As a legal alien who has a visa allowing you to work in the U.S., you must obtain a federally issued Social Security number, which is issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA). It is used as your identification number by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for charging you the annual federal income tax. Working without a social security number or not providing an employer with a social security number is illegal.
Legally, you only have to get a social security number to prove work eligibility and are not required to get one if you are merely a resident in the U.S., but not working. However, life without a social security number in the U.S. is almost impossible as you may find it challenging to prove identity or obtain services (phone, bank account, electricity service, etc). If you are the head of the household, it is best to get a social security number regardless of whether you are working or not.
Many institutions and businesses, such as utility service companies, credit card companies, insurance companies and banks use social security numbers for identification and ask for it. Banks will also use it to report any income from interest you may have earned. If you do not have a social security number and ask to have other documentation accepted, companies may be willing to use other valid IDs, such as your passport and your Texas Driver’s License.
Once you are permitted to work in the U.S. and have a valid visa, it is recommended to apply for a social security number right away. There are two ways to obtain your Social Security number:
- Apply in your home country when filing for your Visa. (http://www.ssa.gov/ssnvisa), OR
- Wait about 10 days after arrival in the U.S. and then visit a Social Security Office in Houston to apply (see below). You will need:
- Completed ‘Application For A Social Security Card’ (Form SS-5 http://www.socialsecurity.gov/online/ss-5.html)
- Two different original documents for proof of identity:
- A picture ID (i.e. passport, valid drivers license)
- Proof of immigration status (i.e. I-94, I-20)
- Proof of work eligibility (i.e. I-94, I-551, Visa or Greencard)
- Proof of age (such as a passport or birth certificate).
It is important that you show two different types of ID.
Applying in your home country is by far the most practical method of getting your card. You avoid having to visit the Social Security Office when you arrive in the States and the card will automatically arrive to your mailing address about 3 weeks after your arrival.
You will be issued one of the following Social Security Cards:
- Working in the U.S. with restriction
The card contains your name, assigned social security number and the note “VALID FOR WORK ONLY WITH DHS AUTHORIZATION”. DHS stands for the Department of Homeland Security, formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service. You will need to show your approval to work in the U.S. (Visa or Greencard) along with your Social Security Card when applying for a job. This is probably the most common type of card that expatriates own who are allowed to work in the U.S.
- Not working in the U.S.
The card contains your name, assigned social security number and the note “NOT VALID FOR EMPLOYMENT”. You get this card if you are not approved to work but need it for a non-work reason, such as receiving benefits for which you are entitled to (federal, state or local).
- Working in the U.S. without restrictions
The card contains your name and assigned social security number and is generally only assigned to U.S. citizens. As an expatriate, you will only get this card after you become a naturalized U.S. citizen.
For more information, contact:
- Social Security Administration – 800-772-1214 and 1213, www.ssa.gov
There are many different locations for Social Security offices and you can check the website at https://secure.ssa.gov/apps6z/FOLO/fo001.jsp for the one nearest you.
Here are a couple locations for quick reference:
• 8989 Lakes At 610 Dr, Houston, TX 77054 (downtown)
• 3100 Smith, Houston, TX 77006 (downtown)
• 16200 Dillard Dr, Houston, TX 77040 (northwest Houston)
If you do not qualify for a social security number but need an identification for tax purposes, you need to get an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), which is assigned by the IRS to you and possibly your spouse and children. To obtain an ITIN, you need to file IRS form W-7. Visit http://www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=96287,00.htmlfor more information.