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Immigrants without Social Security numbers are not eligible for stimulus checks

March 12, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: “Illegal aliens” will receive a $1,400 stimulus check through the COVID-19 relief bill. 

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Partly false. The vast majority of immigrants without lawful status in the U.S. do not have Social Security numbers and cannot receive a $1,400 stimulus check. A small number of people who entered the U.S. on a temporary work visa and were issued Social Security numbers may be able to receive a payment, even if they overstayed their visas. 

THE FACTS: On Wednesday, President Joe Biden and Democrats claimed victory as Congress approved a sweeping $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, which would provide many Americans with a direct $1,400 payment based on income. 

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Several misleading claims swirled online as to who would receive the payment. One Facebook post stated: “Illegal aliens will receive $1400 stimulus checks.” 

But in fact, the COVID-19 relief package excludes most immigrants in the country without legal permission, as did the two previous packages that passed under the Trump administration.

The relief package’s text states that “any nonresident alien individual” is not eligible for a stimulus check. Both relief packages passed during the Trump administration used the same language. According to the Internal Revenue Service, a nonresident alien is “an alien who has not passed the green card test” or “the substantial presence test,” which refers to the portion of the year someone is physically present in the country. But whether someone will receive a stimulus check really comes down to whether they have a Social Security number. 

“For the most part, no unauthorized immigrants will receive the $1,400 stimulus payments,” said Julia Gelatt, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute in an email to The Associated Press. “In order to receive a payment, someone must have a valid Social Security number issued by the Social Security Administration.” 

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According to a recent estimate by the Center for Migration Studies, a think tank focused on international migration, there were 10.35 million immigrants living in the country without legal status in 2019. Most of them do not have Social Security numbers. 

However, there are some people who entered the U.S. on valid temporary work visas who received a Social Security number while on that visa. Those who overstayed their visas may qualify for a stimulus check, but experts say the number of people in this category is small.

“We don’t know how many unauthorized immigrants overstayed a temporary work visa that grants access to a Social Security number, but again, it’s likely to be a pretty small number,” Gelatt said. “And we will still have to see if the IRS really issues payments to people with a Social Security number that is no longer authorized for work.” 

Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas offered an amendment to the bill last week, seeking to block people who are not “lawfully present” from receiving a check. Democrats shot down the amendment since it would have prevented mixed-status households from receiving payment.

Gelatt noted that the most recent COVID-19 relief package, unlike prior ones, allows immigrant parents in the country without legal permission to receive a payment for their U.S. citizen children only. Advocates for the bill said Cruz’s amendment would have invalidated that provision. 

During the first round of stimulus payments in March 2020, U.S. citizens and permanent residents were denied checks if they filed a joint tax return with a spouse who was not in the country legally and did not have a Social Security number. The second relief package that passed in December 2020 made $600 stimulus checks available to those U.S. citizens and permanent residents in mixed-status families. That legislation still left out over 2 million U.S. citizen children whose parents were both ineligible to receive checks because they were in the country illegally, according to AP reporting

While social media users falsely suggested stimulus checks would automatically be distributed on a large scale to immigrants in the country illegally, immigrant rights advocates criticized the reality that most in fact cannot receive checks.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said in a statement that “Congress unconscionably still continues to exclude” these immigrants from receiving stimulus checks, “even as many of these same immigrants are working in essential roles and ensuring that our communities are able to weather this prolonged health crisis.”

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.