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Obtaining a Social Security Number

A Social Security Number (SSN) is a nine-digit number assigned to individuals working in the United States. This number is used to track earnings by the employer and report wages for tax purposes to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

You will often be asked for an SSN for identification purposes; this is not the intended purpose of a SSN. When conducting official business in the U.S., such as opening a bank account or applying for a cellular phone, you will need two reliable forms of identification, such as your passport and your student ID card. You may ask Social Security for a letter to prove you cannot have a number, if you are not eligible.

Sometimes students think that just having a Social Security number entitles them to work anywhere: IT DOES NOT!

If you are in a valid F-1 status, you may work on campus without separate immigration work authorization. But the Internal Revenue Service requires the University to have your Social Security Number in order to employ you in the U.S.


All individuals who will be legally working in the U.S. must obtain a SSN if they intend to work. As an F-1 visa holder, you must be maintaining your immigration status; you must also establish that you have an on-campus job offer, have been approved for Curricular Practical Training, or are eligible for Optional Practical Training. The Designated School Official (DSO) at the International Student Services (ISS) office will help you with the application paperwork.

If you have entered the country as a new F-1 student, it is recommended that you wait a minimum of 10 business days before applying to the Social Security Administration (SSA) for a number to ensure that your immigration information can be obtained by SSA to process your number most expeditiously. Please note: it can take up to 3 months to issue a Social Security Number due to processing at the SSA office.

To obtain a Social Security card, follow these steps:

Contact your Designated School Officer (DSO) to notify them that you need to apply for an SSN.

  • If you have secured on-campus employment, the DSO will provide you with two letters: one verifying the employment offer (originated from the employment office), the other specifying your eligibility for on-campus employment.
  • You will also need to pick up two documents from the Registrar’s Office: a copy of your class schedule and the other is called enrollment verification.
  • Go in person to one of the Social Security Offices
  • Bring: the documents mentioned above, current I-20 (and most recent one stamped by DHS), passport, visa (if you have one), I-94 card (white card usually stapled in your passport), another piece of picture identification (Marymount ID card is best). One ID must be at least one year old.
  • Fill out the SSN application. The administrator will interview you and ask you a few routine questions. They will also make copies of your immigration documents. Make sure that your I-20, passport, and I-94 card are returned to you before you leave the office.
  • The administrator will give you a receipt of proof that you have applied for the SSN. If you have been offered on-campus employment then you must show this receipt to Human Resources (HR) before you may begin employment. If you are applying for another type of employment then see your DSO afterwards for further guidance.
  • Your Social Security card will not be given to you immediately. It will be mailed to your address. You can obtain the number by phone after it is assigned.