Social Security is a social insurance program that is funded through payroll taxes. The funds go to various welfare programs and are paid out depending on how long an individual has contributed to Social Security.
The program's identification number is called a Social Security number, or SSN. Over time, the SSN has become the national identification number in the United States. Government agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service as well as private agencies such as hospitals, employers, banks, and educational institutions use the SSN as a personal identifier.
One of the first things you'll want to do after you enter the U.S. is apply for a Social Security number. In general, only aliens who have permission to work from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can apply for an SSN.
To apply for an SSN, you will need to:
- Complete an Application For A Social Security Card (Form SS-5); and
- Show original documents proving your:
- Immigration status
- Work eligibility
- Take your completed application and original documents to your local Social Security office.
The Social Security office will mail your card after verifying your documents with DHS. You can check on the status of your application by following up with your Social Security office either by phone or in person.
If your employer requests verification of your SSN application, you may ask your Social Security office to send a letter (SSA-7028 Notice to Third Party of Social Security Number Assignments) to your employer.
- If you filed Form DS-230 - If you filed an Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration form with your visa application, you would have been asked this question:
Do you want the Social Security Administration to assign you an SSN (and issue a card) or issue you a new card (if you have an SSN)? You must answer "Yes" to this question and to the "Consent To Disclosure" in order to receive an SSN and/or card.Please note that this program applies only to immigrant visa holders. If you are a nonimmigrant visa holder and checked this box, an SSN will not be generated for you. You will need to apply for an SSN at your local Social Security office.
- Previous SSN - If you have ever had an SSN, that is your number for life. You will need to visit your Social Security office to get new card with the same number.
- Apply before your I-94 expires - Do not wait until you only have a few weeks left until your I-94 expires to apply for an SSN. Many Social Security offices will not allow you to file for an SSN if your I-94 is about to expire (generally 14 days prior to the expiration on your I-94).
- Work authorized without specific DHS authorization - If your I-94 does not have the DHS employment authorization stamp, you are generally not authorized to work. However, some alien classifications are authorized to work in the U.S. without specific authorization from the Department of Homeland Security. (Note: Employers may still ask for an EAD before you can start working.) Smaller Social Security offices may not encounter this exception very often, so it pays to have a copy of this policy with you to minimize any delays. Print out a copy of the RM 00203.500: Employment Authorization for Nonimmigrants (highlight section C) and take it with you when you apply.