Disability

Federal Disability Insurance Eligibility for Non-Citizens

Subject to certain restrictions, individuals who are disabled and are not citizens of the United States may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) from the Social Security Administration. Note, however, that SSDI and SSI have different eligibility criteria and SSI for non-citizens is harder to qualify for than SSDI.

The Requirements for SSDI

To qualify for SSDI a non-citizen must have either (1) a Social Security Number that authorizes them to work in the US, or (2) a B-1, D-1, or D-2 non-immigrant visa. A non-citizen must also be able to demonstrate to the Social Security Administration that they are in the US lawfully while receiving benefits. Lastly, a non-citizen must be able to demonstrate the same basic medical and technical eligibility criteria required of all SSDI beneficiaries. These can be found bellow in the blog titled “Eligibility Requirements for the Two Types of Federal Disability Benefits.”

The Requirements for SSI

To receive SSI benefits a non-citizen must (1) be “qualified alien” and (2) must meet a condition that allows qualified aliens to receive SSI.

The categories of qualified aliens are as follows:

  • Lawfully Admitted Permanent Residents (LAPR)

  • Conditional Entrants granted entry under Section 203(a)(7) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)

  • Parolees in the US for a period of one year or more

  • Refugees

  • Asylees

  • Haitian or Cuban entrants granted admittance under the Refugee Education and Assistance Act of 1980

  • American Indians the hold membership in a federally recognized tribe that were born in Canada

  • Special Immigrants from Afghanistan or Iraq who provided the US military assistance while overseas

Qualified aliens must also demonstrate that they meet one of the following conditions in order to qualify for SSI benefits:

  • The non-citizen was receiving SSI and lawfully residing in the US on August 22, 1996.

  • The non-citizen is an LAPR with 40 qualifying quarters of work

  • The non-citizen is active duty in the US Armed force, an honorably discharged veteran, or the immediate family member of US military personnel

  • The non-citizen was residing in the US on August 22, 1996 AND is blind or disabled

Note that Refugees, Asylees, and Cuban, Haitian, Iraqi, and Afghani entrants may only receive SSI benefits for a maximum of 7 years from the date Department of Homeland Security grants immigration status.

Eligibility Requirements for The Two Types of Federal Disability Benefits

In order to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits you have to be disabled. In order to qualify as disabled, an applicant must not be able to engage in any substantial gainful activity due to a physical or mental impairment. Substantial gainful activity is defined as work where a person earns more than a certain amount monthly and is performing actual work tasks. If you are disabled, there are two types of disability benefits that individuals can qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  SSDI benefits are sometimes referred to as Title II benefits and SSI are sometimes called Title XVI benefits.  The eligibility criteria for SSDI and SSI are different. 

Social Security Disability Income (SSDI)

Social Security Disability Income (“SSDI”) is available to individuals who have worked and paid FICA taxes before they became disabled. In order to qualify as disabled, an applicant must not be able to engage in any substantial gainful activity due to a physical or mental impairment. Additionally, the Social Security Administration requires applicants to pass two tests to be eligible for SSDI, the recent work test and the duration of work test.

The recent work test applies to those who are 31 or older and SSA looks at an applicant’s work history, requiring that the applicant has worked 20 of the past 40 quarters, or 5 of the last 10 years. Those under 31 are waived from having to meet this requirement.

The duration of work test requires applicants to have worked for a specific number of years based off of the age they became disabled. Below is a chart showing the number of years and credits required in order to qualify for SSDI.

Became Disabled at Age
Number of Credits You Need
Number of Years of Worked
21 through 24 6 1.5
24 through 31 6 to 18 1.5 to 4.5
31 through 42 20 5
44 22 5.5
46 24 6
48 26 6.5
50 28 7
52 30 7.5
54 32 8
56 34 8.5
58 36 9
60 38 9.5
62 or older 40 10

For both the recent work test and the duration of work test to receive a credit you must earn over a certain amount and have paid FICA taxes.  The amount needed to qualify for a credit changes yearly.  For example, in 2008, an individual needed to make $1,050 in a quarter to receive credit for working that quarter.  As of 2018, when a worker pays into FICA they receive a Social Security work credit for every $1,320 they earn. In 2018, workers can earn up to a maximum of four credits per year for earning $5,200 and these credits accumulate over a lifetime of work.

If an applicant is disabled and meets both for SSA’s work credit requirements than they are eligible for SSDI. Those who are disabled but do not have enough credits will not be eligible for SSDI, however, they may be eligible for SSI which has no work requirements

Additionally, disabled dependents of SSDI recipients, individuals receiving Social Security retirement income, individuals that passed away and were eligible to receive SSDI to SS retirement income before death are eligible for SSDI.   These are frequently called child benefits, meaning the child receives the benefit based upon the parent’s work record.  These child benefits are available to dependents starting at the age of 18.  To be eligible for these SSDI benefits, a child must become disabled prior to the age of 22.   Disabled children may receive these SSDI benefits into adulthood. Spouses or ex-spouses of disabled workers receiving SSDI may also receive benefits when they care for the children of a disabled worker.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Supplemental Security Income is available to most individuals who are 65 or older, blind, or disabled and have limited income and financial resources. To qualify for SSI applicants must demonstrate that they have limited financial means. An applicant must not own more than $2,000 in countable assets. If the applicant is married they may own upwards of $3,000 in jointly held countable assets. Countable assets are anything of value that do not include a home or one vehicle.  (If more than one vehicle is owned, the additional vehicles are considered countable assets).

Similar to SSDI, to qualify as disabled an applicant must not be able to engage in any substantial gainful activity due to a physical or mental impairment. The physical or mental impairment must last longer than 12 months in order to qualify. There is no work requirement necessary, setting SSI apart from SSDI.

Children who are blind or disabled may also qualify for SSI benefits as early as the date of birth. While many of the conditions that SSA considers a disability apply to children, some additional physical and mental impairments are recognized. A full list can be found here.  When they reach the age of 18, children who receive SSI are reevaluated by SSA under the application requirements for adults.

If the applicant can demonstrate they fulfill both their disability and limited financial means requirements than they are likely eligible for SSI.

Social Security Administration (SSA) Grid Rules

Grid for Sedentary Work

Sedentary work involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and small tools. Although a sedentary job is defined as one which involves sitting, a certain amount of walking and standing is often necessary in carrying out job duties. Jobs are sedentary if walking and standing are required occasionally and other sedentary criteria are met.

Rule
Age
Education
Previous Work
Experience
Decision
201.01 Advanced Age
(55 and Over)
Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
Unskilled or none Disabled
201.02 Advanced Age
(55 and Over)
Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Disabled
201.03 Advanced Age
(55 and Over)1
Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
201.04 Advanced Age
(55 and Over)
High school graduate or more-does not provide for direct entry into skilled work Unskilled or none Disabled
201.05 Advanced Age
(55 and Over)
High school graduate or more-does not provide for direct entry into skilled work Unskilled or none Not disabled
201.06 Advanced Age
(55 and Over)
High school graduate or more-does not provide for direct entry into skilled work Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Disabled
201.07 Advanced Age
(55 and Over)
High school graduate or more-does not provide for direct entry into skilled work Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
201.08 Advanced Age
(55 and Over)
High school graduate or more-does not provide for direct entry into skilled work Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
201.09 Closely Approaching Advanced Age (50 to 54) Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
Unskilled or none Disabled
201.10 Closely Approaching Advanced Age (50 to 54) Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Disabled
201.11 Closely Approaching Advanced Age (50 to 54) Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
201.12 Closely Approaching Advanced Age (50 to 54) High school graduate or more-provides for direct entry into skilled work Unskilled or none Disabled
201.13 Closely Approaching Advanced Age (50 to 54) High school graduate or more-provides for direct entry into skilled work Unskilled or none Not disabled
201.14 Closely Approaching Advanced Age (50 to 54) High school graduate or more-provides for direct entry into skilled work Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Disabled
201.15 Closely Approaching Advanced Age (50 to 54) High school graduate or more-provides for direct entry into skilled work Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
201.16 Closely Approaching Advanced Age (50 to 54) High school graduate or more-provides for direct entry into skilled work Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
201.17 Younger Individual Age
(45-49)
Illiterate or unable to communicate in English Unskilled or none Disabled
201.18 Younger Individual Age
(45-49)
Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
Unskilled or none Not disabled
201.19 Younger Individual Age
(45-49)
Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
201.20 Younger Individual Age
(45-49)
Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
Skilled or semiskilled-skills transferable Not disabled
201.21 Younger Individual Age
(45-49)
High school graduate or more Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
201.22 Younger Individual Age
(45-49)
High school graduate or more Skilled or semiskilled-skills transferable Not disabled
201.23 Younger Individual Age
(18-44)
Illiterate or unable to communicate in English Unskilled or none Not disabled
201.24 Younger Individual Age
(18-44))
Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)-at least literate and able to communicate in English
Unskilled or none Not disabled
201.25 Younger Individual Age
(18-44)
Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
201.26 Younger Individual Age
(18-44)
Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
Skilled or semiskilled-skills nottransferable Not disabled
201.27 Younger Individual Age
(18-44)
High school graduate or more Unskilled or none Not disabled
201.28 Younger Individual Age
(18-44)
High school graduate or more Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
201.29 High school graduate or more Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
Skilled or semiskilled-skills transferable Not disabled

Grid for Light Work

Light work involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds. Even though the weight lifted may be very little, a job is in this category when it requires a good deal of walking or standing, or when it involves sitting most of the time with some pushing and pulling of arm or leg controls. To be considered capable of performing a full or wide range of light work, you must have the ability to do substantially all of these activities. If someone can do light work, SSA determines that he or she can also do sedentary work, unless there are additional limiting factors such as loss of fine dexterity or inability to sit for long periods of time.

Rule
Age
Education
Previous Work
Experience
Decision
202.01 Advanced Age
(55 and Over)
Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
Unskilled or none Disabled
202.02 Advanced Age
(55 and Over)
Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Disabled
202.03 Advanced Age
(55 and Over)1
Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
202.04 Advanced Age
(55 and Over)
High school graduate or more-does not provide for direct entry into skilled work Unskilled or none Disabled
202.05 Advanced Age
(55 and Over)
High school graduate or more-provides for direct entry into skilled work Unskilled or none Not disabled
202.06 Advanced Age
(55 and Over)
High school graduate or more-does not provide for direct entry into skilled work Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Disabled
202.07 Advanced Age
(55 and Over)
High school graduate or more-does not provide for direct entry into skilled work Skilled or semiskilled-skills transferable Not disabled
202.08 Advanced Age
(55 and Over)
High school graduate or more-provides for direct entry into skilled work Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
202.09 Closely Approaching Advanced Age (50 to 54) Illiterate or unable to communicate in English Unskilled or none Disabled
202.10 Closely Approaching Advanced Age (50 to 54) Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED) -at least literate and able to communicate in English
Unskilled or none Not disabled
202.11 Closely Approaching Advanced Age (50 to 54) Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
202.12 Closely Approaching Advanced Age (50 to 54) Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
Skilled or semiskilled-skills transferable Not disabled
202.13 Closely Approaching Advanced Age (50 to 54) High school graduate or more Unskilled or none Not disabled
202.14 Closely Approaching Advanced Age (50 to 54) High school graduate or more Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
202.15 Closely Approaching Advanced Age (50 to 54) High school graduate or more Skilled or semiskilled-skills transferable Not disabled
202.16 Closely Approaching Advanced Age (50 to 54) Illiterate or unable to communicate in English Unskilled or none Not disabled
202.17 Younger Individual
(45-49)
Limited or less (No high school diploma or GED)-at least literate and able to communicate in English Unskilled or none Not disabled
202.18 Younger Individual
(45-49)
Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
202.19 Younger Individual Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
Skilled or semiskilled-skills transferable Not disabled
202.20Younger IndividualHigh school graduate or moreunskilled or noneNot disabled
202.21 Younger Individual High school graduate or more Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
202.22 Younger Individual High school graduate or more Skilled or semiskilled-skills transferable Not disabled

Grid for Medium Work

Medium work involves lifting no more than 50 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 25 pounds. If someone can do medium work, SSA determines that he or she can also do sedentary and light work.

Rule
Age
Education
Previous Work
Experience
Decision
203.01 Closely approaching retirement age Marginal or none Unskilled or none Disabled
203.02 Closely approaching retirement age Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
None Disabled
203.03 Closely approaching retirement age Limited Unskilled Not disabled
203.04 Closely approaching retirement age Limited or less (No high school diploma or GED) Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
203.05 Closely approaching retirement age< td> Limited or less (No high school diploma or GED) Skilled or semiskilled-skills transferable Not disabled
203.06 Closely approaching retirement age High school graduate or more Unskilled or None Disabled
203.07 Closely approaching retirement age High school graduate or more-does not provide for direct entry into skilled work Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
203.08 Closely approaching retirement age High school graduate or more-does not provide for direct entry into skilled work Skilled or semiskilled-skills transferable Not disabled
203.09 Closely approaching retirement age High school graduate or more-provides for direct entry into skilled work Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
203.10 Advanced Age (55 and Over) Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
None Disabled
203.11 Advanced Age (55 and Over) Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
Unskilled Not disabled
203.12 Advanced Age (55 and Over) Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
203.13 Advanced Age (55 and Over) Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
Skilled or semiskilled-skills transferable Not disabled
203.14 Advanced Age (55 and Over) High school graduate or more Unskilled or none Not disabled
203.15 Advanced Age (55 and Over) High school graduate or more-does not provide for direct entry into skilled work Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
203.16 Advanced Age (55 and Over) High school graduate or more-does not provide for direct entry into skilled work Skilled or semiskilled-skills transferable Not disabled
203.17 Advanced Age (55 and Over) High school graduate or more-provides for direct entry into skilled work Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
203.18 Closely Approaching Advanced Age
(50 to 54)
Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
Unskilled or none Not disabled
203.19 Closely Approaching Advanced Age
(50 to 54)
Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
203.20 Closely Approaching Advanced Age
(50 to 54)
Limited or less
(No high school diploma or GED)
Skilled or semiskilled-skills transferable Not disabled
203.21 Closely Approaching Advanced Age
(50 to 54)
High school graduate or more Unskilled or none Not disabled
203.22 Closely Approaching Advanced Age
(50 to 54)
High school graduate or more-does not provide for direct entry into skilled work Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
203.23 Closely Approaching Advanced Age
(50 to 54)
High school graduate or more--does not provide for direct entry into skilled work Skilled or semiskilled-skills transferable Not disabled
203.24 Closely Approaching Advanced Age
(50 to 54)
High school graduate or more-provides for direct entry into skilled work Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
203.25 Younger Individual Limited or less (No high school diploma or GED Unskilled or none Not disabled
203.26 Younger Individual Limited or less (No high school diploma or GED Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
203.27 Younger Individual Limited or less (No high school diploma or GED Skilled or semiskilled-skills transferable Not disabled
203.28 Younger Individual High school graduate or more Unskilled or none Not disabled
203.29 Younger Individual High school graduate or more-does not provide for direct entry into skilled work Skilled or semiskilled-skills not transferable Not disabled
203.30 Younger Individual High school graduate or more-does not provide for direct entry into skilled work Skilled or semiskilled-skills transferable Not disabled
203.31 Younger Individual High school graduate or more-provides for direct entry into skilled work Skilled or semiskilled-skills transferable Not disabled

Unskilled work. Unskilled work is work which needs little or no judgment to do simple duties that can be learned on the job in a short period of time. The job may or may not require considerable strength. For example, SSA considers jobs unskilled if the primary work duties are handling, feeding and offbearing (that is, placing or removing materials from machines which are automatic or operated by others), or machine tending, and a person can usually learn to do the job in 30 days, and little specific vocational preparation and judgment are needed. A person does not gain work skills by doing unskilled jobs.

Semi-skilled work. Semi-skilled work is work which needs some skills but does not require doing the more complex work duties. Semi-skilled jobs may require alertness and close attention to watching machine processes; or inspecting, testing or otherwise looking for irregularities; or tending or guarding equipment, property, materials, or persons against loss, damage or injury; or other types of activities which are similarly less complex than skilled work, but more complex than unskilled work. A job may be classified as semi-skilled where coordination and dexterity are necessary, as when hands or feet must be moved quickly to do repetitive tasks.

Skilled work. Skilled work requires qualifications in which a person uses judgment to determine the machine and manual operations to be performed in order to obtain the proper form, quality, or quantity of material to be produced. Skilled work may require laying out work, estimating quality, determining the suitability and needed quantities of materials, making precise measurements, reading blueprints or other specifications, or making necessary computations or mechanical adjustments to control or regulate the work. Other skilled jobs may require dealing with people, facts, or figures or abstract ideas at a high level of complexity.

Skills that can be used in other work (transferability)—(1) What we mean by transferable skills. SSA considers you to have skills that can be used in other jobs, when the skilled or semi-skilled work activities you did in past work can be used to meet the requirements of skilled or semi-skilled work activities of other jobs or kinds of work.

Transferability is most probable and meaningful among jobs in which—

(i) The same or a lesser degree of skill is required;

(ii) The same or similar tools and machines are used; and

(iii) The same or similar raw materials, products, processes, or services are involved.

Degrees of transferability. There are degrees of transferability of skills ranging from very close similarities to remote and incidental similarities among jobs. A complete similarity of all three factors is not necessary for transferability. However, when skills are so specialized or have been acquired in such an isolated vocational setting (like many jobs in mining, agriculture, or fishing) that they are not readily usable in other industries, jobs, and work settings, SSA considers that they are not transferable.

Transferability of skills for persons of advanced age. If you are of advanced age (age 55 or older), and you have a severe impairment(s) that limits you to sedentary or light work, SSA will find that you cannot make an adjustment to other work unless you have skills that you can transfer to other skilled or semiskilled work (or you have recently completed education which provides for direct entry into skilled work) that you can do despite your impairment(s). SSA will decide if you have transferable skills as follows. If you are of advanced age and you have a severe impairment(s) that limits you to no more than sedentary work, SSA will find that you have skills that are transferable to skilled or semiskilled sedentary work only if the sedentary work is so similar to your previous work that you would need to make very little, if any, vocational adjustment in terms of tools, work processes, work settings, or the industry. If you are of advanced age but have not attained age 60, and you have a severe impairment(s) that limits you to no more than light work, SSA will apply a series of factors to decide if you have skills that are transferable to skilled or semiskilled light work. If you are closely approaching retirement age (age 60 or older) and you have a severe impairment(s) that limits you to no more than light work, SSA will find that you have skills that are transferable to skilled or semiskilled light work only if the light work is so similar to your previous work that you would need to make very little, if any, vocational adjustment in terms of tools, work processes, work settings, or the industry.