Greenberg Traurig, LLP  




GT Business Immigration Observer
July 2003

Obtaining Social Security Cards For Foreign Nationals

Generally, if a foreign national is in the U.S. in valid nonimmigrant status and in a classification that provides employment authorization, that individual will be able to obtain a Social Security Number (SSN), this would include individuals in H-1B, O, P, L, E or TN status as well as F-1 students who have obtained work authorization. Any dependents of that individual, however, will not be issued a number.

Effective March 1, 2002, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will no longer assign Social Security Numbers when the sole reason for needing an SSN is to comply with a State statute or organizational policy that requires an SSN. This includes issuance of a driver's license, health insurance policies, bank accounts, etc. Basically, the SSA stopped issuing social security numbers to foreign nationals who requested them in order to obtain a driverís license or obtain other benefits. This policy change has hindered immigrants without work authorization from obtaining driverís licenses, opening bank accounts and using other services for which a social security number is required.

At this time, to obtain a social security number the following is required:

    • At least two documents as evidence of your age, identity, and U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status.
      1. Age: The SSA prefers to see the birth certificate. Other documents can be accepted, such as a religious record made before 3 months of age. If you were born outside the U.S., your passport will be accepted.
      2. Identity: The SSA must see a document in the name you want shown on the card. The identity document must be of recent issuance so that the SSA can determine your continued existence. A birth certificate or hospital birth record is not acceptable. Acceptable documents include:
        • Driver's license
        • Marriage or divorce record
        • Military records
        • Employer ID card
        • Adoption record
        • Life insurance policy
        • Passport
        • Health Insurance card (not a Medicare card)
        • School ID card
      3. U.S. Citizenship: Most documents that show you were born in the U.S. are acceptable. If you are a U.S. citizen born outside the U.S., show a U.S. consular report of birth, a U.S. passport, a Certificate of Citizenship, or a Certificate of Naturalization
      4. Alien Status: Need to provide an unexpired document issued to you by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), such as Form I-551, I-94, I-688B, or I-766. The SSA CANNOT accept a receipt showing you applied for the document. If you are not authorized to work in the U.S., the SSA can issue a Social Security card if you are lawfully here and need the number for a valid nonwork reason. Your card will be marked to show you cannot work. If you do work, the SSA will notify INS. Acceptable nonwork reasons are:
        • a Federal statute or regulation requires that the alien provide his/her SSN to get the particular benefit or service; or
        • a State or local law requires the alien to provide his/her SSN to get general assistance benefits to which the alien has established entitlement.

      For those who are not eligible for an SSN, an Individual Temporary Identification Number (ITIN) can be obtained for tax purposes. Due to the SSAís policies on who is eligible for a SSN, this number may also assist in obtaining other items and benefits.

What is an ITIN?

An ITIN is a tax processing number only available for certain nonresident and resident aliens, their spouses, and dependents who cannot get a Social Security Number (SSN). It is a 9-digit number, beginning with the number "9", formatted like an SSN (NNN-NN-NNNN).

How do you apply for an ITIN?

Form W-7, IRS Application for Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, is used to apply for an ITIN. To obtain an ITIN, you must complete this form which requires documentation substantiating foreign/alien status and true identity.

The form along with the documents may either be sent by mail to the Philadelphia Service Center, presented at IRS walk-in offices, or processed through an Acceptance Agent authorized by the IRS.

For more information on applying for social security numbers and cards please contact the GT Business Immigration group or refer to the SSAís official website at


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