In the US, applying for a Social Security Number is one of the first steps to complete upon your arrival. Indeed, having a Social Security Number will make many administrative processes, opening a bank account and renting an apartment or a house, for example, much easier. You will also need a SSN to collect Social Security benefits and have access to some other government services. Only non-citizens authorized to work in the United States by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can get a Social Security Number. Therefore, getting a SSN, but also authorization to work, mainly depends on with which visa you are allowed to enter in the US.
The US Social Security Office stresses the point on its website that “Lawfully admitted noncitizens can get many benefits and services without a Social Security number” and gives examples of documents that can be obtained without a SSN: getting a driver’s license, registration at school, obtaining private health insurance, among others. They recognize the fact that most of the time organizations or companies use a SSN to identify you in their records. If you do not have a SSN, however, you can still require them to use other ways to identify you.
Nevertheless, it can happen that you are not allowed to work by DHS and still need a SSN. In this case, you have to prove you need a SSN for a valid non-work reason. If you need a SSN for tax reasons but are not authorized to work by DHS, you have to apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) (Check http://www.irs.gov; Form W-7: application for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number).
Application process for a SSN when you are a noncitizen in the US:
|Ways to apply||Case 1: Application from your home country when filing an application for an immigrant visa with the US Department of State.
Case 2: If not case 1, application in person by visiting your local Social Security Office after your arrival in the US. *
|Main requirement||TO BE AUTHORIZED TO WORK IN THE US.
For this matter, you must present your current immigration documents with your authorization of work to your local Social Security Office, i.e. Form I-94 (showing a class of admission with DHS work authorization: usually it is stapled in your passport along with your visa), Form I-766, I-688B or I-551.
* Special cases for non-citizens:
“If you are not an immigrant or did not apply for a Social Security number on your immigrant visa application, you must have your papers from DHS showing your U.S. immigration status and authorization to work in the United States. Then you should apply for a Social Security number and card by visiting an office. We recommend you wait 10 days after arriving in the United States to apply for a Social Security number. This will make it easier for us to verify your DHS documents online, which will speed processing of your Social Security number application” (US Social Security Website).
Download the form online and fill it out peacefully at home before going to the Chicago Social Security Office. It will avoid wasting time. For your information, the US Social Security Office will not accept photocopies or notarized copies of documents, only originals or copies certified by the issuing agency.
To prove your identity and immigration status, you need the following documents:
- Your current U.S. immigration documents, i.e. Form I-551 (includes machine-readable immigrant visa with your unexpired foreign passport); Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record); or Forms I-766 or I-688B (employment authorization documents).
- Your unexpired foreign passport.
- Exchange visitors (visa J-1 or J-2) also need to show their DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status.
- International students (F-1 or M-1 visa) must show their Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.
Note that to prove your age your unexpired foreign passport will work.
Special documents required for international students authorized to work:
The process will be almost the same as described previously. But concerning your work eligibility you will have to provide more details and documents. The whole process is explained on http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10181.html
Once your application is filed and your original documents shown to your local Social Security Service, your SSN and SS Card will be mailed directly to your personal address. Once you get it, the US Social Security Office advises to keep it in a safe place but never with you as identity theft might occur.
For more information, please check the US Social Security Website: http://www.ssa.gov/
Social Security Office in Chicago
77 WEST JACKSON BLVD
CHICAGO, IL 60604
National Toll-Free 1-800-772-1213
MONDAY – FRIDAY: 09:00 AM – 04:00 PM, except Federal Holidays