Social Security Benefits for a Non-Citizen Widow

by Randi Hicks Rowe

    Social Security provides retirement or disability income to those who have worked in the United States for several years or their spouses, dependent parents and children. You don't have to be a citizen to collect Social Security benefits earned by your deceased spouse. You do have to meet certain requirements as a non-citizen, however.

    General Eligibility

    Non-citizens must first meet the same requirements as citizens to collect benefits. To collect widow's benefits, you must have been married to someone who worked long enough under Social Security to qualify for benefits. While that varies depending on your spouse's age, it is never longer than 10 years. If you are raising children, however, you can qualify for benefits even if your spouse lacked enough credits.

    Non-Citizen Eligibility

    Non-citizen spouses must meet additional requirements. First, they must be in a "qualified alien" category as defined by the Department of Homeland Security. According to the Social Security Administration, "qualified" aliens meet one of several requirements. They have been lawfully admitted for permanent residence or granted conditional entry under Section 203(a)(7) of the Immigration and Nationality Act as in effect before April 1, 1980. Alternatively, they have been paroled into the United States under Section 212(d)(5) of the INA for a period of at least one year or are a refugee admitted under Section 207 of the INA or granted asylum under Section 208 of the INA. They could also be one whose deportation is being withheld under Section 243(h) of the INA, as in effect before April 1, 1997 or whose removal is being withheld under Section 241(b)(3) of the INA, or a "Cuban and Haitian entrant" as defined in Section 501(e) of the Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980. If you received your Social Security number after 2004, you must meet additional requirements to be eligible.

    Limitations

    If you fall into certain categories, such as being admitted as a refugee under Section 207, the number of years you may receive Social Security is limited to a maximum of seven. If you live outside the country, you must have lived in the United States for at least five years with your spouse to collect benefits. The amount of time you may receive benefits also may be limited to six months if you are not a citizen of a country with which the U.S. has Social Security agreements and are living abroad in certain countries, such as Russia or Ivory Coast.

    Amount of Benefits

    To collect widow's benefits, you must be at least 60 years old and not receiving your own Social Security benefits. If you've reached full retirement age, which varies by when you were born, you'll receive 100 of your spouse's benefit. If you are between 60 but younger than full retirement age, you can opt to begin receiving benefits right away or wait until you reach full retirement age. If you receive your benefits immediately, the amount you receive each month will be reduced by a percentage based on your age. If you are also entitled to Social Security benefits based on your own work history, you may choose to switch to your own benefits when you reach full retirement age. If you are disabled, you can receive survivor's benefits at age 50.

    Photo Credits

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    About the Author

    Randi Hicks Rowe is a former journalist, public relations professional and executive in a Fortune 500 company. A writer for more than 30 years, she has contributed to many websites and print publications. Rowe currently works as a Christian formation specialist in the Episcopal Church, in addition to writing.

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