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Special Considerations for Immigration and Residency: SSI for Non-Citizens

An individual who is not a U.S. Citizen is potentially eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under certain circumstances described below. This resource is not exhaustive of all ways that a non-citizen may be eligible for SSI benefits. If there is any question about eligibility or other immigration issues, case managers should contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) directly.

SSI Eligibility for Non-Citizens

SSA refers to non-citizens as “aliens.” In general, beginning August 22, 1996, most non-citizens (i.e. aliens) must meet two requirements to be potentially eligible for SSI:
  1. Be in a qualified alien category; and
  2. Meet a condition that allows qualified aliens to get SSI
A non-citizen/alien must also meet all of the other rules for SSI eligibility, including the limits on income and resources.

Who is a Qualified Alien?

There are seven categories of qualified aliens, as determined by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS):
  1. Lawfully Admitted for Permanent Residence (LAPR) in the U.S., which includes "Amerasian immigrant" as defined in P.L. 100-202, with a class of admission AM-1 through AM-8;
  2. Granted conditional entry under Section 203(a)(7) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) as in effect before April 1, 1980;
  3.  Paroled into the U.S. under Section 212(d)(5) of the INA for a period of at least one year;
  4.  Refugee admitted to the U.S. under Section 207 of the INA;
  5.  Granted asylum under Section 208 of the INA;
  6.  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;
  7. A  "Cuban and 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.
In addition, individuals can be a “deemed qualified alien” if, under certain circumstances, they, their child or their parent were subjected to battery or extreme cruelty by a family member while in the United States.

Additional Eligible Alien Categories

Victims of Severe Forms of Human Trafficking:

May be eligible for SSI under certain circumstances if the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement and DHS determines that he/she meets the requirements of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.

Special eligibility for nationals of Iraq or Afghanistan:

Iraqi or Afghan nationals who were admitted to the U.S. as a special immigrant may qualify for seven years of SSI benefits if they served as a translator/interpreter for the U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq or Afghanistan or if they worked for the U.S. government in Iraq.

Under what Conditions may a Qualified Alien be Eligible for SSI Benefits?

Individuals in one of the seven categories listed above may be eligible for SSI if they also meet one of the following conditions. The length of time they are eligible for SSI varies based on the conditions listed below:

Immigrants Eligible Indefinitely for Benefits

  1. Those who were receiving SSI and lawfully residing in the U.S. on August 22, 1996.
  2. Qualified aliens who are LAPR with 40 qualifying quarters of work.
    • Work done by their spouse or parent may also count toward the 40 quarters of work, but only for getting SSI.
    • Quarters of work earned after December 31, 1996, cannot be counted if the individual, spouse, or parent who worked, received certain benefits from the United States government, based on limited income and resources during that period.
IMPORTANT: Individuals who entered the United States on or after August 22, 1996 may not be eligible for SSI for the first five years as an LAPR even if they have 40 qualifying quarters of coverage. There are some exceptions to this. Contact SSA if the applicant is within the first five years as an LAPR.
  1. Qualified alien who is currently on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces or who is an honorably discharged veteran and the discharge was not because they are an alien. This condition may also apply to the spouse, widow(er), or dependent child of certain U.S. military personnel.
  2. Those who were lawfully residing in the U.S. on August 22, 1996 and are blind or disabled.

Immigrants Eligible for up to Seven Years of Benefits (after immigration status is obtained)

  1. Qualified aliens may receive SSI for a maximum of 7 years from the date DHS granted the immigration status in one of the following categories, and the status was granted within 7 years of filing for SSI:
  • Refugee under Section 207 of the INA;
  • Asylee under Section 208 of the INA;
  • Alien whose deportation was withheld under Section 243(h) of the INA or whose removal is withheld under Section 241(b)(3) of the INA;
  • "Cuban or Haitian entrant" under 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; or
  • "Amerasian immigrant" pursuant to P.L. 100-202, with a class of admission of AM-1 through AM-8.

What Happens after Seven Years for those with time-limited benefits?

During the seven-year period of potential eligibility, non-citizens are expected to work toward becoming U.S. citizens.  If they do not, eligibility will stop after seven years.
Example: Elliot arrives in 2008, and is given refugee status, which establishes his potential SSI eligibility for seven years through 2015.  In 2009, he becomes disabled and applies for SSI. Once approved, he would receive six years of benefits as there are six years left of his SSI eligibility.  During this time, he needs to apply for citizenship, if he has not already done so.
SSA will send reminders to notify qualified aliens when their seven-year eligibility period ends. Beneficiaries will receive another letter explaining their rights to appeal before SSA stops payments.
  • We encourage current or former SSI recipients subject to these SSI eligibility limits to contact the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to find out how to:
    • Expedite processing of their pending naturalization (N-400) or adjustment of status (I-485) application; and
    • Waive fees for the cost associated with filing the application
      • For more information go to the USCIS website to access the fee waiver or call USCIS at 1-800-375-5283

Who is a Refugee or Asylee?

A refugee or asylee is any person who is outside his or her country of nationality who is unable or unwilling to return to that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution.
  • Persecution or the fear thereof must be based on the individual's race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion
  • Refugees and asylees are eligible to adjust to lawful permanent resident status after one year of continuous presence in the United States
  • All refugees and asylees have employment authorization based on their status

History of Battery and Cruelty for Immigrants

As noted above, a history of battery and cruelty within the U.S. may extend SSI eligibility for those non-citizens who do not fit the above categories, and they may be a “deemed qualified alien”
  • Applicants will need to know that this question about battery and cruelty will be asked and may need help in talking about their experiences
    • Question 13(a) on the SSA-8000 (SSI application) is the first question about this issue
    • Question 13(b) addresses whether or not a formal petition has been submitted with DHS for a change in immigration status because of battery or cruelty
  • SSA should be consulted regarding how to proceed to assist an applicant more fully in this area

Additional Resources

SSA Translator Services

SSA offers written materials about SSI in 15 different languages and has interpreters available to assist applicants who have difficulty with English. For more information, visit SSA’s Multilanguage Gateway and their interpreter services page.

SSA Website



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