Social Security Number

Social Security Number

Download the fillable form in English.

A Social Security Number or SSN is the most important number assigned to a person living in the United States, and is legally allowed to work. This number is required in order to open a bank account, obtain a credit card, get a driver’s license, buy a car, get domestic health insurance (as opposed to travel insurance), and open a retirement account. The SSN is also needed for employment purposes and for filing tax returns. If you are eligible to apply for one, you should do so as soon as possible. 

Many companies will use the social security number as an identifying number; for example, your driver’s license number and your insurance policy number may be the same as your social security number. However, due to privacy concerns, more and more establishments have started assigning numbers other than the social security number for their purposes. Additionally, a person’s entire credit history can be tracked using their social security number.

Applying for a Social Security Number

Social Security Numbers are assigned by the Social Security Administration, which has offices located in most major areas. You can find the nearest Social Security office by visiting their web site or by calling their toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213. In order to work in the United States, you will need to visit a Social Security office with your Passport and other eligibility documents such as an EAD (Work Permit). You can either collect the form (available in English and several other languages) from the office or you can Download the fillable form in English. In addition to other information, the form requires a local mailing address where the card can be mailed. The officer at the Social Security office will check your application form, passport, and any other relevant eligibility documents. Once everything is in order, the officer will inform you that you will receive your social security card in the mail within a few weeks. When you receive your card, it will have a social security number, your name, and any necessary restrictions printed on it. You should preserve this card very carefully. A social security number is assigned to a person only once in his or her lifetime.

If you had applied for and received a ITIN at an earlier time because you were not eligible for a SSN, you should rescind the ITIN as soon as you obtain a SSN.

SSN Types

There are three types social security numbers. 

1. Unrestricted card
An unrestricted card is given to U.S. citizens and permanent residents (those with green cards). This card has no annotations and the person to whom it is issued is free to work legally in the U.S. for any employer without obtaining permission from a government agency. 

2. Restricted card
This type of social security card has the annotation “VALID FOR WORK ONLY WITH USCIS AUTHORIZATION.” A restricted card is given to temporary employees, such as H1 or L1 workers, who are working for a sponsoring employer.

3. Non-work card
A non-work card has the annotation “NOT VALID FOR EMPLOYMENT.” This type of card is issued on a limited basis to certain types of workers. Federal, state, and local laws require some workers to obtain particular benefits or services to which they are entitled. If the worker is legally residing in the U.S., they are entitled to obtain this type of card. See below for more information.

Non-Working Legal Non-immigrants

Please note that social security numbers are no longer issued to H4 or visitor visa holders who are not legal to work. A SSN will not be issued simply for banking or other purposes. The Social Security office uses a form letter to explain to those applying for a card that a bank must file a form W-8 instead. Some states require that a person have a social security card in order to get a driver’s license, however, the Social Security Administration (SSA) maintains that a SSN cannot be issued solely for the purpose of obtaining a driver’s license. A SSN is to be used only for tracking a person’s lifetime earnings. 

After Form I-140 (petition for an immigrant worker) is approved for a H1 visa holder, he or she can apply for their spouse’s work permit (Employment Authorization Document form I-765/I-766). Once an EAD card is obtained, one can apply for a social security number at a Social Security Office if they bring their passport and follow instructions. 

Download the fillable form in English.

Important Points

  1. Since September 1, 2002, the SSA has used a “total verification” policy with respect to immigration documents. Social Security numbers will only be issued after completion of a document verification and a status check using the USCIS Systemic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program.

  2. If SAVE data does not show the applicants information, the SSA must manually prepare a Form G-845 along with copies of the applicant’s relevant documents. This packet is then forwarded to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for verification. 

  3. All I-94 documents are sent to a central processing place for updates. I-94 information is not updated directly into the computer at the port of entry. Therefore, it may take a couple of days for the information to become available in the SAVE database.

  4. After entering the United States, one should wait fifteen days before applying for a SSN. By that time the SAVE database will have been updated with all relevant information and the SSA will not initiate a manual verification process. 

  5. Manual verification can take anywhere between four and twelve weeks.

  6. When you receive the Social Security card by mail, make sure to save the envelope it came in. It may be helpful to prove your residence address in some cases.

The SSN Digits

Each nine-digit Social Security number is divided into three parts separated by two dashes. For example, 123-45-6789. 

The first three digits of the SSN are the area number. For numbers assigned prior to 1973, the area number indicates the specific Social Security office from which the card was issued. After 1973, blocks of numbers were allocated to each state. The area number now indicates the state used in the mailing address on the SSN application. The state is derived from the zip code in the mailing address. The middle two digits refer to the group number and have no geographical significance. They are used simply to break the SSN into conveniently-sized blocks for use in internal operations regarding the order of issuance. The last four digits of the SSN are the serial number and represent a straight numerical series of numbers from 0001-9999 within each group.

SSN’s are not reassigned when a person dies. Benefits may be payable to dependents and survivors of a SSN holder long after they die, and the number is used to administer the payments of benefits. The current nine-digit number system accounts for almost one billion SSNs. Between 1936 and 1993 roughly three-hundred and ninety-two million SSNs were been issued, leaving almost two-thirds of the remaining number combinations available for assignment. More than five million new numbers are assigned each year. Since the 1993 fiscal year, over sixteen million Social Security cards were issued. Of this number, approximately six million were original cards and ten million were replacements.

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