What is a Social Security Card?
A Social Security card is required for everyone who works in the U.S., even non-immigrants. On the card will be a unique Social Security Number (SSN) that you will keep for life. You will need the number for many purposes in the U.S. including employment and paying taxes. A Social Security card is not a work permit. For more information, visit the Social Security Administration's website.
Who is eligible to apply for a Social Security Number?
- F-1 students with a job offer letter and/or work permission
- J-1 students with a job offer and work permission from their DS-2019 sponsor
- J-1 visiting scholars
- J-2 dependents with work permission from USCIS (EAD)
- Individuals with other types of immigration status allowing employment
Note: F-2 dependents are not eligible for Social Security Numbers.
An SSN is issued once per lifetime. If you have previously had a SSN, but do not have the card or do not remember the number, you can apply for a duplicate card if you meet the eligibility requirements above.
Applications made too early may be rejected or delayed beyond the usual processing time. Students and visiting scholars must be physically present in the U.S. to apply for an SSN. The Social Security Administration (SSA) is required to verify your legal entry into the U.S. before issuing an SSN. You must wait at least 10 days after entering or re-entering the US to apply in order for your admission record to be verified.
F-1 and J-1 Students
- New students must wait at least 10 days after completing their Required Arrival Confirmation and US Address Reporting AND must meet the requirements for "Continuing students," below
- Continuing students can apply no more than 30 days before:
- F-1 On-campus employment start date on the offer letter
- F-1 Curricular Practical Training (CPT) start date on their I-20
- J-1 On-campus employment start date on the J-1 On-Campus Authorization Form
- Students on post-completion training can apply no earlier than:
- F-1 students on Optional Practical Training (OPT) who have not applied for the SSN on their I-765 EAD application form: start date on their Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
- J-1 students on Academic Training: 30 days before the Academic Training start date on their DS-2019
New J-1 visiting scholars must wait at least ten calendar days after entering the U.S and the submission of the “Scholar Arrival Notification” form to Berkeley International Office (both must be true).
J-2 dependents must have an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), and can apply for the SSN no earlier than the start date of the EAD.
Working While Awaiting an SSN
You may work while the Social Security number application is being processed. There is no provision in the law that requires employers to have their employees’ SSNs before hiring them. There is no provision that prohibits an employee from beginning work if he or she has not yet obtained an SSN. However, you must have employment authorization from your program sponsor or USCIS before you begin working.
If your employer has concerns regarding starting work while you are waiting for the SSN, this Employer Responsibilities When Hiring Foreign Workers webpage from the Social Security Administration is helpful to review.
International F-1 or J-1 students may also find this International Students and Social Security Numbers publication from the Social Security Administration helpful for employers to understand their SSN requirements.
Social Security Number Safety
Although an SSN is only meant to be used for tax and government purposes, it is often used by financial institutions, businesses, and others as a unique identification number. Because the SSN is a unique ID, it is often the target of “identity theft”. Therefore you should be very careful about where and to whom you give your SSN.
- Never carry your Social Security card or number with you. Keep it at home in a secure place.
- Only give your SSN to someone who has a specific and legitimate need for it.
- Be very careful with any forms, applications or other materials that may have your SSN on them.
- Never give your SSN to someone who phones you. You should initiate the call or meet in person.
- Never reply to email or web sites that request an SSN.
Business Uses for Social Security Numbers
Most businesses do not need an SSN from you unless it is for credit purposes (loans, credit cards, cell phone companies, etc.) If a business requests an SSN solely for ID purposes, you can request that the business create an ID for you. You do not need an SSN to open bank accounts. If a bank clerk insists on an SSN, ask to speak to a manager.