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How can a non-citizen go about qualifying for SSI Disability?

Learn how the immigration status of non-U.S. citizens and an alien sponsor’s income and resources relate to qualifying for SSI Disability.

Immigration Status Is the First Test in Qualifying for SSI Disability

The disability criteria and most of the financial criteria for qualifying for SSI disability are the same for U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, and non-citizens, but before your medical condition or finances are evaluated for SSI, you must meet all the qualifications that apply only to noncitizens or non-U.S. nationals. For simplicity, “citizen” and “non-citizen” in this article will be used to mean citizen and U.S. national and noncitizen and non-U.S. national.

U.S. National Defined

Immigration and Naturalization Services defines a U.S. national who is not also a U.S. citizen as having been born in an outlying possession of the United States. Since 2005, “outlying possessions” has been defined as American Samoa and Swains Island. Previously, during various periods of time, the following territories have been outlying U.S. possessions: Guam, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. In some cases, children of U.S. nationals are also U.S. nationals if they were born in any of these locations or they have a parent who was. If you are unsure whether you are a U.S. National, contact the Immigration and Naturalization Services to check your status.

U.S. Residency Requirement

In addition to meeting all other alien requirements, you must be a resident of one of the fifty U.S. states or the North Mariana Islands.

Qualifying for SSI Disability as an Alien

Additionally SSI eligibility rules for aliens are many and detailed. This article intends to give a general overview, but it is not comprehensive. If you are an alien and are disabled or age sixty-five or older, the best way to find out if you meet the alien qualifications is to apply for SSI. It is likely that this will be easier if you have legal help from one of the many qualified SSI and Social Security disability attorneys.

Qualified Alien Immigration Categories

To be eligible for SSI, you must be in a qualified noncitizen category under the law. Categories of non-citizens who may be qualified for SSI include the following, but remember other noncitizen provisions must also be met.

  1. You were receiving SSI on August 22, 1996 and you are lawfully living in the U.S.
  2. You were Lawfully Admitted for Permanent Residence, called LAPR for short, and you have forty quarters of work under the Social Security system. Your spouse’s or parents’ work might count toward this requirement. Further restrictions may apply. One such restriction is that if you entered the U.S. after August 22, 1996, you might not be eligible for benefits in the first five years in LAPR status, even though you have the forty qualifying work credits.
  3. You actively serve or have actively served in the U.S. armed forces with an honorable discharge not related to alien status. You might even qualify based on a spouse’s or parent’s military service.

You were lawfully living in the U.S. on August 22, 1996, and you are blind or disabled.

You are also in a qualified category if the Department of Homeland Security says you belong to one of the following classes:

  1. Lawfully admitted permanent residents (“LAPRs”), including “Amerasian immigrants;
  2. “Conditional Entrant” under the immigration law in effect before April 1, 1980;
  3. A parolee into the U.S. for a period of at least one year;
  4. A refugee;
  5. An asylee;
  6. A person whose deportation or removal is being withheld;
  7. A “Cuban/Haitian entrant” under the Refugee Education Assistance Act; or
  8. Under certain circumstances, you, your child, or your parent has been subjected to battery or extreme cruelty while in the United States.

In some circumstances, nationals of Iraq or Afghanistan who were admitted to the U.S. as special immigrants and who worked for the U.S. government in Iraq or served as interpreters or translators for the U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Limitations and Conditions on SSI Eligibility for Aliens

Individuals who qualify for SSI and who are in the following categories are generally limited to a maximum of seven years of SSI benefits, although if certain conditions are met, the time limit may be extended to nine years: refugees, asylees, persons whose deportation or removal is being withheld, “Cuban/Haitian entrants” under the Refugee Education Assistance Act, and “Amerasian immigrants.”

It’s good to keep in mind that if you are in one of these time-limited categories, the limit might not apply if you also meet the conditions of one of the unlimited categories.

Noncitizens Who Are Exempt

The following groups of non-citizens are exempt from SSI rules for aliens that were established in the August 22, 1996 law: American Indians born in Canada who have at least fifty percent American Indian blood; non-citizen members of a federally recognized Indian tribe; and under certain circumstances, victims of human trafficking.

Your Sponsor’s Income May Count

If you had a sponsor when you entered the United States, then part of your sponsor’s income may be deemed available to you and used to determine your eligibility and payment amount. If your sponsor’s spouse lives with your sponsor, the spouse’s income is also subject to deeming.

Like spouse-to-spouse deeming of income, a certain amount of income is allocated and set aside for support of the sponsor and the sponsor’s spouse, their dependents who are living in the same household, and other aliens the sponsor is sponsoring. The allocation for the sponsor is an amount equal to the SSI Federal Benefit Amount—known as the FBR—for an individual, which in 2019 is $783. If the sponsor’s spouse co-sponsored the SSI applicant, then the spouse also has an allocation of $783. Otherwise the spouse’s allocation is one-half of the FBR, currently $391.50. The allocation for the sponsor’s children and other sponsored aliens is also one half of the FBR.

The amount deemed is equal to the difference between the total income of the sponsor and his or her spouse and the total allocations. For example, if the sponsor’s income was $3,000 and total allocations were $2,840, deemed income would be $160. Because deeming applies, cash given to the alien SSI beneficiary by his sponsor will not be countable income.

It’s important to note a couple differences in sponsor-alien deeming. First, a dependent’s own income is not used to reduce the dependent allocation in sponsor-to-alien deeming. Also the income exclusions set forth in the Social Security Act do not apply to sponsor-alien deeming. The only exclusions that apply are those provided by laws other than the Social Security Act.

Resources Deemed from Sponsor to Alien

Any amount of the sponsor’s assets above $2,000 is deemed to the alien SSI applicant. If the sponsor’s spouse lives in the same household, then the amount deemed is the amount of the couple’s assets above $3,000. Some assets, such as a house the sponsor lives in, are excluded from countable resources.

When Sponsor Deeming Applies

Deeming applies if your sponsor signed an enforceable affidavit of support December 19, 1997 or later. With a some exceptions, deeming also applies if an unenforceable affidavit of support was signed before December 19, 1997. Some of the exceptions to deeming pursuant to an unenforceable affidavit are sponsorship by an organization, the applicant being granted asylum by the Attorney General, and the SSI applicant becoming blind or disabled after admission for permanent residence. Also, deeming may be suspended if the alien is unable to obtain food or shelter because of deemed income or has been subjected to battery.

When Sponsor-to-Alien Deeming Ends

Deeming ends when the sponsored non-citizen becomes a U.S. citizen, is no longer in LAPR status, or leaves the U.S. Deeming also ends when the alien obtains forty Social Security work credits or the sponsor dies.

A Final Reminder

SSI law for non-citizens is extensive and intricate so if you are wondering about qualifying for SSI disability, file an SSI application and consider hiring a Social Security lawyer who is also well versed in SSI law.

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