Major: International Economic Relations
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Social Security Number
Social Security Number (SSN) is the most important piece of identification you can get in America. It is given by a Social Security Administration.
This document is used by most government and non-government organization to establish your identity. It is more important then a Driving License or non-driver ID.
SSN is needed for paying taxes, finding a job, getting a credit card or a loan. It is helpful to have a SSN if you want to open a bank account, get a driving license or ID, rent an apartment, get your own phone number.
Considering how important this document is, it looks unimpressive. SSN is printed on a small blue piece of paper together with your name and some other information.
There are 3 types of SSN:
1. As a foreign student you are most likely to get a SSN with a stamp "Valid for work only with INS authorization". So far the INS (who is responsible for giving you a work authorization) and the IRS (this is who you pay taxes to) did not automatically share their databases. You could pay taxes while working illegally and not get caught. Now they are working on a project that will integrate the databases. Employers already can (but don't have to, as far as we know) check by your SSN if you are authorized to work. It's better not to use your document for work if you are not authorized to do so.
2. The regular SSN, with just your name on it, it is valid for work. As a rule you have to be an American to get it.
3. SSN stamped "Not valid for employment". Try not to get one like this if you can.
Although there's no law prohibiting you from getting a SSN, your local Social Security Administration Office will often refuse to give it to you. The Foreign Student Advisor in your school can help, but sometimes they don't want to. Most likely, they will tell you that you don't need it. You can't really argue with that unless you are authorized by the INS to work.
Here are some advises you can use:
1. If you get a work authorization from the INS, you shouldn't have any problems getting a SSN. If you do have problems (and it happens) - keep reading this article for more tips.
2. If you are not authorized to work, ask your Foreign Student Advisor for help. Sometimes they can give you a letter to the SSA stating that you need a SSN for on-campus employment. If you can't get this letter at least get a certificate of attendance, preferably addressed to the Social Security Administration. Sometimes SSA clerks don't really read these letters, they just look at them.
3. Go to your local SSA office and ask them if you can get a SSN. Regulations in different offices are different, so try going to several different SSA offices (this approach works with many large bureaucracies, like banks and phone companies). Sometimes it even depends on a clerk you talk to. If they accept your application it means you'll get the number. If they don't accept it, it isn't recorded anywhere and you can try as many times as you like. In New York City Midtown Manhattan offices are considered to be more liberal then others. Generally offices in places with large immigrant population are strict, so try going someplace where there's less immigrants. If you're in New York City, try going upstate or to Pennsylvania (but try midtown first).
4. Sometimes SSA clerk will tell you that they can give you a SSN only if you are already employed. If you don't have a work authorization from the INS you probably don't want to leave a record of being employed somewhere. Then you can try to find a company saying they are interested in employing you. It shouldn't say you are already working, just that they want to verify your Social Security Status.
5. Note: Some SSA offices (DC for instanse) require "a document at least one year old that indicates date of birth". If you have a new passport it could be a problem. We' d like to thank a DSO who sent us this info.
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