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Social Security Numbers – When You Need One and How You Apply For One

January 27, 2015
International students need a Social Security number (SSN) to work in the United States. Students must first talk with their designated school official (DSO) to make sure they are eligible for employment before applying for an SSN. Also, if you want a driver’s license, your state’s DMV may also require you to apply for an SSN. 
If you are not eligible to work in the United States, then you are ineligible to apply for an SSN. Under this circumstance, you can request that the Social Security Administration issue you a Form SSA-L676, “Refusal to Process SSN Application.” Please note that this form is only a useful substitute for an SSN when applying for a driver’s license and cannot be used when applying for paid employment. 
Requirements to obtain an SSN include having an active student record in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and waiting at least 10 days after arriving in the United States. This ensures that your Form I-94, “Arrival/Departure Record,” information is updated in government systems. 
Once you have cleared with your DSO that you are eligible and that your student record has been active in SEVIS for at least two business days, you can apply for an SSN at your local Social Security Administration office. To prepare for your visit, you must bring the following documents:
  • Your signed Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.” Also, bring any older signed versions that were issued to you. If you are on curricular practical training or optional practical training (OPT), your DSO should note this in your SEVIS record and sign page three of the Form I-20;
  • Your current Form I-94;
  • Your valid passport; and
  • Your valid visa.
If you are on post-completion OPT or a STEM extension, there are additional requirements and documents you need to bring with you. You must wait until your approved OPT start date to apply for an SSN. When you apply, you should bring your Form I-766, “Employment Authorization Document,” card that will be used to verify your employment status. You must also bring two letters with you:
  • A letter from your DSO that verifies your identity, confirms your student status, and names your employer and the type of work you will perform.
  • A letter from your employer that includes the name of your job, employment start date, number of hours you will work, along with your supervisor’s name and telephone number.
If you visit a Social Security Administration office and are ineligible to obtain an SSN for a driver's license, they will be unable to process your application and you can request to be issued a Form SSA-L676. The office will not process your application if the required documents do not meet the Social Security Administration’s standards. If you encounter any issues while applying for an SSN, please speak with your DSO and call the Social Security Administration directly at 1-800-772-1213.
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