Obtaining a SSN
In the United States, a Social Security Number (SSN) is a 9-digit number issued to citizens, permanent residents and temporary (working) non-residents by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Its primary purpose is to track individuals for taxation purposes; it is not intended to be used for identification purposes.
Per current legislation, SSNs can only be issued to someone who
- Is a citizen or permanent resident of the United States or
- Has a valid job offer and/or is eligible for legal employment
Currently, SSNs are only issued to non-residents who have an employment offer. Dependents with F-2 status are not eligible for a SSN because they are not permitted to work. However, J-2 dependents are eligible to apply for a SSN.
Students do not need a SSN to register for classes at WCU, get a driver's license in Pennsylvania or open a bank account. However, landlords and utility, cable and cell phone companies may request a SSN to do a credit history check to determine the amount of deposit they will require to secure housing or to activate services. Students without a SSN may be required to pay a higher deposit payment prior to receiving service.
The SSA provides more information on SSNs for international students.
How to Apply for an SSN
Current Students and Scholars
Students and scholars must wait at least 10 days after their initial entry into the U.S to begin the SSN application process. The SSA must receive its database update from the ports of entry before the application can be accepted. Additionally, applications cannot begin more than 30 days before the employment start date.
To begin the application process, students and scholars must first obtain a job offer and bring the job offer letter to the CIP along with the SSN request form. It is not possible to obtain an SSN without this form. The application for an SSN is free of charge.
Required documents for SSN Application at SSA
- Application for SS-5 (available at a SSA office or online)
- Valid Passport
- Original SEVIS I-20 (for F-1 visa holders) or DS-2019 (for J-1/J-2 visa holders)
- A printout of your I-94 Arrival/Departure record
- Proof of employment eligibility (such as a job offer letter, I-20 endorsed for CPT, or Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card.
- Social Security request form from the CIP
All documents (except the I-94) must be originals. The SSA does not accept photocopies or notarized copies of documents. SSA will then verify the documents with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) before assigning a SSN.
A Social Security number and card will be issued within about two weeks of receiving certification from DHS. In most cases, the SSA can quickly verify the documents online.
F-1 Students on OPT
Apply for a SSN by taking the following original documents to SSA:
- A printout of the I-94 Arrival/Departure record
- OPT I-20
- EAD card
Students must wait until their EAD card start date to apply for the SSN. A SSN letter from the CIP is not required for students on OPT.
The closest SSA office from WCU is:
1101 West Chester Pike
West Chester, PA 19382
Identity Theft and SSN
Please note that it is very important to keep the SSN confidential at all times and avoid carrying the SSN card in a wallet. This is a key piece of information that can be used in identity theft incidents.
Identity theft occurs when someone steals personal information and uses it to make financial transactions. This personal information can include an SSN, credit card number, birth date, phone number and/or address. One popular means of this is called "phishing," where thieves pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get individuals to reveal their personal information such as SSN, bank account and credit card information over the Internet. Please note that no bank or credit card company will ask for information by Internet or phone.
Another popular method used is an email message saying individuals have access to a large amount of money and someone can help them collect it. Individuals also may receive an offer to participate in a joint venture where they provide a certain amount upfront and gain a percentage of profits or an offer to cash checks and receive a percentage of a total of that cashed check. All of these are scams and fraudulent.
Always carefully guard all personal information, including SSN, passwords, log-ins and account information. Shred important and confidential documents when disposing of them. A "cross-cut" shredder can be purchased at electronic or home appliances stores. As a cheaper alternative, always cut out important information when disposing of documents.
The U.S. Department of Justice provides additional information on Identity Theft and Identity Fraud.
What to do when an identity has been stolen
Students and scholars who believe their identity has been stolen should visit the U.S. Federal Trade Commission website for information on what to do and file a report with the local police department. The WCU Department of Public Safety can assist with this as well.
FICA Taxes (Social Security and Medicare)
Social Security payroll taxes are collected under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) and the payroll taxes are sometimes referred to as "FICA taxes." The payroll taxes collected for Social Security are taxes, but they are also contributions to the social insurance system that is Social Security.