Can I Hire a Worker Whose Social Security Card Says "Valid Only With DHS Authorization"?

The SSN card might be valid, but the work authorization hasn't yet been proven.

If you are a U.S. employer who sometimes hires local workers who come from other countries, you probably know that you will need to check their immigration documents when preparing the required Form I-9 at the start of their employment. (See Hiring Your First Employee: 13 Things You Must Do.)

In many cases, both U.S. and foreign workers will present you with a Social Security card. But not all such cards are created alike (as described on the Social Security website). What if the card you are shown says "Valid only with DHS authorization." Is it okay to accept it for purposes of Form I-9?

A Restricted Social Security Card Is Not Fake; But Not Enough

First, the good news: A Social Security card bearing the words "Valid only with DHS authorization" is likely to be genuine. After all, if someone was faking card, they'd choose one with no mention of work restrictions. (Check out What to Do If Employee's Green Card or Other I-9 Documents Look Fake or Suspicious.)

However, you, the employer, cannot accept such a card for I-9 purposes, as it does not serve as evidence of a person's work authorization. A card bearing this notation is known as a "restricted" Social Security card; the Social Security Administration typically issues such cards to foreign nationals who possess time-limited work authorization. Examples include H-1B visa holders working in specialty occupations, students working in fields related to their area of study under Optional Practical Training (OPT), and people who have no immigration status but have been granted deferred action under the DACA (Deferrred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program.

If a would-be employee presents a restricted Social Security card to you during the I-9 process, you should explain that the card is not acceptable as a List C document (see USCIS's list of acceptable documents) on its own. Then give the worker an opportunity to present an additional or alternative form of documentation.

What Are the Most Likely Alternative Documents Such a Worker Might Present?

The worker might be able to present a List A document, such as an Employment Authorization Document (EAD, also known as an I-766 or work permit) or a foreign passport containing an I-94 card (a record issued to a foreign national upon entering the United States, which indicates visa status and the expiration date of the authorized U.S. stay) that is endorsed for work. If the I-94 is not part of the passport, the employee may present it as a List C document proving work authorization together with any List B identity document.

Be careful about accepting an I-94, however. It may only be used if the period of endorsement has not yet expired and the proposed employment does not conflict with any restrictions or limitations listed on the I-94. Also, some persons, such as certain students and exchange visitors, must also present additional documentation in order to prove their work authorization in the United States.

Getting Legal Help

Because of the complexity of evaluating a worker's immigration status and eligibility to work as well as handling hiring details, most companies find it beneficial to consult or hire an attorney to help. Larger companies might even have immigration attorneys on staff. But if that doesn't describe your business, don't worry, it's still possible to find excellent legal assistance with this task.

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