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Office of International Services
Teachers College, Columbia University
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Office of International Services

Taxes and Social Security > Social Security Numbers for International Students

Social Security Numbers for International Students

Introduction

A Social Security Number (SSN) is a 9-digit employee identification number, issued by the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA). Eligibility for a Social Security Number is based upon a person's eligibility to work in the United States. Those eligible for a Social Security Number include U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and qualified foreign nationals -- including, in certain circumstances, students in F-1 or J-1 student status.

If you are an F-1 or J-1 student and you are interested in applying for a Social Security Number, please read the following information carefully. Please note that application requirements differ, depending on your immigration status.

Purpose of a Social Security Number

A Social Security Number (SSN)is required by the U.S. government for tax and employment reporting purposes. It is used, for example, to report an employee's earnings or a student's taxable scholarship benefits. However, it is often used as a matter of convenience for a variety of other purposes unrelated to its official purpose, such as opening telephone, utility, or bank accounts. While having a Social Security Number is convenient for these reasons, SSNs are issued only to those individuals who are employed and/or have tax reporting requirements.

NOTE: simply having a Social Security Number does NOT grant you legal authorization to work in the U.S. However, if you have been granted legal authorization to work and are working, you are required to apply for and obtain a Social Security Number. If you have difficulty opening a bank or other types of accounts because you do not have a Social Security Number, please contact the Office of International Services.

F-1 / J-1 STUDENT ELIGIBILITY FOR SSNs

F-1 and J-1 students under Teachers College sponsorship may apply for SSNs provided they meet SSA eligibility requirements. These include:

  1. Valid immigration documents , including a valid passport, valid I-20 or DS-2019, and an I-94 card or electronic I-94 notated "F-1 D/S" or "J-1 D/S."
  2. Full-time registration at Teachers College
  3. F-1 students must also provide evidence of lawful F-1 employment such as an on-campus job or authorization for curricular practical training (CPT) or optional practical training (OPT). If you are in F-1 status and do not have lawful F-1 employment, you are ineligible to apply for a SSN. This includes applications for replacment SSN cards.
  4. J-1 students are not required to show evidence of employment, but must be in valid J-1 status and be registered for a full course of study. (J-1 students under the sponsorship of an external organization such as IIE, LASPAU, or AMIDEAST should obtain a Social Security letter from their sponsor).

SSN APPLICATION PROCEDURE FOR F-1 STUDENTS

1.  Obtain evidence of employment and valid F-1 employment authorization. To apply for a SSN, you must first obtain valid employment authorization. Authorization can be based on one of the following. Make sure that you meet the eligibility requirements for F-1 employment. 

  • On-Campus Employment: obtain a letter from a TC or Columbia department confirming that you have been offered an on-campus job. Click HERE for a sample department letter. The employment letter must be printed on department letterhead, signed in the original by your hiring department, and include the following information:
    • Your job title (e.g., research assistant, library assistant, proofreader, etc.)
    • Your estimated or actual start date
    • Estimated or actual number of hours per week you are expected to work
    • Your supervisor's title and phone number
  • Curricular Practical Training: obtain an updated Form I-20 from TC showing that you have been authorized to engage in F-1 Curricular Practical Training (employment based in an academic internship / fieldwork / practicum)
  • Optional Practical Training or other off-campus employment: obtain a valid, unexpired Employment Authorization (EAD) card from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services authorizing you to work under F-1 optional practical training, international organization employment, or severe economic hardship employment.

 

2.  Submit a Request to the OIS for a SSN Letter.  If you are requesting Social Security Number based on on-campus employment, you must bring your TC or CU department letter to the OIS. The OIS will issue a second letter to confirm that you have secured on-campus employment and that you are a full-time student in good standing.

  • An OIS letter is not required if your employment is based on curricular practical training, optional practical training, international organization employment, or severe economic hardship employment.

 

3.  Go to a Social Security Office (see below) to apply for a SSN. Social Security forms are available at SSA offices. No fee is required. Bring your:

  • Form I-20
  • Valid, unexpired passport
  • I-94 card or electronic I-94
  • If you are working on-campus: employment letters from your on-campus employer and the OIS
  • If you are engaged in CPT: your I-20 must have an authorization for CPT printed on page 3 of the form
  • If you are engaged in OPT: you must also bring your unexpired Employment Authorization (EAD) card.

The OIS currently recommends that you do not apply for a Social Security Number more than 30 days prior to the start of your on-campus employment, CPT authorization, or the beginning date of your EAD card. The Social Security Administration has rejected applications submitted more than 30 days before the start of employment as too early.

When you submit your application, your documents will be reviewed by a SSA examiner. Once your application is accepted, ask for an application receipt so that you can show your employer that you have applied for a SSN.  You can expect to receive your SSN within 4-6 weeks, although processing times vary.

SSN APPLICATION PROCEDURE FOR J-1 STUDENTS

1.  Come to the OIS for a SSN Letter.  If you are a J-1 student under the sponsorship of TC's J-1 exchange visitor program, come to the OIS to request a Social Security letter. The OIS will confirm that you are a full-time student in good standing.

  • You do not need to have evidence of on-campus or other kinds of employment to apply for a SSN, although you are required to apply for a SSN if you have valid J-1 employment, including on-campus employment, unforeseen economic hardship employment, or J-1 Academic Training
  • If you are sponsored by an external roganization such as IIE, LASPAU, or AMIDEAST, you must obtain a Social Security authorization letter from your sponsor in addition to the OIS's letter.

 

2.  Go to a Social Security Office (see below) to apply for a SSN.  Social Security application forms are available at all Social Security offices.  No fee is required. Bring your:

  • Form DS-2019
  • Valid, unexpired passport
  • I-94 card or electronic I-94
  • Letter from the OIS (and your external J-1 sponsor, if applicable)

When you submit your application, your documents will be reviewed by a SSA examiner. Once your application is accepted, ask for an application receipt.  You can expect to receive your SSN within 4-6 weeks, although processing times vary.

 

SOCIAL SECURITY CARD CENTERS

As of August 13, 2012 if you live or receive mail in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, or Queens, you must go to a Social Security Card Center in order to apply for a social security number or replacement card.  Other Social Security field offices located in Manhattan no longer issue social security numbers or replacement cards.  You can apply at any of the Social Security Card Centers listed below.  You do not need to apply at the card center located in the borough where you live.

If you live or receive mail in Staten Island, New Jersey, Connecticut, or another area, you can either apply at a local office near your place of residence or at any of the Social Security Card Centers listed below:

Manhattan Social Security Center:               123 William Street, 3rd Fl., New York, NY 10038

                                                                                Take the A / C/ J / Z / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 to Fulton St.

Bronx Social Security Center:                        820 Concourse Village West, 2nd Fl., Bronx, NY 10451

                                                                               Take 4 / D to Yankee Stadium (161 River Ave)

Brooklyn Social Security Center:                  625 Fulton Street (10 Metrotech Center), 6th Fl., Brooklyn, NY 11201

                                                                              Take D / M / N / Q / R to Dekalb Ave; 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 to Nevins St.

Queens Social Security Card Center:          155-10 Jamaica Avenue, 2nd Floor, Jamaica, NY 11432

                                                                                Take the E / J to Jamaica

 

All Social Security Card Centers listed above are open Monday to Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m


 

Office of International Services
Teachers College, Columbia University
Box 7, 525 W 120th Street
New York, New York 10027-6696
Phone: (212) 678-3939 ♦ ~ Fax: (212) 678-3990 ♦ Email: