Social Security Number (SSN)

 

What is a Social Security Number?

The Social Security Number (SSN) is a tax identification number that tracks employee salary in a payroll system.  Social Security Numbers are issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which is the tax authority of the United States, at birth for U.S. citizens.  To be eligible to apply for a SSN, foreign nationals must be required to have one for a specific immigration status or as an employee onboarding requirement.

The University Payroll Office must show proof an SSN to the IRS for every individual employed by the University in order to pay that employee and to conduct government reporting required of employers. F-1 and J-1 students that are eligible for employment in the United States, whether on or off campus, will also require a Social Security Number.

Beyond tracking payroll, the SSN has become somewhat of a universal identification number used for many purposes around the country, including signing up for utilities, phone service, credit reporting, and banking.

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Who is eligible to apply for an SSN?

F-1 Students

F-1 students require a job offer and employment authorization before they are eligible to apply for a Social Security Number. The three main categories of work authorization for F-1 students are:

  1. on-campus employment (eligible immediately),
  2. Off-campus work authorization through Curricular Practical Training (eligible after one year of full-time enrollment), or
  3. Off-campus work authorization through Optional Practical Training (eligible after one year of full-time enrollment).

Note: you are not be eligible for a SSN without a job and/or employment authorization.

J-1 Students

J-1 students require a job offer and employment authorization before they are eligible to apply for a Social Security Number. There are two main categories of work authorization for J students:

  1.  On-campus employment (eligible immediately), and
  2. Off-campus employment through Academic Training (AT) (eligible after one year of full-time enrollment).

Note: you are not be eligible for a SSN without a job and/or employment authorization.

J-1 Scholars (including Non-Degree Visiting Students)

J scholars are eligible to apply for a Social Security Number at any time, though note that you should wait at least 10 days after you arrive in the US to apply. You are considered a scholar if box 4 on your DS-2019 indicates either "Professor," "Research Scholar," "Short-Term Scholar," or "Specialist." 

J-2 Dependents

J-2 dependent spouses and children are also eligible to apply for social security numbers, after first applying for work authorization. Please see the J-2 work authorization page for more information.

H-1B Employees

H-1B employees are eligible to apply for a Social Security Number at any time, though note that you should wait at least 10 days after you arrive in the US to apply.

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How do I apply for a Social Security Number?

Once you are eligible, you must apply for a SSN in person at a Social Security Administration office.  Please review all instructions below and make sure to have all necessary documents before going to the office:

Step 1:  Be in the U.S. for 10 Days with 'Active' Record

If you are in F-1, H-1B or J-1 status, the data that confirms your status and the fact that you are eligible for a Social Security Number has to be accessed on-line by the agent of the Social Security Administration (SSA) at the time you apply. The data will not travel from the Immigration Service to the SSA database until two conditions apply:

  1. You must have been in the U.S. for at least 10 days. It may take up to 10 days after your entry into the U.S. for the SSA system to be updated with your entry information. Note that this applies to any re-entry to the U.S., including returning from a vacation, when you receive a new I-94 entry record/number.
     
  2. If you hold F-1 or J-1 status, you must be "registered" or "validated" in SEVIS. When you arrive in the U.S. for your new program/job, you must check in with OIA.  In most cases, this is accomplished through an online check-in form.  When this check-in procedure is completed, we register/ validate your record in SEVIS. This confirms that you have arrived at the University in Chicago. It will take about 3 days for your registration to be updated in the SSA system.

    As long as you checked in with OIA when you first arrived on your current immigration, your record will be 'active' or 'validated'. You do not need to confirm with OIA unless you have a special circumstance.

Step 2: Obtain Proof of Employment

To be eligible for an SSN, you must provide proof of employment to the Social Security Administration.  The type of proof varies with the type of work authorization you have:

  • On Campus Employment (F-1 and J-1 Student): Your employer must create an Employer Letter (Template), which must be on letterhead, dated, and have an original signature from your direct supervisor.  After the letter has been created, you must bring it to OIA to receive our signature at the bottom.  The OIA signature is provided as a walk-in service by our front desk anytime during regular business hours. Try to keep the entire letter--including the OIA signature section--on one page.

    You can apply for a SSN up to 30 days before the employment start date listed on your employer letter. It is OK if you apply fewer than 30 days before your work start date.
     
  • Curricular Practical Training (F-1 Students): you will need to go through the CPT approval process to get CPT authorization for this work on the second page of your I-20.

    You can only apply for a SSN up to 30 days before the CPT start date listed on your I-20. You will not need an employer letter or a letter from our office; the CPT authorization on your I-20 is proof of your job offer and work authorization.
     
  • Optional Practical Training (F-1 students): You will need to complete the process to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).  Once you receive the EAD card and the start date has been reached, you become eligible to apply for a SSN.  You will not need an employer letter or a letter from our office; the EAD card is proof of your work authorization.
     
  • Academic Training (J-1 students only): You will need to go through the AT approval process to get AT authorization printed on your DS-2019. In addition to the AT on your DS-2019, you will need a letter from OIA.  This letter can be obtained on a walk-in basis at our front desk anytime during regular business hours.

Step 3: Go to a Social Security Administration Office

To apply for an SSN, you must go to a Social Security Administration (SSA) office in person.

Locating an SSA Office

To find the nearest Social Security Office, you can enter your zip code in the SSA locator. Two popular SSA locations include:

Please note: While the Cottage Grove office is located only a short distance from the University, as in any urban setting, it is wise to exercise caution with regard to your safety. We recommend that you avoid walking and instead use public transportation or take a taxi.

Documents to Bring

When you go to the SSA office, you must present the following original documents:

  1. Completed SSN Application Form
  2. Valid Passport
  3. Visa (OK if expired)
  4. Printout of current I-94 electronic record
  5. Valid Form I-20 or DS-2019
  6. Proof of employment and work authorization, as indicated below:
  • J-1 students ONLY (requires one of the following):
    • For On Campus Jobs: on-campus job letter signed by OIA. Original signatures are required on letters
    • For Academic Training:  DS-2019 with AT authorization and letter from OIA. Original signatures are required on letters.
  • F-1 students ONLY (requires one of the following):
    • For On Campus Jobs: on-campus job letter signed by OIA. Original signatures are required on letters
    • For CPT: I-20 showing CPT work authorization
    • For OPT: I-20 showing OPT recommendation and EAD
  • J-2 dependents ONLY:
  • J-1 Scholar ONLY:
    • No proof is required, but you you may be asked for documentation, regardless.  See more information below.**

Please also review the Social Security Administration Publication "International Students and Social Security Numbers" for additional information.

Step 4: Obtain a Receipt, Wait for your SSN Card

Anyone applying for a Social Security Number will receive a "receipt," consisting of a form letter confirming that you have submitted an application. (If the official does not give it to you automatically, please ask for it.) There are three different versions of this receipt, depending on circumstances:  

  • Your application is accepted and will take 10-14 days
  • Your application is under processing and may take 1-3 months for review
  • Your application has been rejected

If you got a receipt notice (scenarios 1 and 2, above) you are eligible to begin work. Show a copy of your receipt notice to your employer.

For more information, please see the following SSA publications:

J-1 Scholars**

As indicated above, J-1 Students need to present a job-offer letter when applying for a SSN. This is not a requirement for J-1 Scholars, i.e. those individuals who are in the J-1 "Research Scholar," Short-Term Scholar," "Professor," or "Specialist" categories. (See box #4 on your DS-2019 form.)

However, several scholars have reported that they were asked for such a letter when applying for a SSN. Should you be asked for such a letter, please indicate that you are a J-1 Scholar and do not need a letter. Should the official at the SSA insist, please ask to speak with a supervisor. The supervisor will likely be familiar with the relevant regulations and policies, which are addressed in Section RM 00203.480 C1 of the Program Operations Manual System (POMS) which is the SSA policy manual. This section states that "[a]n individual who presents a valid Form DS-2019 with one of the [aforementioned] categories [as] identified in Item 4 of the Form is presumed to have work authorization and does not require a sponsor letter."

 If you Encounter Problems

If you have questions or concerns, please send an e-mail to international-affairs@uchicago.edu, providing as much detail about your situation as possible.

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