Firm PLLC July 26, 2023

Are You Eligible For Social Security Disability text on paperThe Social Security Administration (SSA) is responsible for two programs to aid those with disabilities and the disabled with low incomes. The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program is available for qualifying individuals who become unable to work because of a physical or mental impairment, while the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program is for those who are blind or disabled and have limited income and resources.

While these benefits are clearly available for citizens of the United States, are there any circumstances under which non-citizens can qualify for either SSDI or SSI? The answer is yes— but with qualifiers and limitations. To see if you qualify, it’s best to check with an experienced and knowledgeable SSDI & SSI attorney.

If you are in the Raleigh, North Carolina area, and you’re seeking SSDI or SSI benefits as a non-citizen, contact me at Lloyd King Law Firm PLLC. As a former Social Security disability judge who understands how the system works, I can help you submit your application and then follow through on it with you. If obstacles arise, I can guide you on filing for a reconsideration, a hearing, or a full appeal. I am proud to serve clients in Raleigh, Roanoke Rapids, Fayetteville, Greensboro, and the rest of the state. 

Understanding Social Security Disability Benefits

SSDI, or Social Security Disability Insurance, is run by the Social Security Administration and relies on funds paid into the Social Security Trust Fund to pay out benefits. Qualifying for SSDI requires that the claimant have a physical or mental impairment that will last at least 12 months and prevent them from fully performing in their current occupation. 

The claimant must also have earned sufficient work credits by paying Social Security taxes. You can earn four credits a year, and 40 is generally the qualifying standard for SSDI, but younger persons can qualify with fewer work credits.

Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, has more tiers of eligibility for U.S. citizens and even covers children. It is also based on disability, but the other factor is that the claimant must have limited income or resources. For non-citizens, the standards are somewhat different, which is discussed below. 

Non-Citizen Eligibility for SSDI 

Non-citizens must also qualify under the disability definition for SSDI and must have paid into the Trust Fund and accumulated enough work credits to qualify. In addition, they must meet these basic requirements:

  • They have a Social Security Number assigned to them on or after January 1, 2004, authorizing them to work in the U.S., or 

  • They have a non-immigrant visa that is a B-1, D-1, or D-2, and  

  • They must be able to prove that they will be in the U.S. lawfully for any month for which benefits will be paid under SSDI. 

Non-Citizen Eligibility for SSI 

A law enacted on August 22, 1996, establishes the requirements for a non-citizen to qualify for and receive Supplement Security Income. In addition to the income and other rules for citizens applying for SSI, there are two main eligibility requirements for non-citizens, whom the SSA terms “aliens.” The applicant must: 

  • Be in a qualified alien category, and 

  • Meet a condition that qualifies them to receive SSI. 

There are seven categories for qualifying aliens as determined by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS): 

  1. Lawfully Admitted for Permanent Residence (LAPR) in the U.S. 

  1. Granted conditional entry under section 203(a)(7) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) as in effect before April 1, 1980 

  1. Paroled into the U.S. under Section 212(d)(5) of the INA for at least one year 

  1. Refugees admitted to the U.S. under INA Section 207 

  1. Granted asylum under INA Section 208 

  1. Deportation is being withheld under Section 243(h) of the INA, as in effect before April 1, 1997; or removal is being withheld under Section 241(b)(3) of the INA 

  1. A "Cuban or Haitian entrant" as defined in Section 501(e) of the Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980 or in a status that is to be treated as a "Cuban/ Haitian entrant" for SSI purposes 

If you fall into one of the above seven categories, you must also meet one of the following conditions: 

  • You were lawfully residing in the U.S. and receiving SSI before August 22, 1996 

  • You are LAPR with 40 qualifying quarters of work by paying Social Security taxes, but for SSI purposes as a non-citizen, work done by your spouse or parent may also count 

  • You are currently on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces and you have been honorably discharged 

  • You were lawfully residing in the U.S. on August 22, 1996, and are blind or have a qualifying disability 

Note that for certain categories of non-citizens, such as refugees and asylees admitted under the INA, there is a seven-year limitation on SSI benefits. Check with me to see if you fall into any of these categories. 

Special Cases & Exemptions 

Certain non-citizen groups can qualify for SSI based on other factors. Exemptions exist for some American Indians, victims of severe forms of human trafficking, Iraqi and Afghan special immigrants, Ukrainian humanitarian parolees, and more. Whatever your status, reach out to a skilled attorney so you can fully understand your potential qualifications. 

Qualifying for SSDI & SSI

The Social Security Administration is responsible for determining the eligibility of non-citizens (and citizens, of course) for SSDI and SSI. A large number, often more than half, of initial applications are denied, though the SSA doesn’t use that term when it informs you. Usually, this results from your not supplying the proper medical and income/resource evidence for the agency to qualify you. 

If your initial application is turned down, you can ask for a reconsideration by a different agent who has not seen your file before. If that still is rejected, you can appeal for a hearing with an administrative law judge (ALJ). If that doesn’t go your way, you can ask the Appeals Council to review the judge’s decision. 

The main point is to make sure your initial application is comprehensive and covers all the details and evidence that the SSA requires to approve your application. This is where I can play a huge role. My goal is to make sure you’ve covered everything you need to cover in order to move forward with your application. 

My Firm Is Here to Help

The process of seeking disability benefits can be challenging and frustrating. Regardless of which stage of the SSDI/SSI application process you’re in, I’m here to help. Even if you just have questions or concerns about qualifying, reach out to me immediately. If you’re in Raleigh or anywhere else in North Carolina, contact me at Lloyd King Law Firm PLLC.