Recently one of my colleagues asked whether his client who had been deported (now called “removal”) could receive Social Security benefits. I thought this was an intriguing question so I decided to research it. The answer is generally, “no,” but it depends upon the year in which the removal took place and the section of law that it was under. Our current law is contained in Section 202(n)(1) of the Social Security Act. (You will need to scroll down on the page to see the applicable section.) It basically states that once the Department of Homeland Security notifies the Social Security Administration that an individual has been removed, Social Security will terminate benefits. Benefits will resume again if and when the individual returns to the United States as a lawful permanent resident. For most people, this means that means at least a ten year wait abroad. Of course there also has to be a legal way for the person to return.
Dependants or suvivors of workers fare better. Even though the individual worker may have been removed, a dependent or a person entilted to survivors benefits may receive the benefits as long as they: (1) are U.S. Citizens or (2) presnet in the United States for the entire month(s) after the worker has been removed from the United States. If you would like to see the actual text of the regulation, it is contained at 20 C.F.R. Section 404.464.
Generally someone who has worked long enough in the United States to earn Social Security benefits would have been in the United States long enough to have been elgibile for citizenship. It is a shame that he or she loses benefits (and is removed from the United States) when both removal and the non-receipt of benefits could have been potentially avoided had he or she simply applied for citizenship.