Is Citizen or Alien Status Required for SSI?

One of the requirements to be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits is that you must be a United States citizen or national or fall under a certain category of alien. "Alien" is just a legal term for a noncitizen.

What Is a "Qualified Alien?"

If you are not a U.S. citizen, you may be eligible for SSI benefits if you meet all the other SSI eligibility criteria, such as the limits on income and resources, and also if you fit in one of the categories that SSA calls "qualified aliens."

If you are lawfully admitted as a permanent resident in the U.S., you may be eligible for SSI benefits. If you are admitted as a lawful permanent resident, you will have what is known as a “green card.” Amerasian immigrants and immigrants from Cuba and Haiti may also be considered “qualified aliens.” If you are considered a refugee or have been granted asylum in the U.S., under certain conditions, you may be eligible for SSI benefits.

The U.S. government may have decided to withhold your deportation or removal. Depending on why the government is allowing you to stay in the country, you may also be considered a “qualified alien” and eligible for SSI benefits.

If you have been “paroled in” to the U.S. for specific reasons, which are usually urgent humanitarian reasons, you may be eligible for SSI benefits. If you are an immigrant and you, your child, or your parent have suffered battery or extreme cruelty, you may be considered a “qualified alien” and be eligible for SSI benefits.

Other Conditions You Have to Meet

Once you have determined that you meet the “qualified alien” criteria, you still must meet another condition to be eligible for SSI benefits:

  • If you have a green card (that is, if you are a lawful permanent resident) and have worked for a certain length of time in a qualified job, you may be eligible for SSI benefits.
  • If you are a “qualified alien” who has been honorably discharged from the U.S. military or is an active duty member of the U.S. military, you may qualify for SSI benefits. Similarly, if you are a “qualified alien” and your spouse is a veteran or active duty member of the U.S. military you may also be eligible for SSI benefits.
  • If you are a “qualified alien” and were receiving SSI benefits on August 22, 1996, you should be eligible to receive SSI benefits now.
  • If you are a “qualified alien” based on your status as a refugee, an immigrant who was granted asylum, an immigrant whose deportation or removal is being withheld, or a Cuban, Haitian, or Amerasian immigrant, you must file for SSI benefits within seven years of being granted that status. If you fall under this category and can show that you have made a good faith effort to become a United States citizen, the government may give you two more years beyond the seven-year deadline to file for SSI benefits.

"Non-Qualified Aliens"

Besides the categories of “qualified aliens” listed above, certain other noncitizens may be eligible for SSI benefits:

  • If you are not a U.S. citizen but are a member of a federally recognized American Indian tribe, you may be eligible for SSI benefits. Certain American Indians who were born in Canada and are now legally living in the U.S. are eligible for SSI benefits.
  • If you are an Iraqi or Afghan national and worked as a translator or interpreter for the U.S. government abroad, you may be eligible for SSI benefits.
  • Victims of human trafficking may also be eligible for SSI benefits.

 If You Need Assistance

As you probably know, your immigration status and the conditions under which you were granted that status may be quite complex. Since the SSA requires you to have a very specific immigration status in order to be eligible for SSI benefits, you may want to consult with an attorney who specializes in that area of law. You can also call the SSA and speak to a representative there who should be able to help you determine your exact status and your eligibility or who will be able to direct you to someone who can.

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