Legal Residency Requirements for Medicare

Are You Eligible for Medicare?

U.S. citizenship or legal residency is required for Medicare eligibility.. Epoxydude/fStop/Getty Images

Medicare provides health care to millions of people, 55.3 million in 2013. Many are still left uninsured. It is important to know when and if you are eligible to take advantage of the program's many benefits. While offers an eligibility calculator, it can still be confusing. Understanding exactly what those requirements are will give you a better understanding of the whole process.

Ties to the United States

Medicare is a health care program funded by federal dollars.

For this reason, it is not surprising the government wants to keep tight reins on these services. Specifically, it wants to make sure that you are a citizen or legal resident of the United States. Being married to a U.S. citizen or legal resident doesn't count. While marriage in some cases could make you eligible for free Part A premiums, you first have to meet citizenship and/or legal residency requirements before you could be considered for those benefits.

Legal Residency in the United States

The legal residency requirement for Medicare is layered. Not only must you have established a legal permanent residence in the United States but you must also have maintained that residency for the five consecutive years immediately before you apply for Medicare.

You can establish legal residency in one of several ways but do not expect it to be easy or quick. The process may take anywhere from months to years before you are granted legal residency status.

All applications must ultimately be approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) under the Department of Homeland Security.

Through a family member. If your family member is a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, they can apply to sponsor you for legal residency, aka a Green Card.

U.S. citizens over 21 years of age can sponsor their spouses, parents, children, siblings, fiancees and fiancee's children. Legal residents are limited to sponsoring their spouses and children. By definition, children are unmarried and under 21 years of age.

Through your talents. If you are a skilled worker or professional who provides services that are considered to be of "extraordinary ability", you may apply directly to the government for legal residency. Interestingly, burlesque dancer Bettina May was granted one of these rare Green Cards in 2012. You do not have to be a genius. You just have to prove that you are the best in your field.

Through your employer. Likewise, an employer can sponsor you through a labor petition. The trick is that your employer must prove to the government that there is not a U.S. citizen or legal resident otherwise qualified and willing to perform in the position you are being offered.

Through entrepreneurship. If you invest dollars into an American company, you, your spouse and your children may be considered for permanent residency.

This will require a minimum $500,000 investment in an area of the country where there is a high unemployment rate or high need, i.e. rural areas. If your company is developed in other areas of the country, a minimum $1,000,000 investment will be necessary. You must also assure that your investment supports at least ten full-time jobs for qualified U.S. workers. These must be permanent positions.

Through asylum or refugee status. If the U.S. government has granted you asylum, you may be eligible for permanent residency after one year of your entry into the United States. This remains the case only so long as your asylum or refugee status has not been terminated.

Through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. America is the great melting pot. If you reside in a country that has low rates of immigration into the United States, you may apply for an annual lottery for a Visa. As many as 50,000 immigrants may win a Visa through the DV program.

Moving On

Once you have established U.S. citizenship or legal residency, you are on the path to securing health care access through Medicare. Next step: you have to show medical need by either age or disability.


Chronic Conditions Data Warehouse. Medicare Enrollment Charts. Updated April 25, 2015. Accessed June 5, 2015.

mium Calculator. 

Official Web Site of the Department of Homeland Security - U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Green Card. ​ Updated May 13, 2011. 

U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs. The Diversity Visa Process.