A Social Security number is a nine digit identification code issued to U.S. citizens and some non-citizens who live and work in the United States. Social Security numbers were originally created to keep track of wage earners for tax purposes and to verify Social Security contributions, but today they are required for many official purposes.
Residents of the United States need a Social Security card for a number of purposes, including receiving government services, getting a job and collecting Social Security benefits.
All U.S. citizens are eligible for a Social Security number and many parents routinely request numbers for their children shortly after their birth. Some, but not all, non-citizens are also eligible for Social Security numbers.
With few exceptions, the only non-U.S. citizens who can get a Social Security number are those who are authorized by the Department of Homeland Security to work in the United States.
Visitors to the United States, for business or pleasure, are not eligible for Social Security numbers. The spouses and dependents of eligible non-citizens may not be eligible for their own Social Security numbers. Excluded visa types include B1, B2, F2, H4, J2, O3, WB and WT.
Non-citizens applying for a Social Security card must have immigration paperwork and work authorization recorded in Forms I-551, I-94, and I-766 or I-688B.
Individual Taxpayer Identification Number
If you are working in the United States and not eligible for a Social Security number, you may be able to obtain an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, which will allow you to be legally paid by a U.S. company. You'll need to provide a passport, INS documentation and a birth record and other identification from your country of origin, as well as filling out a W-7 form.
As long as a person is legally in the United States, not having a Social Security number should not prevent him from receiving benefits and services. A Social Security number is not a requirement to register for school, get a driver's license, purchase private health insurance, open a bank or credit account, apply for school lunch programs or submit an application for subsidized housing.
Although some of these organizations may ask for your Social Security number, if you don't have one, you can usually just let them know that fact.
If you can prove that you need a Social Security number for a valid, non-work reason---for instance, if a Social Security number is required by a benefits program for which you qualify---you may be able to apply for a Social Security number exception.
If you have questions about your Social Security eligibility, you can call the Social Security Administration at (800) 772-1213.