To be eligible for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI), you must earn less than a certain amount per month (or be considered capable of doing substantial gainful activity), have paid FICA taxes to the Social Security Administration for a certain number of years (usually at least five to ten years), and meet certain citizenship or lawful residency requirements (but foreign workers can qualify for SSDI).
Do You Have to Be a Citizen to Get Social Security Disability?
Permanent residents and legally present foreign workers who have paid Social Security taxes are typically eligible for disability benefits.
The vast majority of SSDI recipients are US residents living in the US or abroad. Non-citizens who are permanent residents and have paid into the Social Security system for the required number of years, as well as veterans and active-duty members of the United States military, are eligible for Social Security disability benefits.
If you are not a citizen or permanent resident, but can establish that you are lawfully present in the United States and meet certain other conditions, you may be eligible for SSDI. (8 U.S.C. § 1611(b)(2).)
Even though they are not citizens or permanent residents of the United States, most foreign employees are protected by the Social Security system and may be eligible for disability compensation. Individuals are eligible for SSDI for services performed in the United States because federal law requires all employees to pay Social Security taxes. This is true even whether they are nonresident aliens or temporary employees.
There are, however, a few exceptions. Some nonimmigrant international students and exchange tourists working temporarily in the United States may be exempt from paying Social Security taxes and, as a result, would be ineligible for SSDI disability compensation if harmed.
Acceptable Proofs of Citizenship for SSDI Benefits If You Live Abroad
If you apply for SSDI as a citizen, you must provide proof of citizenship. A birth certificate from the: is an acceptable form of verification.
- - United States
- - Puerto Rico after January 14, 1941
- - Guam
- - U.S. Virgin Islands after 1917
- - American Samoa
- - Swain's Island, or
- - Northern Mariana Islands.
Any of the following documents will also satisfy the proof of citizenship requirement:
- - Forms N-550 and N-570 (Certificate of Naturalization issued by USCIS or INS)
- - U.S. passport issued by the U.S. State Department
- - Form I-197 (U.S. Citizen Identification Card issued by USCIS or the INS)
- - Form FS-240 (Report of Birth Abroad of a Citizen of the U.S. issued by the U.S. State Department)
- - Form FS-545 (Certification of Birth issued by a foreign service post)
- - Forms N-560 and N-561 (Certificate of Citizenship issued by USCIS or the INS)
- - Form DS-1350 (Certification of Report of Birth issued by the U.S. State Department)
- - American Indian Card I-872 (DHS for Kickapoo Indian Tribe), or
- - Northern Mariana Card I-873 (INS card for birth in the Northern Mariana Islands before 1986, obsolete but still valid).
Can You Receive Benefits If You Live Outside the US?
If you are a U.S. citizen and get SSDI, you can continue to receive benefits even if you are outside the country as long as you are eligible, and you do not have to return to the nation on a regular basis.
Noncitizens and permanent residents of the United States who are eligible for SSDI can commonly receive payments while residing abroad, depending on their citizenship status and the countries in which they live. To continue receiving benefits, an alien beneficiary who leaves the United States must return at least every 30 days or for 30 consecutive days during each six-month period, with a few exceptions.
One exemption is allowed for immigrant recipients who are on active duty in the United States military. Immigrant beneficiaries who live in and are citizens of Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, or Japan are also excluded. (The United States has treaty obligations to some nations to continue providing benefits regardless of how long recipients remain outside the United States.) Citizens of the Netherlands may be eligible for partial benefits.
If you need help regarding your Social Security disability eligibility as a US citizen living abroad, you can seek legal help from the Law Office of Irene Ruzin.