Can a Green Card Holder File for Social Security Disability?

Recently, a reader who’s a Green Card holder asked about filing for Social Security disability benefits. However, many people don’t understand what a Green Card is or who can apply for these benefits. If you’re a permanent lawful resident who holds a Green Card, learn about filing for disability benefits below.

How Your Green Card Helps You Apply for Social Security Benefits

Most lawful permanent residents who live and work in the U.S. are Green Card holders. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issues each Green Card, also known as a Permanent Resident Card. You need a current Green Card to apply for other important identity and work-related documents, such as:

  • State-issued driver’s license
  • Social Security card printed with your assigned number (SSN)

Your Green Card proves you’re a permanent resident aged 18 or older authorized to live and work in the U.S. However, that document alone isn’t enough to qualify you for Social Security disability (SSD) benefits.

What Green Card Holders Must Know About Qualifying for Social Security Disability

If your health problems force you to stop working for at least one year, you can apply for SSD benefits. The federal government considers SSD an “earned benefit.” To earn SSD or regular retirement benefits, you must work and pay Social Security taxes for at least 10 years.

This also applies to Green Card holders, provided they can meet all key eligibility requirements:

  1. You must have a valid SSN and Social Security card. Without these, you cannot legally hold a job and pay Social Security taxes as required to qualify for SSD benefits.
  2. SSD applicants aged 31 and older generally need 40 Social Security work credits to qualify. Specifically, you need 20 credits (also known as Qualifying Quarters) earned in the last decade. This indicates you worked 5 in the last 10 years full-time and paid FICA taxes with every paycheck. If you stopped working more than 5 years (60 months) ago, you no longer have federal disability coverage. Once that happens, you cannot qualify for SSD benefits — no matter how severe your health issues.
  3. You must be 18-64 years old when you apply. Once you reach normal retirement age (or six months before your birthday), we have bad news. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will likely auto-reject your disability application. That’s because you’re the right age to start drawing regular Social Security.
  4. If you already get any Social Security benefits on your own work record, then you get SSD payments. If you draw early retirement and then apply for SSD benefits, for example, the SSA automatically rejects your claim.

Understanding What “Disability” Actually Means Before You Apply

The SSA uses its own definition of the word disability when it comes to reviewing SSD claims. In the agency’s view, you are officially “disabled” when you meet these requirements:

  • Your health problems are now so serious that you can no longer work full-time. Working in great pain or having two part-time jobs only proves you’re not disabled to the SSA. Still working when you apply for disability? Then the SSA automatically rejects your SSD claim.
  • An agency doctor in your state confirms your disability through an independent medical exam. In some cases, they can assess your disability status through a complete medical records review. Typically, you’ll need to submit the last year of medical records from every doctor who saw or treated you.
  • Your doctor doesn’t expect your health to improve within the next 12 months or you have a terminal illness. In other words, the U.S. government does not pay short-term or temporary disability benefits to anyone for any reason. If you’re undergoing hip surgery, for example, then you won’t qualify for SSD benefits. Only people with permanent or long-term disabilities qualify for those payments.
  • You cannot support yourself working in any other full-time job with your current limitations. This means that the SSA will check for any job openings in your area currently hiring people like you. If none exist, congratulations — the SSA will likely approve your claim!

People who file SSD claims through a lawyer are nearly 3x more likely to get approved for benefits. Those who apply with legal assistance through our website get $12,000+ in lump-sum backpay, on average, plus monthly disability benefits. Claimants who apply on their own without legal assistance typically wait 18-24 months for their first disability payments. In addition, the SSA approved just 2 out of every 5 SSD applicants nationwide over the past five years.

The disability application process is often long, difficult, and confusing. It also takes longer than most people realize to get a response back about your claim. Why not schedule a free, no-obligation phone call with a local Social Security attorney before you file? You can get confidential answers to all your questions that apply to your specific situation. Think you can’t afford a lawyer’s help filing your claim? All disability lawyers work on contingency. That means you pay $0 for legal assistance if the SSA doesn’t award you disability benefits. And if you do win, then you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee.

Ready to see if you may qualify? Click the button below to start your free benefits evaluation now!

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Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity,, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.