Foreign nationals who are authorized to work in the US need to acquire a Social Security Number (http://www.socialsecurity.gov). This Social Security Number is used to report the individual’s wages to the government and it also used to determine a person’s eligibility for Social Security benefits.
The common perception is that foreign nationals need to have a social security number before they can do anything in the US; this, however, is not entirely true as a foreign national can obtain a driver’s license, register for school, obtain private health insurance or apply for schemes like subsidized housing without having a social security number. However, a foreign national is often asked for Social Security number if he/she wants to get a cell phone contract or needs to have some other service that requires a credit check. Banks and other agencies are often willing accept other forms of identification if the foreign national does not have a social security number.
Foreign nationals who arrive in the US on immigrant visas are expected to have filed an application for a Social Security Number at the time of filing for their immigrant visas. This is not the case for those foreign nationals who come to the US on temporary work visas. In order to acquire a Social Security number they have to visit their local Social Security office.
It is advisable to wait for 10 days after your arrival in the US to apply for a Social Security Number as it then makes it easier for the Social Security department to verify the documents that have been issued to you by the Department of Homeland Security online. You can call the Social Security hotline by calling 1-800-772-1213 from Monday to Friday from 7am to 7pm to verify they have the information and to schedule an appointment at your local social security office. For a listing of the social security offices in New York City, visit the website of the Social Security department at (http://www.ssa.gov/ny).
Forms and procedure
In order to get a Social Security Number and card you have to first fill out Form SS-5 (http://www.ssa.gov/online/ss-5.html)
Provide documentary proof of your age, identity, immigration status and work eligibility.
Additionally the Social Security Office only accepts original copies or copies certified by the issuing agency. The Social Security Office does not accept photocopies or even notarized copies.
Accepted documentary evidence for immigration status:
• Form I-551 (which includes the machine-readable immigrant visa coupled with an unexpired foreign passport);
• Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record); or
• Forms I-766 or I-688B (employment authorization documents).
If you are student on an F-1, J-1, or M-1 Visa and are working on campus or by special arrangement with the school, your earnings are generally not covered or taxable for Social Security purposes though other work generally is covered and taxable. If you do happen to need a Social Security Number then in addition to the above mentioned documents you have to show your DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status in the case of J1 or J2 exchange visa holders or the Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Non immigrant Student Status in the case of F-1 or M-1 Visa holders.
Accepted proof of Age
Your birth certificate, if you can obtain it, is the document used by the department of Social Security to determine your age, however the department will even accept your passport or a document issued by the DHS as proof of age.
You should receive your Social Security Number in the mail within two weeks of submitting your application and documents. The time taken to issue your Social Security Number depends on the time that the DHS takes to verify your documents.