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Which Immigrants Can Apply for Social Security Numbers?

On Behalf of | Oct 27, 2014 | Common Immigration Questions and Problems |


US citizens often take social security numbers for granted, but for those who are not born here, applying for a social security number can sometimes be a confusing and intimidating process.

The purpose of a social security number is record an individual’s earnings to the government as well as keep track of earnings in order to determine the individual’s social security benefits in the future. As such, a person in theory only needs a social security if he/she is planning on working. We all know, of course, that the reality is much different and an individual will often be asked to furnish a social security number to open a bank account, qualify for a driver license, and many other basic tasks that

Generally speaking, only immigrants and those nonimmigrants who are authorized to work will be eligible to receive a social security number.


All immigrants are authorized to work by the Department of Homeland Security as incident to their status. However, an immigrant may apply for a number in one of two ways:

1) The immigrant may apply before he/she arrives here. The immigrant will ordinarily designate on Form DS 260 that he/she wishes for a number to be assigned to him/her. Once the immigrant arrives in the US, the card will be mailed to the person without the necessity of having to go personally to a social security office to apply for one.

2) Alternatively, if provisions have not been made beforehand to apply for a number, or, for example, if the person is already in the US, he or she will need to apply at a local social security office. One tip to keep in mind is that it takes time for an individuals’ immigration information to migrate over into the Social Security Administration’s computer database. It is therefore recommended that the newly minted immigrant wait at least ten days after receiving one’s green card before he/she goes to the social security office.


Only nonimmigrants who are authorized to work incident to their status or have an employment authorization card (EAD) may apply for and receive a social security number. This is why people who are here on visitor’s visas may not apply for one, although the rules appear to have been much more lax decades ago, which explains how some people who came on tourist visas a long time ago, have social security numbers.

Typical work authorized visas include H-1B, L-1s, O-1s, and P-1s.

Some students may also apply for a social security number. They generally

fall into three categories designated by F, M, or J visas or statuses.

Potential Immigration Complications Caused by Fake and Fraudulently Obtained Social Security Numbers

Many applications for permanent residence ask that the applicant declare any social security numbers that have ever been used. Even the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals application (DACA) has a question that asks that the applicant to indicate any social security numbers. The application for Adjustment of Status and Application for Work Authorization also have questions pertaining to social security numbers. If an individual has ever obtained a social security number through fraudulent means or ever used a fake social security number, he or she needs to discuss the implications of such conduct with an immigration attorney and perhaps with a criminal defense attorney as well, as social security fraud may also constitute criminal behavior. Depending on the circumstances, there may be issues of fraud that can impact an immigration application in negative ways. Some fraud may absolutely disqualify an applicant from a benefit, and some fraud may lead to a discretionary denial of an application. In the worse case, a finding of fraud may expose an applicant to referral for removal proceedings.

We hope that you have enjoyed this article and learned at least one new thing or tip that you may not have known. To keep informed about the latest developments in immigration law, please subscribe to our blog feed by clicking on the “Subscribe To This Blog’s Feed” button on the left. It is important to understand that the above is only general information and not legal advice. It does not create an attorney-client relationship nor should it be relied upon as legal advice. The law is extremely fact and circumstance sensitive. For an individual legal analysis of your specific legal case, please complete the “Case Evaluation” box to the right of the screen to get in touch with one of our attorneys.