If you are applying for work authorization from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) along with a green card application, for example after applying for asylum or for any other reason, and you do not have a Social Security Number (SSN), you will have to get one in order to report your income to the U.S. government.
The good news is that USCIS and the Social Security Administration (SSA) have joined forces to eliminate some bureaucracy. (In the past, you could only apply for an SSN in person at your local SSA office after you received your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) (or work permit) from USCIS.)
If you currently reside in the U.S. you can request an SSN at the same time you submit your work permit application. Here's how to do it.
A Social Security Card is a paper card with your name and SSN on it. If you are not a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident and you receive temporary permission to work in the U.S. the card will also note that it is valid for work only with authorization from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the government agency that oversees USCIS.
Having an SSN is important because it allows you to pay taxes to the federal government (as is legally required). Many U.S. employers will require you to fill out Form W-4 with your SSN and proof of employment authorization so that they can properly withhold taxes from your paycheck.
Additionally, a SSN makes it easier to open a bank account or credit card, apply for a loan, establish a business, and integrate into life in the United States.
Previously, immigrants seeking permission to work in the U.S. needed to fill out Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card, deliver it in person and show proof of employment authorization, and wait approximately two to four weeks to receive a SSN and Social Security Card. Unfortunately, local SSA offices are known for having long wait times, and much like your local Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV), applicants often waited for hours just to to hand in a form.
This additional delay could be frustrating. Although applicants were legally permitted to work, many U.S. employers would not hire them until they had a SSN, so that they could fill out federal tax withholding paperwork. What's more, in most states you need an SSN in order to get a driver's license, so the additional bureaucracy at the SSA presented yet another hurdle.
When you fill out Form I-765 (available on the USCIS website), Question 9.a. asks "Has the Social Security Administration (SSA) ever officially issued a Social Security Card to you?" By "officially" it means that you legally received permission to work on another occasion and received a SSN at that time. Some immigrants obtain false Social Security cards in order to work illegally in the United States. If you or a parent ever used a fake SSN for you, you were not officially issued a Social Security Card and you should check "No."
If you received an official Social Security Card in the past but you lost it, you can check "Yes," provide your SSN, and answer the next questions to get a replacement Social Security Card mailed to you.
In order to receive a Social Security Card when your EAD application is approved, check "Yes" on Question 10, which asks "Do you want the SSA to issue you a Social Security Card?" and also check "Yes" on Question 11, which will allow USCIS to share the information on Form I-765 with the SSA.
Questions 12.a. to 13.b. ask for your parents' full names. This is to avoid the issuance of duplicate SSNs to persons with common names. Make sure you spell your parents' names correctly. If you do not have a living mother or a father, leave that question blank or write "None."
SSA will verify your identity and issue you the SSN and Social Security Card after USCIS approves your work authorization application. You should receive this in a separate mailing within a week of receiving your EAD.
If you do not receive your Social Security card within seven business days after receiving your EAD, call your local SSA office. Information about SSA offices can be found on the SSA website or you can call 1-800-772-1213.