Do I Need to Be a Citizen to Get SSI Disability?

Many non-citizen immigrants to the United States can be eligible for SSI disability benefits under certain conditions.

By , J.D. · University of Baltimore School of Law
Updated 10/24/2023

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are available to all qualifying U.S. citizens. Some residents who aren't citizens are eligible for benefits, including the following:

This article will discuss which non-citizen groups are eligible for SSI, including any special requirements or benefit limitations you might face.

Basic Requirements for SSI Disability

Regardless of immigration status, to qualify for SSI benefits, you must still meet Social Security's medical and financial requirements for the needs-based program. To qualify for SSI, you must prove both of the following:

(If someone "sponsored" your entrance into the United States, Social Security will usually count your sponsor's income and assets when determining your SSI eligibility.) Learn more about the medical and financial requirements for SSI.

Are You a Qualified Alien?

A person who meets the U.S. definition of a "qualified alien" is eligible for SSI benefits. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) defines a qualified alien as the following:

  • a person lawfully admitted for permanent residence (LAPR) (this includes "Amerasian immigrants")
  • a person paroled into the U.S. for at least one year under Section 212(d)(5) of the INA
  • a refugee admitted to the U.S. under Section 207 of the INA
  • a person given asylum under Section 208 of the INA
  • a Cuban or Haitian as defined by Section 501(e) of the Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980, or in another status that is treated as a "Cuban or Haitian entrant" for SSI purposes
  • a person given conditional entry into the U.S. before April 1, 1980, under Section 203(a)(7) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), or
  • a person whose deportation is being stayed under Section 243(h) (prior to April 1, 1997) or whose removal is being withheld under Section 241(b)(3).

As a general rule, an otherwise qualified immigrant who's facing deportation or removal isn't eligible for disability, except under the above circumstances.

Sometimes a person can become a "deemed qualified alien" if the person, the person's child, or the person's parent suffered from domestic violence or extreme cruelty by a relative while the person was in the United States.

Additional Conditions for SSI Eligibility

If you're an eligible immigrant and otherwise meet the disability requirements, to qualify for SSI, you must also meet at least one of the following conditions:

  • You're a permanent resident with 40 qualifying quarters of work. (Your spouse's or parent's work also might count for SSI eligibility purposes.)
  • You're on active duty with the U.S. military or have an honorable discharge not related to your immigration status.
  • You're the spouse, widow, or dependent child of a veteran or active duty member of the U.S. military.
  • You were lawfully residing in the U.S. and receiving SSI on or before August 22, 1996, or
  • You were lawfully in the U.S. on August 22, 1996, and you're blind or disabled.

If you came to the U.S. on or after August 22, 1996, and have LAPR status, you might not be eligible for SSI for your first five years as an LAPR. And Social Security can't count some quarters of work earned after December 31, 1996.

Limitations on Some Non-Citizens' SSI Benefits

There might be limitations to your benefits based on your immigration status. If you were granted one of the following immigration statuses within seven years of filing for SSI, you might only be eligible for SSI for a maximum of seven years from the date DHS granted you one of the following qualified alien statuses:

  • refugee status under Section 207 of the INA
  • asylum status under Section 208 of the INA
  • alien status with a deportation that was stayed under Section 243(h) or with a removal that was withheld under Section 241(b)(3) of the INA
  • Cuban or Haitian status as defined by Section 501(e) of the Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980, or
  • "Amerasian immigrant" status under Section 584 of the amended Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriate Act of 1988.

You might be able to remain eligible beyond the seven-year limit if you meet one of the conditions listed above under "Additional Conditions for SSI Eligibility" or you become a U.S. citizen (or make a good faith effort to become a citizen) within the seven-year period.

Non-Citizen Native Americans Eligible for SSI

If you're a non-citizen Native American, you're eligible for SSI if:

  • you were born in Canada and admitted to the United States under Section 289 of the INA, or
  • you're a non-citizen and a member of an Indian tribe recognized by the United States that falls under Section 4(e) of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act.

Additional Immigrant Categories Eligible for SSI

SSI benefits might also be available to non-citizens who are victims of human trafficking. If you were a victim of human trafficking, visit the Office of Refugee Resettlement website to see what services might be available to you.

You might also qualify for SSI if you're Iraqi or Afghani and present in the United States under special immigrant status. You could get up to seven years of SSI benefits if you:

  • served as a translator or interpreter for the U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq or Afghanistan, or
  • you worked for the U.S. government in Iraq.

Certain humanitarian parolees (non-special immigrant parolees) can qualify for SSI through the end of their parole periods, including the following:

  • Afghan humanitarian parolees whose parole period hasn't expired (Afghanistan Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2022, Public Law 117-43, § 2505)
  • Ukraine humanitarian parolees who were paroled between February 24, 2022, and September 30, 2023, and
  • the spouses and children of Ukraine humanitarian parolees paroled after September 30, 2023.

SSI Applicants Need Proof of Immigration Status

You must give proof to Social Security of your immigration status when you apply for SSI. Here are some documents you might need to provide:

  • current CBP Arrival/Departure Record, Form I-94
  • Form I-551 or court order from your immigration judge that shows your asylum status, or
  • proof of military service (such as discharge papers).

Your local Social Security field office can explain which documents you'll need to apply for SSI benefits.

Applying for SSI as a U.S. National

U.S. nationals are eligible for SSI benefits if they meet the medical and financial requirements for SSI. All U.S. citizens are nationals, and although rare, you can receive U.S. national status without being a U.S. citizen. Under Section 308 of the INA, a person is a U.S. national but not a citizen if:

  • the person was born in American Samoa or the Swains Islands ("outlying possessions of the United States")(Section 101(a)(29) of the INA)
  • the person was born outside of the U.S. and has two parents who are U.S. non-citizen nationals, so long as both parents were residents of either the U.S. or outlying possessions
  • the person was, while under the age of five, found in an outlying possession and has unknown parentage
  • the person was born outside the U.S. or its outlying possessions and has one parent who's an alien and one parent who's a non-citizen U.S. national, and, prior to the birth of the person, the parents were present in the U.S. or its outlying possessions for not less than seven years in a ten-year continuous period and
    • the U.S. national parent wasn't outside of the U.S. or its outlying possessions for a continuous period of more than a year, and
    • at least five of the years the U.S. national parent spent living in the U.S. or its outlying territories was done after the age of 14.

For more information on how to obtain a certificate for non-citizen U.S. nationality, visit the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs website.

Do You Need an Attorney for a Non-Citizen SSI Claim?

Filing for disability can be a complicated process, and when immigration status is an additional issue, it's a good idea to contact an experienced disability attorney. Having an attorney can be more affordable than you might think. You don't generally have to pay a disability attorney unless your SSI application is approved. And your attorney will be paid a percentage of the SSI back payments you're entitled to receive when you're approved for benefits.

Learn more about hiring and working with a disability attorney.

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