Last updated on October 3rd, 2017
When to Apply for a Social Security Number with a K-1 Visa
When you enter the United States on a K-1 visa, you will not automatically be issued a Social Security Number (SSN).
While you can technically request a SSN upon your entry to the United States as a K-1 visa holder, it’s common to discover that government employees working in your local Social Security Office are not aware that K-1 visa holders are authorized to request one. For many, it makes more sense from a practical perspective to apply for your SSN, and for work authorization, after you have married and filed your application for permanent residency.
Does My A Number Act as My SSN?
No, your Alien Registration Number, or A Number, is only a number the U.S. government uses to identify immigrants. You cannot use your A Number in the place of your SSN in order to apply for work.
If you lawfully entered the United States, you will be issued an A number.
A numbers are 8 or 9 digits and can be found on your visa, and ultimately your permanent resident card or any other identification issued to you from USCIS. On your visa, the A number will be listed under “Registration Number”.
A numbers are primarily used for immigration and identification purposes. On almost every USCIS form you file, you will need to provide your A-number. You are not eligible for any government benefits or authorized to work with just an A-number.
Why Do I Need a Social Security Number?
An SSN is required for work in the United States, to open a bank account, to get a driver’s license, receive government benefits and other fundamental purposes.
Unless you were born in the United States, you’ll have to apply to the Social Security Administration to obtain a SSN and Social Security Card.
SSNs are also used to file federal income tax returns. If you need to file a federal income tax return, but have not yet obtained a SSN, you can apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). For more information on ITINs, visit the IRS website.
How Do I Apply for an SSN?
To obtain an SSN, you must apply in person at a Social Security Office.
To find the Social Security Office closest to you, use the Social Security Office Locator.
You will need to bring several official documents to corroborate your identity and legal status in the United States:
- Your passport with original K-1 visa or,
- Permanent Resident Card (Form I-551)
- Your original birth certificate
- Original birth certificate(s) of any family members that are applying for an SSN with you
- Marriage certificate
- A permanent address where the SSN cards will be mailed
When Should I Apply for an SSN?
Most immigrants want an SSN so that they can start to work and support themselves, their U.S. citizen spouse, and their family in the United States. While it’s true that as a K-1 Visa holder you can technically request an SSN immediately after you have arrived, your SSN will not authorize you to work.
Your Social Security Card will most likely be marked with the phrase “VALID FOR WORK ONLY WITH DHS AUTHORIZATION.”
While a nonimmigrant, such as a K-1 Visa holder, can request work authorization, it’s not practical to apply for work authorization at this stage. K-1 Visas are only valid for 90 days, and it typically takes USCIS 90 days to process your work authorization application. While it’s possible your work authorization request could be approved, it would expire by the time you received it.
Due to long processing times for work authorizations, most K-1 visa holders choose to wait until after their marriage and after they have filed the Adjustment of Status application. An application for work authorization, based on the pending adjustment of status, can be submitted at the same time as the Adjustment of Status application. Because work authorization will likely require less time to be processed than your adjustment of status, this is one strategy you could use so that you may begin work sooner.
One Final Note
Government bureaucracy is large and often difficult to deal with. With regards to immigration law in particular the internet is full of incomplete and inaccurate information. Misinformation is only compounded when the government entities themselves cannot seem to find a consensus.
On the issue of SSNs for K-1 Visa holders, it should be noted that USCIS materials and Social Security Administration materials that can be found on each government agency’s official website disagree as to whether or not K-1 Visa holders can work prior to applying for and receiving a work authorization document from USCIS.
This misinformation and disagreement between the two government agencies may be one of the reasons it is simply more practical for K-1 Visa immigrants to marry, apply for permanent residency and work authorization, and then apply for an SSN.