American Flag Background With PortraitsYou may be eligible for Social Security benefits even if you are not a United States citizen.

Social Security Disability Eligibility

Before you consider whether your citizenship impacts your disability eligibility, you need to determine whether you meet the basic qualifications for Social Security disability benefits. Social Security disability benefits are only an option for people who:

  • Have paid enough into the Social Security system. The Social Security Administration will consider the number of work credits you’ve earned and your age to determine whether you qualify for disability benefits. Generally, you earn one work credit for every three months that you work. Most people need at least 40 work credits, with at least 20 of those earned in the 10 years immediately before becoming disabled. However, this number is adjusted for younger workers since it takes at least ten years to earn 40 work credits.
  • Have a disability that will last at least 12 months or likely cause death within a year. Only people with permanent disabilities are eligible for Social Security disability.
  • Have a disability that limits functionality so much that you cannot work. Social Security disability benefits are only issued for complete disabilities. That means that you cannot engage in what the Social Security Administration calls substantial gainful activity. The amount of money that is considered substantial gainful activity changes annually. In 2020, substantial gainful activity was defined as $1,260 for most people with disabilities and $2,110 for people who are blind.

If these three things apply to you, then you may consider applying for Social Security disability benefits.

Special Social Security Disability Considerations for Non-U.S. Citizens

Generally, non-U.S. citizens who work in the United States may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits if they’ve paid into the Social Security system for the required amount of time. For example, you may receive Social Security disability benefits if you are:

  • A permanent resident of the United States
  • In the United States military or a Veteran of the United States military

As a non-citizen who is authorized to work in the U.S., you should have a Social Security number to include on your Social Security disability application. However, you may need to provide additional information to the Social Security Administration. For example, you may need to provide certain Department of Homeland Security documents, such as your:

  • I-551 permanent resident card, or green card, which will verify your nine-digit alien registration number, or A number
  • I-94 form, or Admission-Departure record to verify your 11-digit admission number

Eligibility Exceptions

Even if you’ve worked in the United States, you may not be eligible for Social Security disability benefits if you are a:

  • Foreign student or exchange visitor who worked in the United States but was exempt from paying Social Security taxes
  • Citizen of Cuba, Vietnam, or North Korea

Talk to a Social Security Disability Before You Apply for Benefits

An experienced Social Security disability lawyer will:

  • Review your eligibility
  • Advise you of your rights
  • Make sure that you have all of the right documentation based on your specific situation so that your Social Security disability application isn’t denied because of missing information

Additionally, a Social Security disability attorney will advise you about what happens to your Social Security disability benefits if you travel or reside outside of the United States. Your right to continue receiving Social Security disability benefits depends on the specific country you reside in, how long you are out of the country, and other factors.

Applying for Social Security disability is usually tricky but can be even more complicated by your citizenship status. Our disability attorneys are here to help you through the process.

Contact our experienced Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island Social Security disability law firm today for a free consultation about your rights and for more information about how to get the Social Security disability benefits you’ve earned.

Are You Looking for a Social Security Disability Attorney in Boston, MA?

If you are looking to apply for social security disability, you need to speak with an experienced social security disability lawyer as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Natick Office directly at 888.904.6847 to schedule your free consultation.


John L. Keefe
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Founding Attorney, Massachusetts Social Security Disability Lawyer