UCI International Center

Social Security

Section 1

In the United States, Social Security and Medicare are U.S. government programs that provide benefits for U.S. citizens and U.S permanent residents, usually for retirement. It is financed by taxes withheld from the paychecks of working people. F-1 or J-1 students and scholars who are "non-residents for tax purposes" are not required to pay these taxes. See the IRS Publication 519, to determine if you are considered a resident or non-resident for tax purposes.

Those in J-2 status and those in F-1 and J-1 status who have become a "resident for tax purposes," do pay Social Security and Medicare taxes.  If Social Security and Medicare taxes are withheld from your paycheck in error, you can obtain a refund by following the instructions in IRS Publication 519.

What is a Social Security Card?

A Social Security card  is issued by the Social Security Administration with a unique Social Security Number (SSN) along with your legal name (name on your passport).  A Social Security Number is required for everyone who works in the U.S., including individuals in F-1, J-1 and H-1 visa.  This number will be yours for life. If you have previously had a SSN, you can apply for a duplicate card.  You will need the number for many purposes in the U.S. including employment and paying taxes.  A Social Security card is not a work permit. 

Who is eligible to apply for a Social Security Number?

  • F-1 students with a job offer letter and work permission
  • J-1 students with a job offer and a work permit from their DS-2019 sponsor
  • J-1 visiting scholars
  • J-2 dependents with work permission from the USCIS (EAD card)

Note: F-2 dependents are not eligible for Social Security Numbers

Working While Waiting for a SSN

If you have applied for the SSN you may work while the Social Security number application is being processed.  There is no provision in the law that required employers to have their employees’ SSNs before hiring them.  There is no provision that prohibits an employee from beginning work if he or she has not yet obtained an SSN.  However, you must have employment authorization from your program sponsor or the USCIS before you begin working.

Social Security Number Safety

A SSN is only meant to be used for tax and government purposes; however,  it is often used by financial institutions, businesses, and others as a unique identification number. Because the SSN is a unique ID, it is often the target of “identity theft”.  You should be very careful about where and to whom you give your SSN.

  • Never carry your Social Security card or number with you. Keep it at home in a secure place.
  • Only give your SSN to someone who has a specific and legitimate need for it.
  • Be very careful with any forms, applications or other materials that may have your SSN on it.
  • Never give your SSN to someone who phones you.
  • Never reply to email or web sites that request a SSN.

Information about Where to Apply for a Social Security Card.

Alternatives to Applying for Social Security

If you are not eligible to apply for a Social Security Number, you may be eligible to apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).