Can non-citizens residing in the United States claim Social Security benefits?
The short answer is yes, though eligibility depends on a number of factors. While we’ll explore the details throughout this post, you should know that Social Security benefits (and other forms of supplemental income) are readily available for non-citizens.
Here is a brief rundown of what Social Security provides, who is eligible to receive it, and how to ensure you can claim your monthly benefits.
What Social Security Provides
In response to the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the Social Security Act of 1935. This legislation offered protections and benefits for three major components of American society: retirees, surviving spouses, and the disabled.
While Social Security has expanded over the years, its core function as a “pay-as-you-go” system remains the same. America’s pension plan works like this: after taxing the income of current workers, that money is then used to pay out the benefits for retirees starting at the earliest age of 62.
As of January 2020, the average Social Security benefit was $1,503 per month. These numbers vary depending on age and other contributing factors. For individuals at full retirement age, for example, the maximum possible Social Security benefit is $3,011.
The question remains, can non-citizens access Social Security payouts?
Who is Eligible For Social Security
According to the Social Security Administration, non-citizens who are “lawfully in the United States and meet all requirements” can get benefits.
These requirements include non-citizens who:
- Are permanent legal residents
- Have visas that allow them to work in the United States
- Were allowed in the country under the Family Unity or Immediate Relative provisions of U.S. immigration law
As with American citizens, legal immigrants can qualify for Social Security benefits if they earn enough work credits over their respective careers.
How to Access Social Security (& More Supplemental Income)
In order to work and collect Social Security benefits, you’ll first need a Social Security number.
If you did not apply for a Social Security number during the immigration process, you can easily apply for one at a local Social Security office. Simply fill out the Social Security Form SS-5 to get started. You can also go to the Social Security Administration website to learn more.
As you begin to work for a law-abiding employer in the United States, they will report your wage earnings to the federal government. These reports will be credited to your name and individual Social Security number, ensuring you receive the proper credits for your work.
For non-citizens living in the United States, it’s important to note that there will be some tax implications in accessing your benefits. As part of a broader set of rules governing payments to non-citizens, the Social Security Administration is required to withhold a 30 percent flat income tax from 85 percent of your benefits.
How does this affect your bottom line? The Social Security Administration will essentially withhold 25.5 percent of your monthly benefit. However, as you may be exempt from this tax (or subject to a lower rate), we encourage you to review the U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens or contact a financial advisor. In some cases, you may be able to receive some or even all of this withheld money by filing a U.S. tax return.
If you’re concerned about being taxed in both the United States and a second country in which you’ve worked, don’t worry. The United States has formalized several International Social Security agreements that ensure:
- No dual Social Security taxation occurs
- Any gaps in benefit protections will be covered for workers divided between the US and another country
Here is a list of the countries participating in the U.S. International Social Security Agreement.
About Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
Not to be confused with Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provides basic financial assistance and offers a broader entrance of eligibility. Unlike Social Security, SSI requirements are not based on qualifying work history, but solely on age/disability and limited income/resources.
As of June 2020, the average monthly benefit for SSI was $577. When you submit your application for SSI, you will also be applying for Social Security benefits. Plus, in most states, SSI recipients will also automatically qualify for Medicaid. And unlike Social Security benefits, your SSI benefits will not be taxed.
According to the Social Security Administration, non-citizens may be eligible for SSI if they are lawfully admitted for permanent residence or satisfy a number of other requirements. While you can see the complete list here, one additional requirement states that you must have amassed a total of 40 credits of work in the United States.
While this may seem like a large number (roughly 10 years of work), you can include your spouse’s or parent’s work credits to expedite the process.
Social Security can be a complex topic. The good news is, once you get your account set up, you won’t have to worry about it for decades to come. By the time you do have to start thinking about Social Security again, it will be in the form of a continued monthly payout.
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