Social Security Number

What is a Social Security Number?
The Social Security Administration issues Social Security Numbers (SSNs) to all who are work-eligible as a way to identify participants, including taxpayers, in the federal government's social security program, which provides retirement and disability benefits to workers and their families. There is no charge for a Social Security number and card.

Do I need an SSN?
If you are going to work in the United States, either on-campus or with off-campus work authorization, you must obtain a Social Security Number. Your employer will withhold Social Security taxes from your paycheck and submit them to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which credits each payment to your Social Security account. You may start working on-campus at Union College without an SSN, but you must provide your SSN to your department and the Human Resources Office upon receiving your card.

Although the Social Security Administration states that the SSN is intended only for employment purposes, some public and many private institutions, such as banks, phone companies, and utilities (gas and electric) have adopted the SSN as a unique identifier for their customers.

Am I eligible for an SSN?
If you hold J-1 visa status, you may apply for an SSN.

If you hold F-1 visa status, you are eligible to apply for an SSN if you meet at least one of the following criteria. You must also provide proof of employment (see your International advisor for details).

  • You are currently working on campus
  • You have been offered an on-campus job 
  • You have obtained off-campus work authorization

If you hold any other visa status, please consult with the International Advisor or the Social Security Administration about your eligibility to apply for an SSN.

How do I apply?
To apply for a Social Security number:

  1. Come to the International Advising office to talk with an advisor. If you are eligible, you will receive a letter certifying that you have the necessary immigration status and work authorization to be eligible for an SSN.
  2. After you have been in the U.S. for AT LEAST 10 DAYS, take the documents listed below to the local Social Security Administration office: Letter received in step 1 above; proof of employment (F-1 students only); passport; I-94 number; I-20 (F-1) or DS-2019 (J-1) Certificate of Eligibility for Visa 

You will receive your number and card in 4-8 weeks. Once you receive your card, take it to Human Resources at 17 South Lane to update your SSN in the college information system. Also, inform the administrator in the department in which you are employed.

What if I am not eligible for an SSN?
Because all international students must submit tax forms to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) each spring, international students and family members who are not eligible for an SSN can apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) from the IRS when submitting their tax forms.

Here is information on how to access specific services without an SSN:

New York State Driver's License
According to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, you may drive for up to one year on the motor vehicle license from your home country. If you wish to obtain a driver's license, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles requires all applicants to provide a Social Security card or a letter from the local Social Security Administration office stating that you are not eligible for a Social Security Number. The SSA letter must have been issued within the last 30 days.

Banking
To open a bank account, you will need to show your passport and a copy of either your bill from Union College or your student I.D. card. You will also be asked to complete a W-8BEN form for tax withholding. When opening a checking account, you can apply for a VISA or MASTERCARD check card for purchases. The amount of your purchase is debited directly from the checking account. Bank of America also offers a Secure Credit Card that can help you establish credit.

Utilities
Students applying for gas and electric utilities through National Grid without an SSN will be asked to provide a Union College I.D., passport, biographical information, address and lease agreement. If the lease is for less than a year, then you must pay a deposit.

Cell Phones
Cellular telephone companies require a deposit from customers who do not have an SSN or credit history. This deposit may be refunded after one year if you maintain a good payment history. To avoid paying a deposit, you may choose to purchase pre-paid calling cards.