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If you are authorized to engage in paid employment, your employer will request your Social Security Number (SSN). You will need an authorization letter from International Students & Programs Office (ISPO) to apply for your SSN.  Review all steps below to understand how to request this authorization letter.



Guidance on this page will only apply to:


Guidance on this page will not apply to:

  • Students pursuing unpaid internships and volunteer opportunities.
  • Students receiving scholarships/fellowships.
  • Students requesting an SSN for other reasons that are not related to employment authorization
  • F-2 and J-2 Dependents.
  • Students who already have an SSN.



Review this page and eligibility. Review below how this process may impact your visa status. Submit a Letter Request (Social Security) in iPortal. Submit your SSN Application to SSA, and wait to get your SSN in the mail. Review below additional resources.



  • A Social Security Number (SSN) is a 9-digit identification number, assigned by the United States (U.S.) government that is used for tax reporting purposes, and is required for F-1 and J-1 students who will be earning money in the U.S.
  • You must first have work authorization from your program sponsor (UC San Diego) or the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to apply for an SSN.
  • Keep in mind that obtaining an SSN is not the same as obtaining work authorization.
  • While your work authorization will eventually expire, your SSN is a unique number that is permanent and will never change.
  • If you already have an SSN, then you do not need to apply for another one each time you obtain work authorization.


  • You must have employment authorization from UC San Diego or USCIS before you begin working.
    • For more information on your work authorization options, refer to our page
  • If you have applied for the SSN, you may work while the SSN application is being processed, as long as you have the appropriate work authorization.
  • There is no provision in the law that requires employers to have their employees SSNs before hiring them, there is also no provision that prohibits an employee from beginning work if he or she has not yet obtained an SSN.


Once you have confirmed eligibility to apply for an SSN, you will need to request a Social Security Administration (SSA) application support letter from ISPO by following instructions on our Verification Documents page.



  • Once you have received your SSA application support letter from ISPO, submit your SSN application to the SSA Office. If you would like to schedule an appointment, you will need to call their office. Use the SSA Office Locator and input your current zip code to locate your nearest SSA Office.
  • Effective 04/07/2022, the local San Diego Social Security offices are no longer requiring appointments prior to visiting their office. You may walk-in to a local SSA Office in order to apply for an SSN without an appointment. However, you can only receive services from the social security office your zip code is assigned to. This is based on your local/home/residential San Diego address, not your UC San Diego work address. Current wait times are very long, so please make sure you plan accordingly. Use the SSA Office Locator and input your current zip code to locate your nearest SSA Office.
  • ISPO recommends that you wait at least 10 days after entering the U.S. and at least 5 days after your SEVIS record has been SEVIS registered or validated before applying for your Social Security number (SSN).
  • Visit the SSA’s Noncitizen “Learn what documents you need to get a Social Security Card” page.
  • Upon application for an SSN card, a receipt will be issued to you, and it will take the SSA about three weeks to mail your SSN card to you.


Take the following documents with you to the SSA Office:


Social Security Administration

For more information see the Social Security Administration (SSA) International Students And Social Security Numbers Information Sheet.


Long Names and Other Issues

If the name listed on your I-94, DS-2019/I-20, or passport do not match one another, or if your name is too long for the SAVE system, the Social Security Officer will not be able to verify your identity using the online system. Instead, the Officer will have to fill out the DHS Form G-845 and the Supplement to the G-845 (if applicable) and manually submit your documents to DHS for verification. This process will take a couple of weeks. If your documents need to be manually verified, you will be given an acknowledgement letter that contains your case reference number. Keep this acknowledgement letter in a safe place as you will need the case reference number to follow up if it has passed the estimated processing time provided by the Officer.

Note: If the Social Security Officer tries to turn you away, saying he or she cannot verify you because your name is too long or because the names on all of your documents do not match due to the character limitations of the different forms, ask to speak to a supervisor! In no situation should they turn you away for these issues, instead they should submit your documents to DHS for a manual verification.


Delays in Applying/Receiving Your SSN

Individuals in F-1 or J-1 visa status are allowed to begin work as soon as their work authorization is valid, even if they do not yet have an SSN.

A valid SSN is not required at the time of hire in order to be put on payroll and to enroll in benefits. 

  • For UC San Diego on-campus hires: If hiring departments are filling out the Payroll Personnel System (PPS) system they should enter 999-99-999 in the SSN field for the time being. Once the student is able to apply for and receive the SSN, the student must update the HR representative/personnel liaison with their SSN in the payroll system. Once the Social Security Administration Office reopens please apply for the card as soon as possible.   
  • For Students applying for F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT): Students in F-1 status applying for Optional Practical Training are able to request a SSN on the Form I-765  which they submit to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. 


The Social Security Administration has provided the following guidance in a Dear Colleague letter:

"An F-1 or M-1 student may work while the Social Security number application is being processed. Employers may wish to reference Social Security's fact sheet, Employer Responsibilities When Hiring Foreign Workers. This fact sheet contains information on how to report wages for an employee who has not yet received an SSN and is available online at Employer Responsibilities When Hiring Foreign Workers page. There is no provision in the Social Security Act (the Act) that employers must have their employees' SSNs before hiring them. Neither is there any provision in the Act that prohibits an employee from beginning work if he or she has not yet obtained an SSN."


IRS has provided guidance "Delays in Issuing SSNs to Aliens by the Social Security Administration" 

"There is no federal law administered by any federal agency which prohibits the hiring of a person based solely on the fact that the person does not have a Social Security Number (SSN). Similarly, there is no federal law which prohibits the making of a payment to a person based solely on the fact that the person does not have an SSN.


 IRS's "Employer's Tax Guide" contains the following instruction regarding paperwork filing requirements for employees who have applied for, but not yet received, a Social Security Number:

"If you file Form W-2 on paper and your employee applied for an SSN but does not have one when you must file Form W-2, enter "Applied For" on the form. If you are filing electronically, enter all zeros (000-00-000) in the social security number field. When the employee receives the SSN, file Copy A of Form W-2c, Corrected Wage and Tax Statement, with the SSA to show the employee's SSN. Furnish copies B, C, and 2 of Form W-2c to the employee. Up to five Forms W-2c for each Form W-3c may now be filed per session over the Internet, with no limit on the number of sessions. For more information, visit the SSA's Employer W-2 Filing Instructions & Information webpage at Advise your employee to correct the SSN on his or her original Form W-2. Page 9, Publication 15, Circular E: Employer's Tax Guide".


USCIS's I-9 fact sheet for F-1 students contains the following guidance to students about I-9 validation:

  • "What if I have not yet received a Social Security number (SSN)?
  • An SSN is not required for Form I-9. It is required if your employer uses E-Verify, but E-Verify allows you to work while you wait for an SSN."