Social Security and Medicare Benefits for Immigrants

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Doctor reviews Medicare benefits for immigrants

Social Security and Medicare are two of the federally provided benefits that American workers look forward to as they retire. Workers and their employers generally fund these programs throughout a career. Immigrants who have worked in the United States through lawful employment will generally qualify for these same benefits. Thus, Social Security and Medicare benefits for immigrants are available, provided they meet eligibility requirements.

Although the two programs are somewhat related, they are for different purposes. Social Security primarily provides retirement income, and the Medicare program is a health insurance option for older residents. Many U.S. citizens, permanent residents and even certain nonimmigrant workers use these benefits. There are Social Security and Medicare benefits for immigrants when qualified.

Social Security is Not Employment Authorization

There's a misperception by many people new to the United States that Social Security is a form of employment authorization. A Social Security number (SSN) does not give a person the right to work in the United States.

Typically, only noncitizens authorized to work in the United States by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can get an SSN. Employees generally need an SSN to work, but the SSN does not grant the right to work. SSNs are used to report a person’s wages to the U.S. government and to determine that person’s eligibility for Social Security benefits.

You can typically obtain a Social Security number and card when you apply for a green card or work authorization in the United States. In other words, you'll need a lawful immigration status that also gives you employment authorization. In both of these examples, the Social Security card request is integrated with Form I-485, Application to Adjust Status, as well as Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization.

Social Security Benefits Explained

Through the Social Security Administration, the U.S. government provides payments to certain retirees and disabled people, and to their spouses, children, and survivors. Congress designed the Social Security benefits program to provide partial replacement income for older workers and their spouses, those whose spouse or qualifying ex-spouse has died, and the disabled. Under specified conditions it also supports children of beneficiaries.

Generally, individuals qualify for Social Security benefits by paying into the program during their working years. It typically takes 10 years (40 quarters or "credits" from covered wages) to achieve full insurance. For this reason, most individuals who immigrant to the United States at an older age do not qualify for Social Security benefits. But younger immigrants who work will typically qualify.

Totalization Agreements

The U.S. has Social Security totalization agreements with several countries. A totalization agreement is an arrangement between two countries that ensures workers don’t pay Social Security taxes on the same earnings, in two different countries. It also prevents individuals from double-dipping when they claim benefits. Legal immigrants who haven’t earned enough work credits in the U.S. might still qualify for Social Security benefits if they’ve earned enough credits from another country.

Most immigrants who come to the United States after reaching retirement age have not accumulated the requisite 40 U.S. work credits to qualify for Social Security. However, those able to legally work in the U.S. for a year and a half after arriving, may qualify to receive prorated U.S. Social Security benefits, under a totalization agreement with their countries of origin.

The U.S. has a totalization agreement with the following countries:

  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • Chile
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Luxembourg
  • The Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Slovak Republic
  • Slovenia
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • The United Kingdom
  • Uruguay
Collecting Social Security Abroad

Immigrants who have earned the requisite 40 work credits in the United States qualify for Social Security benefits, even if they choose to return to their home country. An immigrant may collect U.S. Social Security in another country provided they have earned the benefit.

The Social Security system has a variety of complex rules and requirements. Many non-citizens who worked in the United States are eligible to receive Social Security benefits. If you've earned it, it should be a part of your retirement plan. CitizenPath partner MYRA Wealth specializes in financial, investment and tax planning for international and multicultural families in the United States. If you are a U.S. immigrant with complex tax or financial needs, schedule a free consultation.

Social security card on top of vital records

Medicare Benefits Explained

Medicare is the United States’ national health insurance program for people age 65 or older. Medicare benefits help cover the costs of health care, but it doesn’t necessarily cover the cost of all expenses. There are different parts (Part A, Part B, Part D) that cover various expenses. Medicare benefits for immigrants are no different. Beneficiaries who have Medicare Part A and Part B coverage, can buy a Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) policy from a private insurance company. Medigap covers some of the costs that Medicare does not, such as copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles. People younger than age 65 with certain disabilities may also qualify for Medicare benefits.

Medicare benefits have different categories called “parts:”

  • Part A (hospital insurance) helps pay for inpatient care in a hospital or limited time at a skilled nursing facility (following a hospital stay). It also covers some home health care and hospice care.
  • Part B (medical insurance) helps pay for services from doctors and other health care providers, outpatient care, home health care, durable medical equipment, and some preventive services.
  • Part D (Medicare prescription drug coverage) helps cover the cost of prescription drugs. It is only run by private insurance companies that follow rules set by Medicare.

Part C, now known as a Medicare Advantage Plan, includes all benefits and services covered under Parts A and B. Everything is bundled together in one plan and offered by private insurance companies.

Eligibility for Medicare Benefits for Immigrants

People age 65 or older, who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the United States, may be eligible for Medicare Part A. Most people are eligible for Part A at no cost at age 65 through one of the following qualifying events:

  • You receive or are eligible to receive benefits from Social Security;
  • Your spouse (living or deceased, including divorced spouses) receives or is eligible to receive Social Security;
  • You or your spouse worked long enough in a government job through which you paid Medicare taxes; or
  • You are the dependent parent of a fully insured deceased child.
Purchasing Medicare

If you do not meet one of the above requirements, you may be able to get Medicare Part A by paying a monthly premium. Usually, you can purchase this coverage only during designated enrollment periods. For permanent residents (age 65 year or older) who do not meet the above requirements for “free” Medicare, they may be able to purchase coverage through one of the following criteria:

  • You have recently become a U.S. citizen through naturalization; or
  • You are a lawful permanent resident and have constantly lived in the United States for 5 years or longer.

Therefore, new immigrants generally are not eligible for Medicare benefits. If you are a green card holder, you’ll need to wait five years to purchase Medicare, and you’ll likely need to work 10 years to earn Medicare at no cost.

If you would like to learn more about eligibility benefits, frequently asked questions and average Medicare costs, review this extensive guide on Medicare for green card holders.

Social Security and Medicare benefits for immigrants are available, but not everyone is automatically eligible. Beneficiaries must generally work several years, obtain coverage through another family member, or purchase coverage in some cases.

Disclosure: CitizenPath partners with certain vendors who serve the immigrant community to bring you information about their services. MYRA Wealth is a valued partner, but this is not a sponsored post.

About CitizenPath

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