About Your Social Security Number
Since you will be working in the U.S., you will first need to apply for a Social Security card. If you already have a Social Security number you do not need to apply again. Make sure to bring your card with you to the U.S.
Important: You will not be issued a Social Security number if you do not register in SEVIS. You must register as soon as you arrive in the U.S. Participants need to wait at least 3-4 business days after registering in SEVIS before applying for a Social Security number.
Important: After you apply, it may take 4 to 6 weeks for your Social Security Card to arrive. You are allowed to work while you are waiting for your card. If your employer has questions about your eligibility to work because your card hasn’t arrived, ask him or her to call InterExchange at 1.800.621.1202.
If you need to apply for a first-time Social Security card, you must first fill out the Online Social Security Number Application.
After you submit your online request, you must visit your local SSA office in-person with your documentation (see below) within 45 calendar days. Use the Social Security Office Locator to find the closest office. Once your Online Social Security Number Application has been submitted, you will receive a successful submission confirmation page that includes a unique Online Control Number. You will need to take a screen capture of this confirmation page or print it out to bring with you to your local Social Security office. It is important that you have the Online Control Number when you arrive to finish your application in-person.
You must also bring the originals AND two photocopies each of the following documents:
- Photo page of passport
- Visa page of passport with admission stamp
- DS-2019 Form (make a photocopy of both front and back)
- Dear Social Security Officer Letter
Important: When you apply for your Social Security Number (SSN) you will get a receipt letter. Make a copy of it for your personal records. Give the original receipt letter to your employer when you arrive. The receipt is proof that you have applied for a Social Security number.
Remember! Read all instructions BEFORE you fill out the application. Here are some tips:
- It is important to have a valid, dependable mailing address or an ‘in care of’ address to receive the card, before completing and submitting the Online Application. This will prevent you having to visit the SSA office multiple times for non-receipt issues. The post office cannot deliver the card if the applicant is unknown at the address.
- You may use your host employer’s physical address as your mailing address, including the name of your host employer’s business.
- If you are using your U.S. housing address, make sure that your full name is on the mailbox. If your full name is not on the mailbox or if a c/o (care of) is not included for a PO Box Address the Post Office will not deliver the Social Security card.
Applying at a Social Security office
Most Social Security offices are only open Monday to Friday from 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. If possible, you may want to avoid the busy hours from 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
Social Security Application Process
SSA = Social Security Administration
Register housing address in SEVIS
Wait 3-4 business days
Bring documents to local SSA office
Documents to Bring
Screen capture or printed confirmation page from the Online Social Security Number Application form that includes your unique Online Control Number.
Original and two copies of
- Photo page of passport
- Visa page of passport with CBP admission stamp
- DS-2019 Form (front and back)
- Dear SSA Letter (given by download)
SSA accepts application?
Bring copy of application receipt to employer
Take detailed notes regarding what the SSA officer says and call InterExchange
Wait 4-6 weeks to get your card in the mailbox
Received Social Security card?
Bring card to employer to copy and keep the original
Call SSA to check status and inform InterExchange.
Checking your application status
After you apply for your Social Security number, we recommend checking on your application status after seven to ten days. If you return to the office at which you applied, take all of your original documents as well as the receipt of application. Checking on your application status can minimize any delays or problems with your application. Your Social Security number may even be available to you prior to your card being mailed out. If you have any questions, please call the Social Security Administration’s toll-free number: 1.800.772.1213.
After you receive your Social Security number
It is your responsibility to notify your employer as soon as you receive your Social Security number. Your employer may ask to make a copy of your Social Security card (they will need the number for tax purposes), but you should retain the original card and keep it in a safe place. Do not laminate your card.
Protect Your Personal ID and Confidential Information
Your Social Security number is a lifelong number that is yours alone. Do not allow others to use your number. Record your number in a safe place in case your card is lost or stolen. Protect both your card and your number to prevent misuse.
If you have any questions or lose your card, please call the Social Security Administration’s toll-free number, 1.800.772.1213, or visit their website. You can also call InterExchange for guidance at 1.800.621.1202.
Social Security Locations
If there is no Social Security office close to your job site, you may consider applying for your number upon arrival in the U.S., in one of the major cities (New York, Chicago, Boston, etc.). If this is the case, you should prepare all documents prior to your arrival. Since people normally apply for Social Security cards near their place of employment, an officer may tell you to wait and apply once you have reached your job site. You may explain that there is no Social Security office near your job site. Therefore, you should apply in your arrival city. If the officer seems unsure about doing this, politely ask for a supervisor or the manager.
To locate the nearest office, check the Social Security Administration’s website.
Why is a Social Security number needed?
Social Security numbers are generally assigned to people who are authorized to work in the United States. They are used to report your wages to the government and when filing your tax return. Also, when opening up a new bank account, most banks require either a Social Security number or proof of application for a Social Security number.
How long will it take to receive my card?
Your card should arrive in the mail within four to six weeks of your application date. It is important that your mailing address that you use in your Online Social Security Number Application is accurate to ensure that your card gets delivered to you. If you change your mailing address after you submit your application to the Social Security office, it is your responsibility to inform the Social Security Administration of this change by calling or visiting any Social Security office. If you do not currently have a valid mailing address, you may have the card sent to InterExchange Work & Travel USA at: 100 Wall Street, Suite 301, New York, NY 10005, and we will forward it to you at a later point in time.
If I am a returning J-1 and have already been issued a Social Security number, do I need to reapply?
No, you do not need to apply for a new number. If you do not remember your number or have lost your card, you will need to apply for a replacement by visiting your local Social Security office, which can be found by visiting: www.ssa.gov/locator.
What if the Social Security Administration won’t accept my documents?
The Social Security Administration will not accept a student’s application and documents if you have not yet registered your housing address in SEVIS. We recommend going to the Social Security office at least three to four business days after initially registering your housing address in SEVIS. The Social Security Administration recommends waiting at least 10 days after arriving in the United States before applying. If they do not accept your application, take detailed notes of what the Social Security officer says and report this information to InterExchange by calling 1.800.621.1202.
What if my Social Security card never arrives?
If you put your employer’s address in your Online Social Security Number Application, check with them to ensure that they have not received your card. The Social Security Administration can be contacted at: 1.800.772.1213. An update on the application status will usually be given over the phone. In the event that there is an issue with the application, take detailed notes and call InterExchange to help resolve the issue. You can also reapply in person at your local Social Security office, which can be found at: www.ssa.gov/locator
What if I have difficulty using the Online Social Security Number Application?
The Online Social Security Number Application will speed up the application process when you arrive in-person to show the Social Security officer your documents and finish the application. If you are unable to submit your Online Social Security Application, you can bring a completed Form SS-5 (paper application form) with you to your local Social Security office.
What if I return home without receiving a Social Security number?
As long as you have earned income in the U.S. you are still required to file a tax return for the year(s) during which you worked. If you have not been able to receive an SSN but do need to file a tax return, you can apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) alongside your tax return. Please view our resources on Filing Your Tax Return Once You Return Home for more information.
What are an employer’s responsibilities when hiring international visitors who don’t have Social Security numbers?
Advise participants that they are required to apply for a Social Security number and card. If a participant applied for but has not yet received a Social Security number, ask to see and retain a copy of the receipt letter as proof of application. You should also get the following information as completely as possible: the person’s full name, address, date of birth, place of birth, father’s full name, mother’s full maiden name, gender, and the date he or she applied for a Social Security number.
Is it legal for participants on the Summer Work Travel program to start working prior to receiving their Social Security number?
Yes. Participants may start working and can be paid prior to receiving their Social Security numbers. We encourage all participants to apply for their Social Security number as soon as possible, but wait at least 3-4 days after registering in SEVIS. They should provide proof of application (a copy of the application receipt and/or a copy of the Online Social Security Number Application confirmation page) to their employer.
What if my Summer Work Travel employee doesn’t have a Social Security number when wage reports (Forms W-2) are due?
- Paper Filers: If the worker applied for a card but didn’t receive the number in time for filing, enter “Applied For” in Box A.
- Electronic Filers: If the worker applied for a card but didn’t receive the number in time for filing, enter all zeros in the field for the SSN.
Remember to ask your employees for the number and the exact name printed on their Social Security card when he or she receives it.
Learn more on the SSA website.
What if I receive the participant’s Social Security number after I have filed my wage report?
If you receive their Social Security number after you file your wage report, file Form W-2C (Corrected Wage and Tax Statement). Learn more on the SSA website.
What if my employee returns home without receiving their Social Security number? Is there a penalty for not reporting a worker’s Social Security number?
Yes, there is a penalty for not reporting a worker’s Social Security number, but this fine is usually waived if the employer can prove reasonable cause for not reporting the Social Security number. Employers will receive Notice 972CG — or a notice of proposed penalty — and will have 45 days to respond. The employer must prove that they acted in a responsible manner and that the failure to submit a Social Security number was not due to willful neglect.
To help prove reasonable cause:
- Collect employees’ proof of application, which can include a copy of their paper application Form SS-5 or a copy of their Online Social Security Number Application confirmation page, a copy of the application receipt (sometimes mailed after they have applied) or a signed statement from the participant stating that they have applied.
- Document the participant’s full name, gender, address, date of birth, father’s full name, mother’s maiden name, and the date of application.
- Make at least one solicitation for the correct Social Security number either by mail, telephone, electronically, or in person and document this solicitation and the results. Retaining a copy of Form W-4 can also be considered a solicitation for the correct Social Security number, but additional solicitations may be required.
Publication 1586 details the requirements of proving reasonable cause as well as answering additional questions regarding missing Social Security numbers. Section (m) in regulation 301.6724-1 details the procedure for seeking a waiver of the penalty.
What if my employee’s Social Security card arrives at my business after they have left?
If you have a forwarding address for the participant, please forward the card to them. If you do not have an address for the participant, please mail the card to: InterExchange Work & Travel USA, Attn: Social Security Information, 100 Wall Street, Suite 301, New York, NY 10005. We will forward it to the participant.
What causes delays when Exchange Visitors apply for Social Security numbers?
When Exchange Visitors apply for Social Security numbers, the Social Security Administration (SSA) verifies their documents directly with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Exchange Visitors must be listed as active in SEVIS before the SSA issues a Social Security number. Most applications are verified immediately, but there can be delays. Social Security understands that this process may affect companies who hire Exchange Visitors, but direct verification from DHS is vital to ensuring the integrity of the Social Security number.