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Focus on the Law: Aliens and Social Security Disability

By Sharon Frankenberg,
Attorney at Law

This week I consulted a great book by Charles T. Hall called Social Security Disability Practice  to look into some unfamiliar issues in disability law.  I will admit that I was a bit surprised by what I found out.  According to Hall, foreign nationals who live outside the United States may collect Social Security benefits as long as they worked enough under U.S. Social Security Act to qualify.  Disability Insurance Benefits, Disabled Widows and Widowers Benefits and Disabled Adult Child Benefits are all available to non-U.S. citizens so long as the Social Security number holder qualifies.  However, an alien living in the U.S. must show that he or she is lawfully present to receive benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act.

Generally, aliens are NOT eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits but there are numerous exceptions.  If noncitizens were receiving SSI benefits as of August 22, 1996, they may continue receiving SSI benefits.  Noncitizens lawfully present in this country as of that date and blind or disabled, regardless of when they became blind or disabled, may still be eligible for SSI benefits.  Aliens who are lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the U.S. who have 40 hours qualifying coverage under the Social Security Act may be eligible for SSI benefits.

Aliens who have been admitted to the U.S. as refugees or granted asylum may be eligible for SSI benefits but only for seven years after the date of their admission or grant of asylum.  Aliens who are Cuban or Haitian entrants under a section of the Refugee Education Assistance Act are eligible for only seven years after their entrant status is granted.  Aliens who are Amerasian immigrants pursuant to a section of the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act of 1988 may be eligible.  Certain aliens whose deportation has been withheld under the Immigration and Naturalization Act or whose removal has been withheld under that act may be eligible for SSI benefits but only for seven years after the date of deportation or removal is withheld.  Also members of certain recognized Indian tribes born outside the U.S. may be eligible for SSI benefits.

Active duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces and veterans who meet certain active duty requirements are eligible for SSI benefits even if they are aliens.  The noncitizen spouse or unmarried dependent child of a veteran or active duty member could be eligible for SSI benefits.   The alien unremarried surviving spouse of a deceased veteran or active duty member could also be eligible for SSI benefits if the marriage meets certain requirements.

As you can see, there are a wide variety of circumstances where noncitizens might qualify to apply for Social Security Disability Income and/or Supplemental Security Income benefits.  You should always contact an experienced attorney to get advice and assistance with your unique situation.  My office number is (865) 539-2100.

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