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U.S. Immigration and Social Security Numbers

The Social Security Administration is responsible for assigning social security numbers and issuing social security cards. The SSA has well-established rules regarding who may be assigned a social security number and what evidence must be presented to proved eligibility. Assignment of social security numbers is a common concern for recent immigrants and non-immigrant's visiting the United States for employment or non-employment related purposes. Lawful permanent residents need SSN's for employment purposes, to open bank accounts and for many other important purposes. Non-immigrants who are authorized to work in the U.S. need an SSN for the same reasons. Many non-immigrants who are not authorized to work in the U.S. still must have a SSN for various reasons. This article discusses who qualifies for SSNs and how to apply.

Who Qualifies?

The SSA regulations set forth three classes of non-citizens who may be assigned a SSN:

  1. Lawful permanent residents
  2. Non-immigrants who were lawfully admitted and whose class of admission allows for lawful employment
  3. Non-immigrants who were lawfully admitted who are not authorized to work but have a valid non-employment reason for requesting an SSN

A valid non-employment reason exists if:

  • A federal statute or regulation requires you to have a SSN in order to receive a federally-funded benefit and you are otherwise entitled to receive the benefit; or
  • A state or local law requires you to have a SSN in order to receive public assistance benefits to which you are otherwise entitlement and you are legally in the United States.

The SSA WILL NOT issue a Social Security Card for other non-work purposes such as: obtaining a driver’s license; applying for cell phone service; credit card applications; mortgages; bank accounts; marriage and professional licenses; insurance; admission to academic institutions; and financial aid for student loans. Social Security Cards issued for non-employment purposes will include a statement on the face of the card indicating it is not valid for employment purposes. The SSA will also keep a record of this and will notify the Department of Homeland Security if any earnings are reported against a SSN not valid for employment.

Required Evidence to Establish Eligibility

In general an applicant for a SSN must submit documentary evidence which establishes the applicant's:

  • Age
  • U.S. citizenship or alien status
  • True identity

SSA regulations proscribe the types of evidence it will accept to meet these requirements which are outlined below. The SSA WILL NOT accept photocopies of the required documentary evidence—the documents must be original or certified copies.

Evidence of Age. An applicant can establish his age with a birth certificate, passport, religious record show date of birth or hospital record of birth.

Evidence of Identity. Acceptable evidence for establishing one's identity includes: a driver's license or identity card; passport; DHS document; school record; medical record; marriage record; or other similar document serving to identify the individual. The document must include:

  • The applicant's name
  • The applicant's age, date of birth, or parents' names
  • A photograph or physical description of the individual

Passports or other government issued photo identification are the bests types of identity evidence.

Evidence of Alien Status. Evidence of lawful alien status must be proven by submitting a document issued by the Department of Homeland Security which shows that the applicant has been lawfully admitted to the U.S. As a lawful permanent resident or in a non-immigrant category that allows for lawful employment. The SSA presumes that all non-immigrant aliens have permission to engage in employment if they present a valid Form I-94 issued by the Department of Homeland Security that reflects an admission classification permitting work (i.e. H1B, O1, L1, TN.)

Additional Requirements for F1 Students

SSA regulations require F1 students who have not been issued an Employment Authorization Document by DHS to submit additional supporting documentation when applying for a SSN. F1 students applying for a SSN must submit the following additional documentation:

  • SEVIS Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status
  • Documentation showing the nature of the employment you are or will be engaged in
  • Documentation establishing the identification of the employer for whom you are or will be working
  • Documentation that you are engaged in or have secured employment such as a letter from your employer.

An applicant who qualifies for a SSN and has the required supporting documentation may submit an application for a SSN by completing and submitting Form SS-5 and filing it with the SSA. All applicants who are 12 or older must attend an in-person interview at the SSA.

ITINs –Tax Identification Numbers for Foreign Nationals Who Don't Qualify for SSNs

Some foreign nationals including those who are neither non-immigrants or lawful permanent residents may not qualify for a SSN but need a U.S. for tax purposes. The IRS will issue an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number or ITIN to any person who is required to have a U.S. taxpayer identification number but is not eligible for a SSN. ITINs are issued irrespective of immigration status but an applicant must have an IRS filing requirement and must file a federal income tax return to receive an ITIN.

A foreign national can request an ITIN by submitting Form W-7 with their federal income tax return.

If you have a U.S. immigration law issue and would like legal assistance please contact immigration attorney Philip C. Curtis.