Do you have to be a citizen to receive disability?

This issue is not only a common question, but also a difficult one because there are so many exceptions to the rule. To answer the question simply, you cannot receive Social Security disability (SSI or SSDI) if you are not a citizen. However, there are exceptions for individuals who fall into the alien resident category.

An alien resident may be eligible for SSI (and not SSDI) if this individual is a qualified alien that meets certain qualifications.  Usually, these requirements are met if the individual has been in the US working lawfully, and has earned 40 quarters.  There are other, less common ways for a non-citizen to meet the qualifications to receive SSI.

The qualifications for what make a non-citizen an alien resident are a little bit more complicated. The individual must fall into one of the categories outlined by the Department of Homeland Security to be considered an alien resident.

  1. Lawfully Admitted for Permanent Residency (LAPR)
  2. Granted entry because of the Immigration and Nationality Act
  3. Be paroled into the US for at least 1 year
  4. Have refugee status
  5. Be granted asylum
  6. Deportation is being withheld for any reason
  7. "Cuban and Haitian entrant" program

If you do not fall into one of these categories, and are not a citizen of the United States, you are automatically denied for Social Security disability benefits regardless of any other qualifications you may have. 

If you are a qualified alien resident, then you must then check to see if you meet the final eligibility criteria.  If you meet one of these last qualifications, then you can be eligible for benefits.  (One qualification is to have worked and earned 40 quarters.)  These specific qualifications are explained on the Social Security Administrations website, but if you have any questions concerning whether or not you may qualify for SS benefits, speak with a Social Security Attorney who will be happy to answer any concerns you may have.