The United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issues Individual Tax Identification Numbers (ITIN) for federal tax return identification purposes. As a general rule, an ITIN is only for those who cannot get a Social Security Number (SSN). The IRS has stated that individuals cannot have both a SSN and an ITIN. The format for both numbers is the same (9-digit), and the ITIN always begins with the number 9.
It is important to understand that an ITIN will not establish a right to work in the United States. Also, the number will not give Social Security benefits or Earned Income Tax Credit, nor will it be considered valid identification for any purpose other than federal tax filings.
Those eligible for a SSN include U.S. citizens; persons born in the U.S. but without diplomatic immunity; persons entitled to federally funded benefits, and those given authorization to work in the United States. Employment authorized individuals include U.S. permanent residents, pending adjustment of status applicants with a valid EAD, and certain non-immigrant workers such as E-1, E-2, H-1B, L-1, O-1, P-1, R-1, and TN.
According to the IRS, individuals qualified for an ITIN include those in non-working status; persons born in the U.S. with diplomatic immunity and have a federal tax filing purpose; and those denied a SSN and have a federal tax filing purpose. Classifications of aliens who typically apply for an ITIN include B-1, B-2, WB, WT, F-2, J-2, H-4, and TD.
The IRS has indicated that foreign students in F, M, or J status may apply for an SSN. However, if the applicant is denied a SSN by the Social Security Administration (SSA) then the student should apply for an ITIN. Also, persons with an ITIN who later become eligible for a SSN should apply and then notify the IRS when the new SSN is received.
To apply for an ITIN a completed Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (Form W-7) and proof of immigration status and identity must be submitted to the IRS. The form can be downloaded at http://www.irs.gov. To apply for a SSN you must present an Application for a Social Security Card (Form SS-5) at a social security office in the United States along with original documents showing age, identity, immigration status, and work authorization. The application form can be downloaded from the SSA website at http://www.ssa.gov/online/ss-5.html. The entire application process for a SSN or an ITIN may take four to six weeks.
If you are having problems obtaining an SSN or ITIN, then consult with an experienced immigration attorney.