Generally, only nonimmigrants authorized to work in the United States by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can get a Social Security Number (SSN).
SSNs are used to report an individual’s wages to the government and to determine a person’s eligibility for Social Security benefits. Individuals require a valid Social Security number to work, collect Social Security benefits and receive some other government services.
Lawfully admitted nonimmigrants can obtain many benefits and services without a Social Security number. An SSN is not required to obtain a driver’s license, to register for school, to acquire private health insurance, or to apply for school lunch programs or subsidized housing.
Although many companies, such as banks and credit companies, may ask for an SSN, a nonimmigrant visa holder is generally not required to provide one if they do not have one. If an individual who is not authorized to work in the United States needs a number for tax purposes, they can apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
How to obtain a Social Security Number (SSN)
All nonimmigrants must visit a Social Security office in person to apply for an SSN. An individual is required to have documentation from DHS showing their U.S. immigration status and authorization to work in the United States.
Garfinkel Immigration Law Firm recommends waiting at least three days after arriving in the United States to apply for an SSN. This will make it easier for the Social Security Administration to verify DHS documents online.
Applying for an SSN and card is free. To apply:
- Complete an Application for a Social Security Card (Form SS-5)
- Present at least two original documents proving
- Work-authorized immigration status
All documents presented to the Social Security Administration (SSA) must be either originals or copies certified by the issuing agency. The SSA cannot accept photocopies or notarized copies of documents. The SSA cannot accept a receipt showing an individual applied for the document.
The SSA may use one document for two purposes. For example, the SSA may use a DHS work permit as proof of both identity and work-authorized immigration status. A birth certificate or passport may serve as proof of age. However, an individual must provide at least two separate documents.
The SSA will mail the SSN number and card as soon as it has all the required information and verified the documents with the issuing office.
Proving Identity and work-authorized immigration status
To prove identity and work-authorized immigration status, an individual must show the SSA their current U.S. immigration documents and unexpired foreign passport. Acceptable immigration documents include:
- Visa; AND
- Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record) OR Form I-766 (Employment Authorization Card)
An individual must present their foreign birth certificate if they have it or can get it within 10 business days. If not, the SSA can consider other documents, such as a passport or a document issued by DHS, as evidence of age.
Obtaining an SSN for other reasons
A nonimmigrant visa holder who is not authorized by DHS to work in the U.S. can only obtain an SSN if they can prove they need it for a valid non-work reason.
That might happen, for example, if a state or federal law requires an individual to have an SSN to obtain benefits to which they have already established entitlement.
The Social Security Administration cannot assign an SSN solely so that an individual can get a driver’s license or a service that requires a credit check.