Greenberg Traurig, LLP  




GT Business Immigration Observer
January 2003

Issuance of Social Security Numbers - Not a Precise Science

Beginning September 2002, the Social Security Administration ("SSA") initiated a new procedure to verify the identity and immigration status of applicants with the Immigration and Naturalization Service ("INS"). Following the call for tighter security after the September 11 attacks, national security concerns regarding use of false social security numbers came to the forefront.

As a result, today, before a social security number is issued to a foreign national, their immigration status is checked with INS. A computer system is used by SSA that allows it to check limited information which is provided by INS regarding the status of individuals.

Recent reports indicate that it may take 11 to 13 working days for the information the INS inputs to be available to the SSA after an individual enters the U.S. While this may seem efficient, it has also been noted that the information in the database is not always correct. In April 2002, the Department of Justice admitted that the unreliability of the database continues to be a problem.

When incorrect information has been entered in to the database, the SSA has no way of knowing of the data entry error. However, as a result of the incorrect information, SSA will not issue the social security number. Even though the applicant may present an original approval notice, passport, I-94 card, the SSA will not issue the number. Attempts to resolve the problem are quite difficult as SSA has no mechanism with which to verify the information in the database. Incorrect information can include and individuals date of birth, country of birth or the spelling of a first or last name.

The protocol for the SSA when it cannot confirm the immigration status in the database is to check a second database once the individual has been in the country more than 10 days. INS has 20 working days to respond to the second database inquiry. If no response is received after 20 working days, the SSA is instructed to contact the local INS office to verify the immigration status. If the local INS office does not respond, the SSA Regional Office will contact the INS local office. At this point, the initial application may have been delayed for well over a month.

The implications of incorrect data entry are severe for the individual. Spouses and dependents with work authorization have difficulties complying with employer payroll procedures, companies have difficulties with ensuring tax provisions and deductions are appropriately applied. Outside of the work environment, missing the number also affects the individualís ability to function within the U.S. to the point of not being able to even obtain a driverís license. Individuals have also reported difficulty obtaining apartment leases and mortgages without social security numbers. Still other individuals have indicated difficulty opening personal and corporate bank accounts without social security numbers.

Understandably, the task of collecting and entering data into the database is time consuming and mistakes occur. However, SSA should develop procedures that do not result in the applicant being punished by a mistake made on the part of INS. When an individual presents valid documents in person when applying and the database contains conflicting information, more of an effort should be made to resolve the situation at the SSA office rather than relying on a flawed electronic system for almost a month.


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