How can a permanent resident collect SSI if he or she does not have 40 quarters of coverage on their own?

Sometimes it takes a question before I understand the answer.  I recently was asked about whether or not a permanent resident could collect SSI when the permanent residence was obtained through marriage.   The general rule is that a permanent resident (who entered after 1996) may only collect SSI if 1) he or she waits five years after  entry before applying and 2) is credited with 40 quarters of work.  (There are other rules for permanent residents who have obtained status through a humanitarian immigration option such as asylum.)

I always thought that permanent residents (through marriage) would not have 40 quarters of work (approximately 10 years of work history) because they would have only received work authorization upon applying for permanent residence.  At the most, they would only have a few years of work history.  However, in looking at the question further,  I realized that a permanent resident may be credited with a spouse’s earned income.  For example, if the US citizen has been working, then the lawful permanent spouse may use her citizen’s husband’s earned quarters of coverage to reach the 40 quarters.  The only exception to this is that the citizen spouse’s quarters of coverage cannot be credited if he himself has been receiving a means tested public benefit.  This is unlikely to happen because a person is unlikely to receive a means tested benefit if he is working.

There is therefore a way for a permanent resident to obtain SSI after five years as long as her spouse has sufficient quarters of coverage that can be credited to her.  There are also ways to obtain credits of coverage through a parent.  You can read more about this in Social Security’s Program Operations Manual System (POMS).

Of course another option is that the permanent resident may apply for citizenship.  When married to US citizens, permanent residents may apply for citizenship as early as 2 years and 9 months from the date they obtained their green cards.  Upon receipt of citizenship, the 40 quarter rule does not apply.

Will DACA beneficiaries be able to collect Social Security benefits?

There has been a great deal of confusion about President Obama’s recent initiative called DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.  Some have called it an Amnesty and others claim in confers benefits upon illegal immigrants.  It is neither.   It is a program whereby which certain individuals will have their removal “deferred” for a period of two years.  This is it.  It is a temporary program which basically allows a certain low risk group of people to remain in the United States instead of being deported. In order to receive deferred action, applicants must be:

  • Under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;
  • Came to the United States before reaching 16;
  • Have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time;
  • Physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making the request for consideration of deferred action with USCIS;
  • Entered without inspection before June 15, 2012, or lawful immigration status expired as of June 15, 2012;
  • Currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
  • Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

Once an applicant files an application with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) and is granted deferred action, he or she will receive work authorization and may apply for a Social Security card.  However, “Deferred Action” is a temporary program.  It does not confer lawful permanent resident status or provide a path to citizenship.  Beneficiaries of the program will be paying Social Security taxes if they are working but they will never be able to collect any benefits as “Deferred Action” is not a legal status.  Certainly if the law changes or they are somehow able to change their status, they may later be able to use the credits from the time they worked but the program itself does not confer any sort of legal status.  They are therefore ineligible for any benefits.

USCIS announces priority citizenship processing for SSI recipients

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) has just announced that it will prioritize the processing of applications for citizenship (N-400) for applicants receiving SSI when:

  • SSI benefits will be terminated within one year from the date on a notice sent by the Social Security Administration AND;
  • an applicant’s application has been pending for more than four months.

The guidance gives specific instructions on how to inform USCIS of the pending SSI termination depending on whether or not the applicant has already filed an application for citizenship or is about to do so.

Kudos to USCIS for taking the initiative in doing what they can to speed the application process along.  Applicants living in northern California are already seeing their applications processed within a four-month period but I would still recommend annotating new applications according to the USCIS guidance to be sure of timely adjudication.