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Applying for Benefits as Widow/Widower of a U.S. Citizen

If you are the widow or widower of a U.S. citizen, you are eligible to apply for your own immigrant visa - but only within a two year period from the time of the U.S. Citizen spouse's death. You are also entitled to other benefits from the Social Security Administration and other federal agencies.

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Applying for Benefits as Widow/Widower of a U.S. Citizen
Written by Crispin Aranda.
Posted on July 18, 2013

Applying for Benefits as Widow/Widower of a US Citizen

If you are the widow or widower of a U.S. Citizen, you must apply to get immigration and financial benefits (your own immigrant visa and/or pension as surviving spouse) within two years of the U.S. Citizen spouse’s death.

Background. On October 28, 2009, President Obama signed a law allowing widows or widowers of U.S. Citizens to apply for immigrant visas even if they were married for less than two years

Before this, the widow or widower of a U.S. Citizen may apply for an immigrant visa if they had been married for at least two years and the widow or widower applies for her or his immigrant visa within two years of the U.S. Citizen’s death.

Deadline to Submit. However, the deadline for these petitions if the spouse died before October 28, 2009 expired almost two years ago- October 28, 2011.

If the U.S. Citizen died less than two years ago, the widow or widower must immediately apply for her or his own immigrant visa called the Self-Petition as a Special Immigrant.  If you need assistance in meeting the requirements or filing forms, you may call the Immigrant Visa Center at 02-634-8727

Other Benefits as Widow/Widower of US Citizen 

The Social Security Administration explains that "if the U.S. citizen spouse died more than two years ago, the widow or widower may still apply and get benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) as well as other federal agencies.

If you are the widow or widower of a person who worked long enough under Social Security, you can:

  1. receive full benefits at full retirement age for survivors or reduced benefits as early as age 60.
  2. begin receiving benefits as early as age 50 if you are disabled AND the disability started before or within seven years of the worker's death.
    1. Note: If a widow or widower who is caring for the worker's children receives Social Security benefits, he or she is still eligible if their disability starts before those payments end or within seven years after they end.
    2. A widow, widower or surviving divorced spouse cannot apply online for survivors benefits. However, you can get the process started by completing an Adult Disability Report before contacting the U.S. Embassy or the U.S. Federal agency involved.
  3. receive survivors benefits at any age if you take care of the deceased worker's child who is under age 16 or is disabled and receives benefits on the worker's record.

If you remarry, after you reach age 60 (age 50 if disabled), your remarriage will not affect your eligibility for survivors benefits. 

If you are not getting benefits, you should apply for survivor benefits promptly because, in some cases, benefits may not be retroactive. You can:

  • Call our toll-free telephone number  (if in the US) 1-800-772-1213. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can call us at TTY 1-800-325-0778.
  • Call or visit the US agency at the US Embassy. Check the information below.

Important: If you want to apply in person, please call and make an appointment before you visit your local office.

Prepare Documents for the Benefits You Wish to Avail of.  These benefits are:

  • The Lump-Sum Death Benefit,
  • Widows, Widowers, Or Surviving Divorced Spouse Benefits,
  • Mother's Or Father's Benefits, (You must be caring for a dependent child of the deceased,)
  • Dependent Child,
  • Parent's Benefits (You must have been dependent on the worker for 1/2 of your support at the time of his or her death.)

Documents Required -

  • Proof of death (either from funeral home or death certificate);
  • Your Social Security number, and the deceased family member's number;
  • Your birth certificate;
  • Your marriage certificate if you are the widow or widower;
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were born outside the United States;
  • Your divorce papers if you are applying as a surviving divorced spouse;
  • Dependent children's Social Security numbers and birth certificates, if available;
  • Deceased worker's most recent W-2 forms or federal self-employment tax return;
  • The name of your bank and your account number so your benefits can be directly deposited into your account.

Note: If you do not have a bank account, you can sign up for the Direct Express® card program. With the Direct Express® program, we deposit your federal benefit payment directly into your card account.

Public records like your birth certificate and marriage or divorce records must be the originals or copies certified by the issuing agency. We cannot accept uncertified photocopies. The U.S. Federal Agency, such as the Social Security Administration will return the documents to you.

What If You Don't Have All Of The Documents?

If you don't have all the documents you need, it is still recommended that you sign up for  Social Security by visiting the local office at the U.S. Embassy

Note: Since every person's situation is different, you cannot apply for survivors benefits online."

Offices and Contact Information in the Philippines

U.S. Embassy Manila hosts the offices of the U.S. Social Security Administration and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Both offices provide services and manage benefits of qualified applicants and recipients.  

Social Security Administration (SSA)

Services provided by Social Security include:

  • Taking claims for entitlement to all types of Social Security Benefits (retirement, survivors, disability, lump sum death). 
  • Processing applications for new or replacement Social Security cards 
  • Helping beneficiaries re-establish entitlement 
  • Processing all post entitlement issues: change of address, direct deposit enrollment, non-receipt of check issues, etc. 
  • Clearing earnings discrepancies 
  • Answering Social Security questions 
  • Handling Medicare enrollments and issues 

Contact Information:
Phone: (632) 301-2000 ext. 9
Fax: (632) 708-9723 and (632) 708-9714

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (USDVA)

The USDVA Regional Office offers a wide range of services to Veterans, including the processing of benefits claims, local payment of benefit checks, and other social services available to claimaints. Benefits counselors are on duty at the Regional Office from 7:30 AM to 4:30 PM Monday through Friday to answer questions concerning all aspects of veterans benefits.

United States Department of Veterans Affairs - Manila Regional Office
Seafront Compound, 1501 Roxas Boulevard, 1302 Pasay City(near Cuneta Astrodome)

Contact Information:
Trunkline: (632) 550-3888 / Fax Number: (632) 550-3942
Toll Free: 1-800-1888-5252
E-mail inquiries:


About the Author

Crispin Aranda

Crispin Aranda

Crispin R. Aranda is an established International Visa Conselor and Immigrant Advocate. He is the president of IVC and is in several migration radio programs.

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