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Social Security Number

What is a Social Security Number?

Social Security Numbers (SSNs) are used to report a person’s wages to the U.S. government and to determine a person’s eligibility for Social Security and other government services. For more information, see the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) publication, Social Security Numbers for Noncitizens.


Who is eligible for a Social Security Number?

SSA issues SSNs to people lawfully admitted to the U.S. on a temporary basis who have authorization to work by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In general, international students and scholars must have an authorized, paying job to be eligible for an SSN.

How do I obtain a Social Security Number?

OIS strongly recommends that you wait at minimum one business day from the date you arrive to the U.S. to apply for your SSN. SSA must verify your immigration status in order to accept your application and it takes one business day for federal databases to communicate information about your arrival and status to SSA. Applying early may result in significant delay of receiving your SSN.

International students, scholars, and employees working at UIC should consult with your department administrator or Human Resources contact for additional guidance before starting this process.

The application process

The exact process and content of your appliction will depend on your specific immigration status. You will receive further instruction via the myOIS e-form, however, the basic process is as follows:

  1. Secure an authorized, paying job in the U.S.
  2. Request a Social Security Support Letter appropriate for your status via myOIS.
  3. Gather supporting documentation as instructed through the myOIS e-form. - Your supporting documentation will depend on your immigration status. Please review the instructions via myOIS carefully.
  4. After obtaining your Social Security Support Letter from OIS, call the Social Security Administration (SSA) office nearest your home to request an appointment. - Find your nearest office by entering your home zip code in the office search function on the SSA website. You may not walk into an SSA office without an appointment at this time due to COVID-19.
  5. Respond to SSA phone calls and emails promptly to confirm your appointment and necessary documents.  SSA officials will respond your appointment request by calling or emailing you to actually schedule the appointment. Please monitor your phone calls and emails closely and promptly respond. The official will also tell you exactly which documents to bring to your appointment.
  6. Visit your assigned SSA office on your confirmed appointment date to submit your application in-person. SSA officials will give you more information on current SSN processing times and delivery options at your appointment.

COVID-19 considerations

Due to COVID-19, the Social Security Administration is not offering walk-in appointments and you may experience a slight delay in response and processing times. Please be patient and only send one response per email or phone call received from SSA officials. Sending multiple emails or calling multiple times to remind the SSA about an issue only slows down the process. They understand that SSNs are an essential part of the human resources onboarding process and are working as quickly as possible to process your application.

What happens after I submit my application?

Once you apply, SSA will process your application and, if approved, mail you a card containing your unique and permanent Social Security Number (SSN). It can take 2-6 weeks from the date of application for the card to arrive by mail. After you receive your card, please submit a copy directly to your employer.

Most likely you will receive a Social Security card that has the notation, “VALID FOR WORK ONLY WITH DHS AUTHORIZATION.” SSA issues this type of card to people lawfully admitted to the United States on a temporary basis who have authorization to work by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

How should I handle my Social Security Number?

Your Social Security Number (SSN) is sensitive, personal identification information. In general, you should not carry your Social Security card in your wallet on a daily basis. It may help to memorize your number and only carry the card when you know it will be needed for a specific purpose. Common scenarios in which your SSN will be requested are:

                     When an employer is setting up payroll and tax paperwork at a new job.

                     When setting up a new bank account, opening a credit card, or applying for a loan.

                     When a business needs to check your credit in order to apply for an apartment, sign up for utilities, or get a contract-based mobile phone plan.

However, since SSNs are commonly used in identity theft scams, it’s a good idea to ask questions before deciding to share your number in-person, on a form, or online. For example if someone wants you to share your or your child’s SSN, you can ask:

                     Why do they need your SSN?

                     How will your SSN be used?

                     How will protect your SSN and other personal information?

                     What happens if you don’t share your SSN?

                     Is there other identifying information you can provide in place of the SSN?

If you don’t feel comfortable with the answers to these questions, or you are being asked to share your SSN over public Wi-Fi to a non-encrypted website, it may be best to protect your SSN and not share it.

Information adapted from the Federal Trade Commission’s site, How to Keep your Personal Information Secure.

Do I need a Social Security Number to open a bank account?

U.S. financial institutions are required to verify the identity of every individual who opens a bank account. In compliance with federal regulations, all banks operating in the U.S. have established Customer Identification Programs (CIP) that they are to follow for anyone who seeks to open an account. While the specifics of the CIP may vary from one bank to another, Department of Treasury regulations found at 31 CFR § 103.121 set forth the following minimal information that the banks must obtain from you before allowing you to open an account:

  1. Your name
  2. Your date of birth
  3. Your street address – no P.O. Box
  4. An identification number

The regulations 31 CFR § 103.121(b)(i)A)(4)(ii) clarify that for a non-U.S. person the identification number shall be one or more of the following:

  • taxpayer identification number (ITIN)
  • passport number and country of issuance
  • alien identification card number
  • number and country of issuance of any other government-issued document evidencing nationality or residence and bearing a photograph or similar safeguard

It is important to remember that banks establish their own customer identification programs and may ask for additional documentation than is described above because they are ultimately responsible for establishing the identity of their customers.

Can I apply for an Illinois Driver’s License without a Social Security Number?

A Social Security Number is not required to obtain a State of Illinois Driver’s License. Internationals (F-1, F-2, J-1, J-2, among others) in Illinois may obtain a Temporary Visitor Driver’s License (TVDL) from various locations in the state. To apply, you will need to visit the Social Security Administration to request a letter stating that you are not eligible for an SSN, this is known as a Form L-676. If, however, you are eligible for a SSN, then you must apply for and receive the SSN before applying for a state driver’s license.

For more information, visit the Social Security Administration web site: