Legal Loophole Allows Benefits Based On Illegal Work

Legal Loophole Allows Benefits Based On Illegal Work

A loop-hole in current Social Security law could allow millions of Mexican workers and their dependents to eventually collect Social Security benefits for earnings while working under fraudulent, or non-work-authorized, Social Security numbers.

Under current law, if an illegal immigrant eventually gets a work-authorized Social Security number through "guest worker" immigration legislation, or work covered under the Totalization Agreement, that worker could then eventually apply for Social Security benefits once eligibility requirements are met.  Regardless of citizenship status, once an immigrant has a "work-authorized" Social Security number, that person may claim credit for all earnings, even those earned while working illegally.

The Social Security Administration maintains an "earnings suspense file" which tracks wages sent in by employers, for earnings that cannot be posted to individual workers' records because there is no match for the name and Social Security number.  The Congressional Research Service reports that wages represented in the earnings suspense file currently amount to approximately $520 billion.  According to Social Security Administration Inspector Patrick P. O'Carroll, "We believe the chief cause of wage items being posted to the earnings suspense file instead of an individual's earning record is unauthorized work by noncitizens."

Sources:  "Social Security Benefits for Noncitizens," Congressional Research Service, July 20, 2006, RL32004.

January 2007