Can noncitizens apply for disability benefits under the Social Security Act? Yes, but there are limitations, depending on the immigration status of the applicant and the type of benefit requested. There are four basic types of immigration status for noncitizens in the United States. One can be a permanent resident, temporary resident (nonimmigrant), undocumented immigrant (entered without inspection), or have protected status as a refugee or asylee.
Social Security Administration does not grant benefits to those who entered without inspection. Noncitizens who entered the country legally may be eligible for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II if they have worked long enough paying taxes to earn sufficient credits of coverage. For most individuals, this roughly equates to having worked for 5 of the past 10 years, or 20 out of 40 quarters of coverage.
Those who do not have enough work credits may seek Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI, although there is a maximum household income requirement, and the payments under Title XVI are typically lower than benefits under Title II.
Those who entered after 1996 may not be eligible for Supplemental Security Income for the first 5 years as a lawfully admitted permanent resident, even if they have enough credits under Title II. For refugees and asylees, there is also a limit to eligibility for Supplemental Security Income for no more than 7 years. Therefore, those with protected status are encouraged to expedite their pending naturalization process.
To receive either Disability Insurance Benefits or Supplemental Security Income under the Social Security Act, the claimant must show that they suffer from a severe impairment or combination of impairments that prevents them from engaging in substantial gainful activity in the national economy. Consulting with an attorney or law firm will greatly increase your chances of being approved for benefits by the Social Security Administration, as an attorney can present evidence and craft arguments toward an approval.