Applying For Social Security Number After Arrival in United States: What You Need to Know

May 15, 2023
Marjorie M. Filice

Social Security Numbers (SSN) are identification numbers given to U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and nonimmigrants on temporary visas who are authorized to work in the U.S. Nonimmigrants who do not have permission to work in the U.S. are not eligible for an SSN. Employers require an SSN in order to report an employee’s wages to the government and to determine their eligibility for Social Security benefits, but it may take weeks or months to receive an SSN after first applying for it. Note that a work-authorized employee can work while the SSN is being processed.

When to Apply for an SSN

In some limited circumstances, an individual may request an SSN as part of their visa process at the U.S. Consulate abroad (e.g., immigrant visa), in which case the SSN card is mailed to the individual weeks after arriving in the U.S.  Most often, however, the individual has to visit a local Social Security Administration office to apply for an SSN in person. The agency recommends waiting at least 10 days after first arriving in the U.S. before visiting their office. Further, even if you applied for an SSN abroad, we recommend visiting their office if you have not received the SSN card weeks after your arrival in the U.S.

How to Apply for an SSN

There is no fee for applying for an SSN. To apply, you will need a minimum of two documents proving your identity, immigration status, work eligibility and age. These could include an unexpired foreign passport, birth certificate, and U.S. immigration documents (e.g., Lawful Permanent Resident Card, Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record, an Employment Authorization Document, an admission stamp showing a class of admission which permits work in the U.S., etc.) The exact immigration status documents will vary depending on the applicant’s immigration status. Visit the Social Security Administration’s website for more information on the exact documents you would need to present based on your immigration status.

Waiting on an SSN

Processing a new SSN may take weeks or even months. The Social Security Administration must verify the individual’s immigration status with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which can sometimes be delayed. Again, for this reason, the applicant should wait at least 10 days after first arriving in the U.S. before seeking an SSN to ensure that the DHS records are updated.

U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and nonimmigrants who are authorized to work can work in the U.S. while their SSN is being processed. They may complete the I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification form without an SSN. The Social Security Administration provides employers guidance on how to process W-2s and payroll for employees who are waiting on their SSN.

Further, an SSN may be requested in the context of applying for a driver’s license, depending on the state. It is important to note that an SSN is not necessary to register for school, apply for private health insurance, to open a bank account, apply for a credit card, or to lease a home or apartment, but may be requested nonetheless. In that case, it is recommended to simply note that the SSN is “applied for” or “pending” and update the appropriate contact once issued.

If you have any questions regarding obtaining a Social Security Number, do not hesitate to contact our office at (312) 427-6163 or schedule a consultation online.

The material contained in this alert does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only. An attorney-client relationship is not presumed or intended by receipt or review of this presentation. The information provided should never replace informed counsel when specific immigration-related guidance is needed.

© 2023 Minsky, McCormick & Hallagan, P.C. All rights reserved. Information may not be reproduced, displayed, modified, or distributed without the express prior written permission of Minsky, McCormick & Hallagan, P.C.

  • Categories

  • Archive


Left Fields
Middle Fields
Right Fields
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Sign Up for Our

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.