Benefit Bulletin: December 2015

Benefit Bulletin: December 2015

Why A Border Wall Won’t Fix Future Social Security’s Immigration Problems

Even if Congress were to agree on an immigration plan, walls and deportation alone would not solve Social Security’s immigration problem. That’s because about 40% of the 11.5 million undocumented workers living in the U.S., never sneaked in. To the contrary, a six-month tourist visa is one of the most common routes for people who want to come to this country. According to immigration advocates and immigration data, many foreign tourists simply never left.

Little is known about the overstayers because the government isn’t counting. In 2013, The Wall Street Journal reported there were an estimated four to five million people who stayed beyond their legal limit. And according to the Social Security Administration, overstayers often use expired visas to work, and then can become qualified for Social Security benefits.

In 2008, TSCL released an estimate of the number of beneficiaries receiving Social Security based on unauthorized work, by TSCL’s Social Security policy consultant, and Advisor editor, Mary Johnson. Mary projected that by January 1, 2010, an estimated 180,000 people would be entitled to Social Security benefits based on unauthorized work under fraudulent Social Security Numbers or expired visas.

In 2013 the Social Security’s Office of the Actuary confirmed this, stating there were about 180,000 unauthorized immigrants who currently drew Social Security as of January 1, 2010. However, estimates of the cost of benefits varied widely. The Social Security Actuaries estimated that the 180,000 beneficiaries received roughly $1 billion. But Mary’s estimate was much higher — $2.8 billion. Mary based her estimate on the “maximum family benefit” amount. That includes not only the retiree’s benefit, but also the potential maximum amount of benefits received by dependents on the account, like a retiree’s spouse, divorced spouse(s), aged parents and minor children.

TSCL supports legislation that would protect Social Security from massive pay-outs of benefits based on unauthorized work while immigrants were working here illegally.


Sources: “Many In U.S. Illegally Overstayed Their Visas,” Sara Murray, The Wall Street Journal, April 7, 2013. “Rubio Says 40% Of Illegal Immigrants Stayed In The U.S. After Their Visas Expired,” Joshua Gillin,, July 29, 2015. “Effects of Unauthorized Immigration On the Actuarial Status Of The Social Security Trust Funds,” Social Security Administration Office of the Chief Actuary, April 2013.