An Essential Guide to Social Security Benefits for Green Card Holders

Permanent legal residents of the U.S. can be eligible for Social Security benefits as long as they:

  • Have a valid green card: Expired green cards can be a bar to claiming these benefits.
  • Have earned enough Social Security credits: The number of credits needed depends on the type of benefit.
  • Have been in the U.S. for a certain period: The timeframe also varies by the type of benefit. In some cases, the time can be the sum of nonconsecutive periods spent in the U.S.

This helpful guide provides a closer look at the types of Social Security benefits available to green card holders and when they may be eligible for each type of benefit.

Types of Social Security Benefits for Green Card Holders

In general, green card holders may be able to apply for one or more of these Social Security benefits.

Social Security Retirement Benefits for Green Card Holders

Green card holders who are at least 65 and who have earned at least 40 U.S. work credits can be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits.

If the individual’s country of origin has a totalization agreement with the U.S., work credits earned in the country of origin and in the U.S. can be combined. Here is a list of the 26 countries that have totalization agreements with the U.S.

Social Security Disability Benefits for Green Card Holders

These benefits, known as Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), can also be available to green card holders who have accumulated at least 40 work credits. In some cases, work done by a spouse or parent may count towards an individual’s total credits.

Additionally, green card holders must have a qualifying disability or be legally blind, meet the income restrictions, and fulfill other eligibility requirements for SSDI.

Survivors’ Benefits for Green Card Holders

Green card holders may also be eligible for survivors’ benefits if a deceased spouse or parent was eligible to receive Social Security benefits. For these benefits, the green card holder does not have to qualify for benefits on his or her own. Instead, the decedent must have earned 40 work credits.

Generally, the eligibility rules for these benefits are less strict when the beneficiaries are minor children. For surviving spouses applying for survivors’ benefits, divorce is not necessarily a disqualifying factor, and any income the surviving spouse earns—and remarrying—can reduce the amount of these benefits.

FAQs About Social Security Benefits for Green Card Holders

The following shares more details about work credits, eligibility requirements, and other important information regarding Social Security benefits for green card holders.

While these FAQs address some of the most common questions asked about these benefits, you can easily get more answers related to your situation by contacting Attorney Richard A. Sly.

How Do Green Card Holders Earn Work Credits?

Working in the U.S. and paying Social Security taxes are the way to earn work credits. As of 2020:

  • Earning $1,410 in wages or self-employed income generates one work credit.
  • A green card holder would need to earn $5,640 to acquire four credits for the year, with four being the maximum number of credits allowed in a given year.

In general, the average green card holder would need to work for at least 10 years in the U.S. (and/or another country that has a totalization agreement with the U.S.) in order to acquire the minimum number of credits necessary to be eligible for benefits.

Are Social Security Benefits and Medicare the Same Thing?

No. While you pay taxes to be eligible for both—and while both are forms of government benefits administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA), they are different:

  • Medicare is a form of health care insurance that may be available to green card holders who are at least 65 years old.
  • Social Security benefits are cash payments you can use to cover living expenses.

Commonly, green card holders who receive Social Security benefits before the age of 65 will be automatically enrolled in Medicare when they turn 65.

What Documents Do Green Card Holders Need to Apply for Social Security Benefits?

To apply for Social Security benefits, green card holders will need to complete the appropriate application form. You can download SSA forms here. They will also need documentation proving their:

  • Immigration status
  • Work history
  • Relationship to another individual (if applying for survivor’s benefits)
  • Disability (if applying for Social Security disability benefits)

Here, it’s also crucial to note that:

  • Making mistakes with your application or the additional documents you submit can lead to delays or denials of an application.
  • After reviewing an application, the SSA may ask for supplemental documentation. Responding to these requests promptly is important to keeping an application moving forward.
  • If you’re applying for disability benefits, the SSA may also ask you to submit to a consultative medical exam. These exams can be used to verify the extent and/or severity of your disability and determine whether the impairment is temporary or permanent in nature.

Get Help With a Social Security Benefits Claim: Contact Richard A. Sly

If you are getting ready to apply for Social Security benefits, contact Portland Disability and SSI Lawyer Richard A. Sly for experienced help.

Call (503) 482-2931 or email Richard A. Sly now to set up a free consultation and get important answers about your potential claim.

Since 1974, Attorney Richard A. Sly has been dedicated to helping people navigate the complexities of the SSA so that they can secure the benefits they need and deserve. Skilled at building his clients the strongest possible claims the first time around, Richard Sly is also experienced at pursuing appeals when mistakes or wrong decisions lead to denials or the termination of benefits.

The bottom line is that, with Richard A. Sly on your side, you can be confident that you have a seasoned advocate working tirelessly to help you secure the full amount of benefits to which you may be entitled.