Ask Rusty: Legal Non-Citizen Resident Gets Spousal Benefits

Dear Rusty: We have gone to the Social Security office because we were told that my husband might be eligible to receive Social Security benefits, but they told him he had not worked enough quarters and that he could not collect benefits.  My husband is from England and holds a green card, and we have been married for 8 years living in the United States. I am 71 and started receiving my Social Security a few months after I retired at age 69.  My husband is also 71 but according to Social Security he can’t get benefits.  Is it because he is not a citizen?  I read in one of your articles that a wife who had not worked outside the home was entitled to ½ of her husband’s benefit at age 69. So why can’t my husband get benefits from my record?

Signed: Feeling Cheated

Dear Feeling Cheated: Social Security benefits may be paid to non-citizens whose permanent residency is lawfully established as one of the following:

•  Noncitizens lawfully admitted for permanent residence under the (INA);

•  Certain noncitizens admitted under other INA classifications that allow them to live and work in the United States;

•  Noncitizens admitted under Family Unity or Immediate Relative provisions; and

•  Other noncitizens who are fully insured for retirement, survivors or disability benefits, and who continue to meet U.S. lawful presence requirements.

Non-citizens in the above categories are eligible to receive Social Security benefits provided they are otherwise eligible and have resided in the U.S. for at least 5 years. Although your husband may not qualify to receive Social Security retirement benefits from his own U.S. work record, with legal permanent resident status he should be entitled to receive Social Security spousal benefits on your record.  I assume that your husband has a U.S. Social Security Number, because you said they told him he “had not worked a sufficient number of quarters,” which would mean they thought he was applying for his own retirement benefits.  That being the case, your husband should now apply for spousal benefits based upon your work record and be prepared to show them the necessary documentation to prove his legal non-citizen status as well as your marital status.  His spousal benefits should equal ½ of the benefit amount you were entitled to at your full retirement age of 66.  You may want to try to make a case that Social Security made a mistake when they originally denied his request, because he was eligible for spousal benefits and they did not accept his application.  In that case, if you can prove it was their mistake, they should pay your husband spousal benefits back to the day of your original meeting with them.

(Post-script: This couple returned to the Social Security office as recommended armed with the above information.  The husband was ultimately awarded spousal benefits on the wife’s record, and received benefits retroactive to the date he first applied.)

The information presented in this article is intended for general information purposes only. . The Foundation welcomes questions from readers regarding Social Security issues. To submit a request, contact the Foundation at https:[email protected], or visit the Foundation’s website at

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