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May 19, 2024 10:45 PM
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Foreign-Born Parents Not Mooching Off the Social Security System – Social Security and You

Q: I am sick and tired of all these people who bring their parents over here from foreign countries and then immediately put them on their Social Security account. No wonder Social Security is going broke! I personally know two couples in my neighborhood who get Social Security. They brought their parents up from Mexico and now they are mooching monthly checks off of the Social Security system and bankrupting it. You can’t tell me this isn’t an outrage!

A: It might be an outrage if it were true. But it’s not. Either you are lying about these two couples you “personally know,” or you’ve picked up on some xenophobic neighborhood gossip and fallen for another in the long line of urban myths about Social Security.

I’ll use you as an example. Let’s say you are getting Social Security checks, you have parents living overseas and you bring them here to live with you. And let’s say you want them to get dependent parents’ benefits on your Social Security account. Do you know what you would have to do first?

Die! Yes, that right, you would have to die. Social Security benefits to dependent parents can only be paid on the account of a Social Security taxpayer who has died.

So unless one or both members of the couples in your neighborhood are dead, it simply can’t be true.

But let’s get back to you. Let’s say you conveniently died just so that your parents could get Social Security benefits on your record. It’s not quite that simple. They would have to jump through several other eligibility hoops before the government checks would start rolling in. For one, they would have to prove that you were supporting them before you died. So unless you were sending half your paycheck to your parents before you died to pay their rent and buy their groceries, they simply couldn’t qualify for benefits on your record.

And just to put things in perspective, in the whole country, there are only about 2,000 people getting monthly Social Security checks as a parent on a deceased adult child’s Social Security record. That’s 2,000 people out of about 66 million Social Security beneficiaries. So even those people legally getting parents’ benefits aren’t exactly bankrupting the system!

As long as I’m discussing Social Security benefits and noncitizens, let me clear up some other myths.

The most prevalent myth has to do with undocumented workers, or illegal aliens, as some people refer to them. That myth would have you believe that these folks somehow qualify for Social Security benefits and thus are ripping off the system and the U.S. taxpayer. That is absolutely untrue. In fact, just the opposite is the case: Social Security actuaries point out that undocumented workers (the ones working “above the table” with illegally obtained Social Security numbers) pump many millions of dollars into the Social Security trust funds every year and never collect a dime in benefits.

Another myth has to do with Social Security benefits being sent overseas. This is a half-truth: It is true that many millions of dollars in Social Security benefits are sent to people in other countries every year. (Out of Social Security’s trillion-dollar budget, that is just a tiny trickle.)

Most of that trickle is going to U.S. citizens who have moved overseas after retirement. If you are a U.S. citizen, you can get your Social Security benefits sent to just about any country in the world. There are a few exceptions — places such as Cuba and North Korea and most of those “stan” countries that make up the former Soviet Union (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, etc.).

But what about Social Security benefits to noncitizens overseas? Before I get to that, let me back up a bit. Some may wonder why noncitizens get Social Security benefits in the first place. Well, if you have lived in this country legally, and if you have worked and paid taxes in this country, and assuming you meet all the eligibility requirements, you can qualify for Social Security benefits just like anyone else.

There are many thousands of U.S. citizens who collect Social Security benefits from other countries because they worked and paid into the Social Security programs in those countries. As I always like to point out to my readers, social insurance programs like our Social Security system are a universal phenomenon. Almost every country on the planet has a Social Security system in place for its citizens. And because we live in a global economy where it is not uncommon for people from one country to live and work in another country, many millions of people around the world collect Social Security benefits from other countries.

Anyway, back to non-U.S. citizens getting Social Security benefits. If you are a noncitizen living here legally and you are getting a Social Security benefit that you have worked and paid for, you will get that benefit as long as you continue living in the United States.

But if you move overseas, the rules get a little trickier and messier than they do for U.S. citizens who leave the country. So messy, in fact, that those rules fill a 30-plus page pamphlet that explains them: “Your Payments While You are Outside the United States.” In a nutshell, if you are a noncitizen getting your own retirement benefits, there is a halfway decent chance you will be able to get those benefits sent to many other countries. But if you are a noncitizen getting dependent or survivor benefits from a spouse, your chances of getting those benefits shipped overseas grows slimmer and slimmer.

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