Non-citizens and SSDI


You do not have to be a citizen of the United States to receive Social Security disability benefits. Generally speaking, if you are a non-citizen and meet the following requirements (in addition to the SSDI requirements), you are likely to be eligible for SSDI:

  • Non-citizens who are legal permanent residents
  • Active members or veterans of the U.S. military
  • Foreign workers who have paid Social Security taxes for the required time (in order to earn enough “work credits”)
  • Other non-citizens who are not permanent residents but who can prove that they are here legally (i.e. refugees, those under political asylum, temporary visitors with non-immigrant visas, abuse victims, etc.)

This sounds as if most non-citizens residing in the U.S. are eligible. Due to the many unique circumstances that bring people to the United States, there are many exceptions and rules regarding their status and eligibility to receive Social Security benefits. As a general rule, if you are a            non-citizen who is paying FICA taxes (Social Security taxes) then you will be eligible for Social Security disability if you become disabled. This is important to note because there are other instances when              non-citizens work in the United States but do not have to pay Social Security taxes, and therefore are ineligible for disability benefits.

Additional Requirements for Non-Citizens

Aside from the standard SSDI eligibility requirements that everyone must meet, there are two major additional requirements that non-citizens must meet in order to qualify for SSDI:

  1. If you were assigned a Social Security number on or after January 2, 2004, your number must have been assigned based on your authorization to work in the U.S. or you must have B-1, D-1, or D-2 worker status.
  2. Before receiving disability benefits, you must show proof that you are in the U.S. legally.

Non-citizens Returning to their Countries

Once you receive benefits as a non-citizen, when and how these benefits will be distributed can depend on the country that you come from and whether or not you spend significant time in that country. There are some countries that do not have international agreements with the United States and therefore are disqualified from accepting sent Social Security payments. These countries include:

  • Azerbaijan
  • Belarus
  • Cuba
  • Georgia
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Moldova
  • North Korea
  • Tajikstan
  • Turkmenistan
  • Ukraine
  • Uzbekistan
  • Vietnam

If you are a citizen of one of these countries living and working in the U.S. and then go back to your home country, the SSA will not send you payments and cannot send your payments to someone else on your behalf. The SSA will withhold these payments and can send them to you when you go to a country where the U.S. can send those payments. In other cases where the United States can send payments to a country but the country does not have Social Security agreements, the SSA will stop your payments after you have been outside of the U.S. for six months. Once you return to the U.S. and stay for at least a month, you may be eligible to continue receiving benefits. Visit the SSA website for more information and exceptions to these rules.

Ineligible Countries

Legal residents from certain countries cannot receive disability benefits, even if they meet the other necessary requirements. These countries include: Cuba, North Korea, and Vietnam.

Sources: Nolo, The Disability Advisor, SSA

Photo courtesy of: BiblioArchives