Navigating Social Security Cards

Practice Areas

By: Kirti Kalra

Although a person with work authorization is entitled to apply for a social security card, it is not necessary to begin working for the employer. The foreign national employer must have a Social Security number or at least an individual tax identification number for each employee to be able to submit records to the Social Security Administration (SSA) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS). An employee can obtain a Social Security card at the local SSA office by presenting original identification and immigration documents that show eligibility to work in the United States. The employee should wait at least ten days after entering the United States before applying for a card to ensure that the SSA has the most up-to-date immigration information about them. Usually, the SSA will assign a number and issue the card to the employee within two weeks, but it can also take several weeks or months to confirm a person’s immigration status.

In some cases, the employee can begin working before receiving the Social Security card they have applied for. Although the SSN is requested on the I-9 Form, the employee can present any documents from List A on the Form I-9 or any combination of documents from Lists B and C for employment eligibility verification. The employer can also replace the foreign national on payroll even if the SSN is in process. The exception to this is for employers enrolled in the E-Verify program, in which the employee cannot complete Section 1 of the I-9 form until they have received the SSN. When the employer must report wages to the IRS and the employee has a SSA confirmation letter but is waiting for a SSN, there are two options. If the employer files IRS wage reports by paper, the employer should check “applied for” in Box d. If the employer files IRS wage reports electronically, the employer should enter all zeros in the SSN field. Once the employee has obtained a SSN, the employer should file a Form W-2 so that the SSA can post the employee’s past earnings to the correct SSN. The employee should notify SSA if their immigration status changes so that the SSA can update its computer records to reflect the most up-to-date information.

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