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Social Security Numbers

What is a Social Security number?
The Social Security Administration issues Social Security numbers (SSN) to all individuals eligible to work in the United States.  It is a 9 digit employee identification number issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to permanent residents and non-immigrants who qualify on the basist of lawful status and legal employment.  The SSN is used to identify participants in the federal government’s social security program which provides retirement and disability benefits to workers and their families.  Although the Social Security Administration states that the SSN is intended only for employment purposes, many public and private institutions, such as banks, phone companies, and utilities (gas and electric) have adopted the SSN as a unique identifier for its customers.  There is no fee required to obtain a SSN and card.
Do I need a Social Security number?
If you plan to work in the United States, either on-campus or with off-campus work authorization, you must obtain a SSN.  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 without a SSN.
Am I eligible for a Social Security number?
If you hold J-1 visa status, you are eligible for a SSN.
If you hold F-1 visa status, you are eligible for a SSN if you meet at least one of the following criteria, and can provide proof of employment (visit the ISSSO 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 an international student advisor or the Social Security Administration about your eligibility to apply for a SSN.
How do I apply?
To apply for a Social Security number, please:
  1. Visit the ISSSO to discuss your eligibility for a SSN.  If eligible, the ISSSO will provide you with a letter to present to the Social Security Administration certifying that you have the necessary immigration status and work authorization to be eligible for a SSN.  If you have been offered a job on campus, you must obtain a letter from St. John's University’s human resources department stating the nature of employment, where you will be working, supervisor’s name, number of hours per week (maximum 20 hrs), and the employer identification number. 
  2. After you have been in the U.S. for at least 10 days, take the documents listed below to the Social Security Administration office closest to you:
    • ISSSO Certification of your immigration status and work authorization (F-1 or J-1)
    • Proof of employment (F-1 students only)
    • Passport
    • I-94 card (please visit to print it)
    • I-20 (F-1) or DS-2019 (J-1) 
    • The closest location to campus can be found at:
      • 155-10 Jamaica Avenue 2nd floor, Joseph P. Addabbo Federal Building (Corner of Parsons Blvd. & Jamaica Avenue)
    • Directions:
      • Take any bus running south on Utopia Parkway to Hillside Avenue. Then, either transfer to any bus running west on Hillside Avenue to 161st Street, or you may walk.
  3. You will receive your SSN and card within a few weeks of submitting your application.   If you work on-campus, you must bring your SSN to the office of Human resources at Chiang Ching-Kuo Hall and inform the administrator in the department that is employing you once you receive your card. 
Should you encounter a problem at the Social Security office or if they say you are not eligible for a Social Security card, go to the security desk and ask to speak with the manager for an explanation.
What if I am not eligible for a Social Security number?
As mentioned above, some other government agencies (e.g., the state departments of motor vehicles) and private institutions (e.g., banks, phone companies, utilities) now use the SSN for administrative and identification purposes.  Below is some information on how to access these services without a SSN.
New York State Driver’s License
The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles requires all applicants for driver’s licenses to provide a Social Security card or a letter from the U.S. Social Security Administration stating that you are not eligible for a SSN.  The SSA Letter must have been issued within the last 30 days.  You can obtain a letter from your local SSA office.
A SSN is NOT required to open a bank account.  You may show your passport and a copy of either your bill from St. John's University or your student identification card.  You will also be asked to complete a W-8BEN form (for tax withholding).  The ISSSO may also assist you by providing a letter certifying that you are a student at St. John’s University and your local address.
When opening a checking account, you can apply for a check card.  This VISA or MASTERCARD check card can be used to make purchases.  The amount of your purchase is debited directly from your checking account.
If you do not have a SSN and a credit history in the United States, you may apply for a Secure Credit Card (minimum credit line is between $500 and $1000).  The funds must be available in an account at the bank.  A Secure Credit Card can help you establish a credit history.  
Students applying for gas and electric utilities through NYSEG are not required to have a SSN.  You will be asked to provide a St. John's University ID, passport, biographical information, address etc., as well as a copy of your lease.  If the lease is less than one year, you will be required to pay a security deposit.
Verizon Land Phone: (For those living off campus in non-St. John’s University housing)
You may set up an account without a SSN.  Dial 1 + area code + 890-1550 to initiate the order and you will be transferred to the Welcome Center.  Because you do not have a SSN, you will be asked to verify your identification by faxing them 2 forms of identification, You may submit your passport and I-20/DS-2019.
Cell Phones
Please refer to the mobile/cell phone information handout available in the ISSSO.
Contacting the Social Security Administration
For more information, visit the Internal Revenue Service’s website or call toll free at 1-800-772-1213 (for the deaf or hard of hearing, call the TTY number, 1-800-325-0778).  Information is available through their automated phone service 24 hours a day and specific questions may be answered by a customer service representative.