Recent Difficulties in Obtaining Social Security Cards

In recent times, the Social Security Administration (SSA) suspended their practice of issuing Social Security Numbers (SSN) to nonimmigrant aliens that do not have authorization to work, which includes visitor visa holders, dependants of nonimmigrant workers and others. In the past SSNs were freely issued to foreign nationals that were in current status.To receive the SSN the applicant would simply show evidence of their status such as an INS receipt notice, I-94 card, or visa stamp.

Many aliens have attempted to use the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) as a substitute for the SSN. Unfortunately, TINs are not being accepted by most government agencies that normally require a Social Security Number.

Specific problems exist in relation to the SSN epidemic including healthcare worker certification and related state licensing. Many state healthcare boards will not issue a license unless the applicant has a SSN. This turns into a circular problem because to receive a work visa a state license is necessary, the state license cannot be obtained without a SSN and to get the SSN the applicant needs a work visa. There is a similar predicament for aliens entering the U.S. to assume H-1B work as public school teachers. Applicants without a SSN are unable to obtain a state teaching license and the license is a requirement for issuance of the visa. Fortunately, the INS instructed its officers not to deny an otherwise approvable application based solely on the applicant’s inability to obtain a SSN. In such cases the INS will approve the H-1B status but only for one year.

Be aware that the following, prehistoric information is provided on the Social Security Administration’s website: “Alien Status: We need to see an unexpired document issued to you by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), such as Form I-551, I-94, I-688B, or I-766. We CANNOT accept a receipt showing you applied for the document. If you are not authorized to work in the U.S., we can issue you a Social Security card if you are lawfully here and need the number for a valid nonwork reason. Your card will be marked to show you cannot work. If you do work, we will notify INS.”

The information provided on the website is inaccurate, and if you have recently attempted to obtain a SSN you know such applications are being refused without proof of work authorization. However, the SSA has taken a disorganized approach in implementing their new objectives, and although most social security offices will not process a SSN application without proof of work authorization, you may still be able to find a few offices that innocently distribute the identification numbers.

For aliens authorized to work in the U.S. the SSA has stated: “If you are lawfully admitted to the United States with Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) permission to work in the U.S., you are eligible for a Social Security number. To Apply for a Social Security Number (a) download the form to apply for a Social Security card at; or call or visit one of our offices to apply for a number (1-800-772-1213); and (b) provide original documents showing your age, identity and lawful alien status (including your permission to work in the U.S.).

Also, the SSA has given the following advice about IRS Taxpayer Identification Numbers: “If you need a number for tax purposes, but don’t meet Social Security’s requirements to be assigned a number, you can apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Visit IRS in person or call the toll-free IRS number 1-800-TAXFORM (1-800-829-3676) and request form W-7, Application for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.”

As TINs become more popular the acceptance by government office should increase. In the meantime, consult with your immigration attorney for options and strategies for dealing with SSN problems.