As soon as you arrive in the US on a work visa, you should apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) as soon as possible. The SSN is required for the following purposes:
- Working in the U.S.
- Getting Social Security benefits
- Getting services from banks and other financial institutions
- Paying taxes or be listed as a dependent on a tax return
- Receiving other government services
How to Get a SSN
Getting an SSN is a simple procedure. The steps are as follows:
- Go to the nearest Social Security Administration (SSA) office
- Fill out an Application For a Social Security Card (Form SS-5)
- Show original documents or copies certified by the issuing agency proving your immigration status including a work permit from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), passport, and identification card (ID)
- Get a receipt
- Receive your SSN card in 2-3 weeks in the mail at the home address you provided on the application form
If you are in the US on an H-1B visa, you will be asked to provide the following documents at the SSA office:
- Form I-551 (includes machine-readable immigrant visa with your unexpired foreign passport);
- I-94 with your unexpired foreign passport; or
- Work permit card from the Department of Homeland Security (I-766 or I-688B).
Why Should I Apply for a Social Security Number?
On an H-1B visa, a social security number is required in the US to work legally. The SSN is a unique number given by the social security administration (SSA). Every individual is required to be registered with the government by law. Your social security number is a 9 digit number made up of 3 parts called the AREA (XXX), GROUP (XX), and SERIAL (XXXX). The first 3 digits represent the state where you applied. The other parts are unique.
Why is it Important to Keep Your Social Security Number Private?
You must protect your SSN just like other important documents such as your passport, I-797, etc. You are not required to show your social security card everywhere and you do not need to carry your card with you. Initially, you will need your SSN to work in the U.S., open a bank account, and obtain benefits from U.S. agencies. The social security number is also used by the Internal Revenue Service as an identifier in processing your tax returns. You will also need it to apply for a drivers license, phone, internet, or cable connection.
Your social security number is frequently used as an identification number to access many computer databases like your bank account, credit report, tax information, etc. As such, it can essentially grant you access to all of your important accounts. Because of this, there is a risk of fraud if someone else uses your SSN to access your bank account, credit accounts, utilities records, and other important information. Therefore, you must protect your SSN.
Social Security Number for Green Card Holders
This section is for those who have come to the U.S. as permanent residents or Green Card holders. A SSN is required for a permanent resident to live in the U.S.
There are 2 ways you can apply for a SSN:
- You can apply for a Green Card at the same time as submitting your visa application before coming to the U.S. You will be required to fill out a US Department of State (DoS) Form DS-230 (Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration) or the electronic Form DS-260 (Immigrant Visa Electronic Application). You need not go to a SSN office or fill out a separate SSN application form. The DoS and the Department of Homeland Security will coordinate to issue you a SSN card. The card will be issued to you after you come to the U.S. You will receive the SSN card by mail 3 weeks after you arrive in the country. Please contact the SSN office if you do not receive the card within 3 weeks or if you change your address.
- If you do not apply for a SSN with your visa, then go to your nearest SSN office when you arrive to the U.S. to apply for a card. This process will take a minimum of 2 weeks. The following documents are required:
- Your passport with the Machine-Readable Immigrant Visa (MRIV) or Permanent Resident Card (Form I-551).
- Your birth certificate and a birth certificate for each family member applying for a SSN.
Social Security Number for Nonimmigrants
Here are the required documents for a SSN application for non-immigrant visa holders like F1 visa, H-1B visa, etc.:
- Application for SS-5 (available at a SSA office or online)
- Valid passport
- Original SEVIS I-20 (for F-1 visa holders) or DS-2019 (for J-1/J-2 visa holders)
- A printout of your I-94 Arrival/Departure Record
- Proof of employment eligibility such as a job offer letter, I-20 endorsed for CPT, or Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card
- Social security letter from OIS
I Lost My SSN. What Do I Do to Replace a Lost Card?
You must inform the SSA about a stolen or lost SSN card. You can replace your card without any additional cost if it is lost or stolen. You can only replace your SSN three times a year and up to ten times during your lifetime. Note that legal name changes and other updates do not count toward these limits. For example, if changing your non-citizen status, this will not count towards these limits. If you get a green card and want to change your non-citizen status on your SSN card, you can do this at any time.
To get a replacement card, you will need to:
- Complete the Application For A Social Security Card (Form SS-5)
- Show proof of your identity
- Show evidence of your current legal non-citizen status if you are on a H-1B visa
You will not get a new number. Your replacement card will have the same details and number as your previous card.
How to Find the Closest SSA Office Near You
In order to find the nearest Social Security Administration office, follow these steps:
- Go to https://secure.ssa.gov/ICON/main.jsp
- Type your zip code or look up the zip code for your city
- Get address, timings and directions to the office location
Do not give your social security number to anyone unless it is a trusted establishment and is required. You will be required to give the last four digits of your social security number on many occasions. For example, if you call the customer service number on your cable account, the associate may ask for this number. Giving your number is voluntary, even when you are asked for the number directly. If requested, you may verify:
- Why your number is needed
- If alternate information can be supplied in its place
- How your number will be used
- What happens if you refuse
- What law requires you to give your number
The answers from the associate can help you decide if you want to give your Social Security number or not. However, keep in mind that you may be required to provide this information to access information regarding your account. Providing your social security number is always up to your own discretion.
- Never print your Social Security Number on your checks, business cards, address labels, etc.
- Do not carry your SSN card in your wallet.
- Do not throw away any documents with your SSN information on it
- The local social security office is listed under U.S. Government agencies in your telephone directory or you may call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213.
- If you do not have a telephone directory, you may locate the nearest Social Security office online at http://www.socialsecurity.gov