Social Security Number (SSN)

Social Security (also know as FICA or Federal Insurance Contributions Act) and Medicare are U.S. government programs that provide benefits for U.S. citizens and U.S permanent residents, usually for retirement. It is financed by taxes withheld from the paychecks of working people. F-1 or J-1 students and scholars who are "non-residents for tax purposes" are not required to pay these taxes. See the IRS Publication 519, to determine if you are considered a resident or non-resident for tax purposes.

Those in J-2 status and those in F-1 and J-1 status who have become a "resident for tax purposes," do pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. If Social Security and Medicare taxes are withheld from your paycheck in error, you can obtain a refund by following the instructions in IRS Publication 519.

What is a Social Security Card?

A Social Security card is required for everyone who works in the U.S., even non-immigrants. On the card will be your unique Social Security Number (SSN) that you will keep for life. You will need the number for many purposes in the U.S. including employment and paying taxes. A Social Security card is not a work permit. Visit the Social Security Administration's web site for more information at

Who is eligible to apply for a Social Security Number?

  • F-1 students with a job offer letter and work permission
  • J-1 students with a job offer and a work permit from their DS-2019 sponsor
  • J-1 visiting scholars
  • J-2 dependents with work permission from the USCIS (EAD)
  • Individuals with other types of immigration status allowing employment

Note: F-2 dependents are not eligible for Social Security Numbers

An SSN is issued once per lifetime. If you have previously had a SSN, but do not have the card or do not remember the number, you can apply for a duplicate card if you meet the eligibility requirements above.

When to Apply for a Social Security Number

Do not apply until you have been in the USA for at least 10 days in your UCSF immigration status. Applications made too early may be rejected or delayed beyond the usual processing time.

Students and visiting scholars must be physically present in the U.S. to apply for an SSN. The Social Security Administration (SSA) is required to verify your legal entry into the U.S. before issuing an SSN.

When applying for your SSN, make an appointment to apply in person.

NEVER mail in original legal documents to the Social Security Office (such as passports or DS-2019s).

Working While Awaiting an SSN

You may work while the Social Security number application is being processed. There is no provision in the law that required employers to have their employees’ SSNs before hiring them. There is no provision that prohibits an employee from beginning work if he or she has not yet obtained an SSN. However, you must have employment authorization from your program sponsor or the USCIS before you begin working.

Social Security Number Safety

Although a SSN is only meant to be used for tax and government purposes, it is often used by financial institutions, businesses, and others as a unique identification number. Because the SSN is a unique ID, it is often the target of “identity theft”. Therefore you should be very careful about where and to whom you give your SSN.

  • Never carry your Social Security card or number with you. Keep it at home in a secure place.
  • Only give your SSN to someone who has a specific and legitimate need for it.
  • Be very careful with any forms, applications or other materials that may have your SSN on it.
  • Never give your SSN to someone who phones you. You should initiate the call or meet in person.
  • Never reply to email or web sites that request a SSN.

Business Uses for Social Security Numbers

Most businesses do not need a SSN from you unless it is for credit purposes (loans, credit cards, etc.) If a business requests a SSN solely for ID purposes, you can request that the business create an ID for you. You do not need a SSN to open bank accounts. If a bank clerk insists on a SSN, ask to speak to a manager.