Practically? It’s a bit complicated.
When you enter the United States on a K-1 visa, the government will not automatically give you a Social Security number (SSN).
Instead, you’ll have to apply for your Social Security number through your local Social Security Office.
Further, while you can technically request a Social Security number upon your entry into the United States, there are a few reasons you might want to wait until after your wedding.
For many, it makes more sense from a practical perspective to apply for a Social Security number, and for work authorization, after you have married and filed your application for permanent residency.
We’ll outline the basics of this process below.
K-1 Visa Holders and Social Security Numbers: The Basics
Government bureaucracy is large and often difficult to deal with. Further, the internet is full of incomplete and inaccurate information when it comes to immigration law.
Misinformation is only compounded when the government entities themselves cannot come to a consensus about a particular issue.
In this particular instance, USCIS and the Social Security Administration 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 disagreement between the two government agencies is the primary reason why it’s simply more practical for K-1 Visa immigrants to marry, apply for permanent residency and work authorization, and only then apply for a Social Security number.
Why Do I Need a Social Security Number?
You need a Social Security number in order to work in the United States, to open a bank account, to get a driver’s license, and to receive government benefits.
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.
Does My Alien Registration Number Act as a 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.
How Do I Apply for a SSN?
In order to obtain a 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 your original K-1 visa,
- Permanent Resident Card (Form I-551), or
- Employment Authorization Document (Form I-766)
You should also bring the following:
- 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 a SSN?
Most immigrants want to file for a SSN as soon as possible after entering the United States.
However, while it’s true that K-1 Visa holders can technically request an SSN immediately after arriving in the country, you should note that the SSN alone will not allow you to work in the country.
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 at least 90 days to process your work authorization application.
Due to long processing times for work authorizations, most K-1 visa holders choose to wait until after their marriage to apply, some even waiting until after they have filed the Adjustment of Status application for their green card.
This is because you can submit an application for work authorization 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.
The primary purpose of a Social Security number is to keep track of an individual’s lifetime earnings and the number of years you’ve been in the workforce.
Most employers in the United States will ask you for your Social Security number when you apply for a job.
You’ll also need a SSN when opening a bank account, applying for public assistance programs, or applying for a driver’s license.
However, a SSN alone will not allow you to work in the United States. Instead, you’ll have to either apply for work authorization or wait until USCIS approves your Adjustment of Status application.
For this reason, as well as due to the conflicting information given out by both USCIS and the Social Security Administration, many K-1 visa holders simply choose to file for a SSN after their wedding, since they have no need for one until their work authorization documents come in the mail.