As an international student, navigating issues related to Social Security numbers may be more challenging that whatever you’re studying in school. Employers, landlords, financial institutions: they all ask candidates for their SSNs. So having one makes a lot of things easier and opens the door to work opportunities, but getting one isn’t an option for everyone. International students must meet certain criteria to qualify for SSNs.
How International Students Qualify
A Social Security number isn’t just a general identification number that any new American resident can get. (Luckily, having an SSN isn’t a requirement to enroll in an American university, so international students don’t have to qualify for one in order to study.) SSNs are used for work purposes, so a new American may only be assigned an SSN if he or she gets the Department of Homeland Security’s permission to work in the U.S.
In order to get the DHS’s permission, an international student must already have his or her school’s approval to work. International students are limited in the types of jobs they can have, and the specific limitations depend on the student’s visa type. F1 students, for example, may only work in on-campus jobs during the first year of school. After that, they may only work in off-campus jobs that are related to their studies.
Working in an approved job, with your school’s permission, is only one of the criteria that an international student must meet in order to qualify for an SSN. Applicants must be able to provide documents proving that they meet the other three criteria.
- Age: International students must show proof of age before being approved to receive a Social Security number. Your original birth certificate or passport is acceptable as proof.
- Identity: DHS will ask that you provide an unexpired document that includes your name, identifying information (like your birth date and birth place) and preferably a photo. Again, a passport will suffice.
- Immigration Status: You must show DHS a current admission stamp in your passport and Form 1-94 (Arrival/ Departure Record), if you can. F1 students must also provide Form 1-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status). Those documents should demonstrate that you arrived and reside in the U.S. legally.
Applying for a Social Security Number
As an F1 student who has a job or job offer and wants a Social Security number, the first step is to visit your school’s international students’ office to get work permission. That office should be authorized to update your work permission status in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), which lets DHS know that your school has approved your request to work.
The school should also provide you with a letter that summarizes your student status and the details of your job. You must also be able to show proof of your employment, which can be either a pay stub (if you’ve already started working) or a letter from your employer (if you can’t show a pay stub, or if you haven’t started working yet).
When you’ve gathered those documents, you’re ready to apply.
- Fill out the Application for a Social Security Card form, available for download from the Social Security Administration website.
- Locate the closest SSA office. (You may also mail in your application and supporting documents, but doing so requires you to be without those documents until the SSA mails them back to you.)
- Take the completed form and your required documents to the office. No appointment is required.
If your application is complete and you’re approved for a Social Security number, your card will be mailed to you within about two weeks.
And that’s it! Your SSN will be a nine-digit number, just like all other SSNs. Having one doesn’t mean that you can stay and work in the U.S. indefinitely, but receiving an SSN is an important step if you do hope to make a career in the U.S. after graduating.
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