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Can noncitizens get Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?


The short answer is maybe.

It depends on whether you meet a slew of complicated conditions contained in federal rules and regulations that govern Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a benefit program administered but not funded by the Social Security Administration. SSI is designed to help older, disabled and blind people who have little or no income.

Most noncitizens must clear three hurdles to be eligible for SSI.

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1. In most cases, you must be in one of seven categories of what Social Security calls “qualified aliens.” Generally speaking, these include people who enter the country legally as asylum seekers, immigrants or refugees.

2. But “qualified alien” status alone is not sufficient to receive SSI. You also must meet one of several conditions related to when you arrived in the United States, how much you have worked or whether you serve or served in the U.S. military.

The details are complex. You'll find them on the Social Security website.

3. Finally, you must meet the same criteria for SSI eligibility that apply to citizens. For starters, you must be disabled, blind, or 65 or older and have very limited income and financial resources.

Because this issue is complicated, you might start with a visit to your local Social Security office or call 800-772-1213 to speak to a Social Security representative about your situation. For office visits, Social Security recommends calling ahead and scheduling an appointment to avoid long waits.

You also may be able to get help applying for SSI from a local resettlement agency. The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement has a state-by-state directory of programs.

Keep in mind

  • In applying for SSI, you must provide proof of your immigration status, such as a current Department of Homeland Security admission form or a judge's order granting asylum.
  • A few other categories of noncitizens may qualify for SSI. These include:
    • Noncitizen Native Americans who are members of federally recognized tribes or were born in Canada but have been admitted legally to the United States.
    • Victims of severe forms of human trafficking.
    • Some Afghan and Iraqi nationals who worked for the U.S. military or government in their home countries.
  • While natives of Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands are U.S. citizens, SSI is not available in those territories or in American Samoa, whose natives have a distinct status as U.S. nationals.

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