Social Security for Green Card Holders and Permanent Residents | Explained

You may qualify for Social Security benefits if you obtain your green card and become a permanent resident. This program provides financial benefits to you and your family in the event of retirement, disability, or death. This article answers different questions people ask about Social Security for a permanent resident, including eligibility requirements, how to enroll, and everything in between.

What is Social Security?

Social Security is a federal government program that provides its beneficiaries with a source of income when they retire or can no longer work due to a disability. The program pays financial benefits to survivors of its beneficiaries, including their spouses and children, in the event of death.

You can receive Social Security benefits as a permanent resident. However, you must meet certain requirements to be eligible. These include:

1) Work Credits

Being a permanent resident allows you to work, pay Social Security taxes, and earn up to four credits a year (one credit per quarter). Therefore, you may need to work for at least ten years to earn 40 work credits. Then, you will be eligible for Social Security benefits.

However, there’s an exception to this rule. Suppose you’re yet to earn enough credits but are married to a citizen of the United States or have dependent children who are U.S. citizens; you may still be eligible for Social Security benefits.

2) Age

You can start receiving your Social Security benefits at the full retirement age of 66 or 67, depending on your birth year. However, you may begin receiving your Social Security retirement benefits earlier than your retirement age or later at 70. If you choose to receive your benefits earlier, your monthly payments will be lower. On the other hand, if you receive your benefits later at age 70, your monthly payments will be higher.

There are some circumstances where you may be eligible for Social Security benefits earlier as a permanent resident. For instance, let’s say you become disabled and unable to work. If so, you may qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits before retirement. 

Types of Social Security Benefits

The types of Social Security benefits include the following: 

Retirement Benefits

Social Security retirement benefit provides a monthly payment to eligible seniors who have reached retirement age. This could be 66 or 67 years old, depending on a senior’s birth year. 

However, some seniors may begin receiving these benefits at 62, while others prefer to wait until they are 70. Those who receive these benefits earlier get lower monthly payments than those who wait until their retirement age or longer.

Disability Benefits

Social Security disability benefits are available to workers who cannot work due to a medical condition that is expected to last at least 12 months or result in death. This benefit can be paid out at a younger age.

Medicare Benefits

Medicare is the government’s health insurance program that provides healthcare coverage to seniors of age 65 or older. It also provides coverage to some individuals younger than 65 with disabilities and qualifying medical conditions.

Read More | Medicare for Green Card Holders and Permanent Residents

Survivors Benefits

In the event of death, Social Security pays out some financial benefits to surviving dependents of the deceased. This also includes their spouses and children.

The amount of survivor’s benefits that can be paid depends on various factors, including the deceased person’s earnings history, the survivor’s relationship to the deceased person, and the survivor’s age and disability status.

A surviving spouse who is full retirement age or older may be eligible for 100% of the deceased person’s PIA (primary insurance amount), while a surviving spouse who is under full retirement age may receive a reduced percentage. There are also limits on the total amount of survivor’s benefits that can be paid to a family.

Social Security for Immigrants

Not all immigrants are eligible for Social Security benefits, as some visas don’t authorize non-citizens to legally work in the U.S. For this reason, such immigrants may not meet the work history criteria needed to be eligible for these benefits. 

An immigrant’s eligibility for Social Security benefits depends on several factors. Typically, the immigrant must have legal immigration status and work authorization to seek employment in the U.S. This allows them to pay Social Security taxes and earn the credits needed to qualify for the program.

Examples of non-citizens who may be eligible to work in the U.S. include:

  • Green card holders.
  • Immigrants with certain work visas, such as H-1 visas.
  • Some asylees and refugees. 
  • Some nonimmigrants with certain visas, such as F-1 student visas.

How To Get a Social Security Card as a Permanent Resident?

Generally, you can apply for a Social Security Card as a permanent resident. The Social Security Card is a government-issued identification containing a unique number known as the Social Security Number. The U.S. government uses this number to track your:

  • earnings;
  • tax payments;
  • eligibility for Social Security; and
  • other public benefits and services.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is responsible for processing and issuing Social Security Cards. To apply, you must provide proof of your identity and immigration status. For instance, you may include your green card as proof of your permanent residence status. You can also include your passport as your identification.

Next, you must complete Form SS-5 to apply for the card and submit your application to a Social Security office. Once your application is approved, you’ll receive your card via mail after a few weeks or more. 

A Social Security Card is an important document with many uses. For instance, you’ll need the Social Security Number to apply for a job, obtain credit, or open a bank account. For this reason, you must keep your card safe to avoid falling victim to fraud, such as identity theft.

Social Security and Medicare for Green Card Holders Explained 

Social Security and Medicare are some of the government benefits of obtaining a permanent resident card and becoming a permanent resident of the United States. These programs provide financial support to their beneficiaries in their old age. While Social Security provides retirement, disability, and survivor benefits, Medicare caters to health insurance coverage for eligible individuals.

As a permanent resident, you must contribute to Social Security and Medicare taxes while working. That’s the primary way to be eligible for these programs. You may need at least ten years of work to qualify for Medicare and 40 credits (an equivalent of ten years of work) to be eligible for Social Security benefits. Additionally, you must meet other criteria under these benefits to be eligible.

Can Visitors Get Social Security Disability?

Typically, visitors to the United States cannot apply for Social Security Disability benefits due to the strict eligibility requirements. For instance, most visitors are not authorized to work in the U.S. and may only be in the country for a limited period. As a result, they cannot earn the 40 credits required to qualify for these benefits.

Despite these stringent rules, some non-citizens may be able to adjust their visitor visa and become legal permanent residents. For instance, if a non-citizen marries a U.S. citizen, they may qualify for a marriage green card and become a permanent resident of the United States. Eventually, the non-citizen may be eligible for Social Security benefits when they retire or become disabled and unable to work.

Although visitors may be able to adjust their status and become permanent residents, the process is usually complex. For instance, they may need to provide sufficient proof that they didn’t lie about their intentions to enter the United States on a nonimmigrant visa. If such is your case, you may need guidance and assistance from an immigration attorney.

Can Immigrants Over 65 Receive Social Security?

Yes, some immigrants over 65 can receive social security benefits. But first, they must qualify for these benefits by meeting all the eligibility requirements. For example, they or their spouse must have earned 40 credits after paying Social Security taxes for at least ten years while working.

Additionally, they must have lawful immigration status, such as being a permanent resident, to be eligible. Therefore, unlawful immigrants or nonimmigrants who aren’t authorized to work in the U.S. may not be eligible for these benefits. 

Do You Have To Be a Citizen to Get Social Security Retirement?

No, you don’t have to be a U.S. citizen to get Social Security Retirement benefits. However, you must have legal immigration status and authorization to work in the U.S. to be eligible for these benefits. In addition, you need to have paid Social Security taxes, earned at least 40 quarters (credits) and reached your retirement age before you can begin receiving your Social Security retirement benefits.

Can a Lawful Permanent Resident Get Social Security Disability?

A legal permanent resident (LPR) may be eligible to receive Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI) if they cannot work due to a disability. However, their condition must meet the Social Security Administration’s definition of disability.

The condition should prevent the permanent resident from engaging in substantial gainful activity for at least 12 months or expected to result in death, to be classified as a qualifying disability. 

Can Permanent Residents Get A Social Security Card?

A permanent resident can apply for a Social Security Card at the Social Security Administration. To obtain this card, the permanent resident must provide proof of their immigration status and a government-issued identification document, among other requirements. If their application is approved, the permanent resident will receive their Social Security Card via email.

Can a Non-Citizen Receive Social Security Benefits Without Paying Taxes?

Generally, non-citizens are only eligible to receive Social Security benefits if they pay Social Security taxes. However, some nonresidents may qualify for a tax treaty benefit that reduces the amount of taxes they pay.

Can You Receive Benefits While Living Outside the United States?

You may start receiving your Social Security benefits while living abroad under some conditions. First, you must prove your residence status as a citizen or legal permanent resident of the U.S. Next, you must prove that you’ve worked and paid Social Security taxes for at least ten years to earn 40 credits. Alternatively, you may meet this work history criterion if your spouse has sufficient work credits to be eligible. 

Do Immigrants 65+ Qualify for Social Security?

Eligible immigrants can begin receiving their Social Security benefits at 66 or 67, depending on their birth year. However, some may opt to receive these benefits earlier at 62 or later at 70. 

That said, many retirees who immigrate to the United States may not meet the 40 work credit requirement to be eligible for U.S. Social Security benefits unless they worked for at least 10 years in the country when they were younger. Nevertheless, those who are authorized to work in the U.S. for 18 months after their arrival and earn a minimum of $1,510 per quarter (in 2022) and $1,640 (in 2023), may be eligible for prorated Social Security benefits.

Keep in mind that, in this context, a quarter refers to a three-month period in a financial calendar. Each year has four quarters. 

This is possible through a totalization agreement between their home country and the U.S. A totalization agreement is established between two countries that have similar Social Security programs. The agreement ensures that workers and employers don’t pay Social Security taxes on the same income in both countries. It also prevents double-dipping when they claim benefits (double-dipping refers to receiving double benefits). 

How Long Does It Take to Get a Social Security Number for Immigrants?

The process of applying for a Social Security Number is straightforward. However, the processing timeline for this number may vary depending on an immigrant’s specific circumstances.

Generally, an immigrant with authorization to work in the United States can get their Social Security Number within a few weeks.

For instance, they may apply for their Social Security Card while applying for their Employment Authorization Document through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). As a result, the processing timelines may significantly decrease if the USCIS reviews and verifies the applicant’s immigration documents faster than usual. 

However, if the USCIS and the Social Security Administration have difficulty verifying your immigration status and documents, this could extend the processing timeline for your Social Security Number. 

Read More | Healthcare and Social Security


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