Such agreements create a legal framework for the coordination of social security systems between countries. They provide the legal framework to protect the rights of migrant workers and fill gaps in social security. The agreements ensure that periods of employment in other signatory countries are taken into account in the granting of the right to social benefits for migrant workers who depend on the completion of a qualification period. To qualify for benefits under the U.S. Social Security program, a worker must have earned enough work credits, known as insurance quarters, to meet the “insurance status requirements” specified. For example, a worker who turns 62 in 1991 or later generally needs 40 calendar terms to be insured for old age pensions. As part of a totalization agreement, SSA accounts for periods of coverage acquired by the worker under the social security program of a contracting country when a worker has some U.S. insurance coverage but is not sufficient to qualify for benefits. Similarly, a country that is a party to an agreement with the United States takes into account a worker`s coverage under the U.S. program when it is required for that country`s social security benefits. If the combined credits in the two countries allow the worker to meet the eligibility requirements, a partial benefit may be paid depending on the proportion of the worker`s total career in the paying country.
Workers who have shared their careers between the United States and a foreign country may not be entitled to pensions, survivor benefits or disability insurance (pensions) from one or both countries because they have not worked long or recently enough to meet minimum conditions. Under an agreement, these workers may benefit from partially U.S. or foreign benefits on the basis of combined or “totalized” coverage credits from both countries. One of the general beliefs about the U.S. agreements is that they allow dual-coverage workers or their employers to choose the system to which they will contribute. That is not the case. The agreements also do not change the basic rules for covering the social security legislation of the participating countries, such as those that define covered income or work. They simply free workers from coverage under the system of either country if, if not, their work falls into both regimes. Although the agreements with Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Japan do not use the rule of residence as the main determinant of self-employment coverage, each of them contains a provision guaranteeing that workers are insured and taxed in a single country. For more information on these agreements, click here on our website or in writing to the Social Security Administration (SSA) under the Conclusion section, below. Under certain conditions, a worker may be exempt from coverage in a contracting country, even if he or she has not been transferred directly from the United States.
For example, when a U.S. company sends an employee from its New York office to work for four years in its Hong Kong office and then re-employs its employee for an additional four years in its London office, the employee may be released from the United Kingdom.