Social Security

A Social Security Number (SSN) is a unique, 9-digit, identification number issued by the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA). Although originally developed as a way to track and disburse social benefits such as pensions, the SSN has become a universal identification number used for many purposes including, but not limited to:

  • Employer payroll
  • Internal Revenue Service (federal taxes)
  • Driver's Licenses (some states)
  • Credit History

Printable overview of the SSN process (with maps to SSA offices in Evanston/Chicago)

Application instructions

Instructions for F-1 and J-1 students Working On-Campus

The Social Security Administration (SSA) will only issue Social Security numbers (SSN) to F-1 and J-1 students who meet the following three criteria:
  1. You have been in the U.S. for at least 10 days
  2. You are registered full-time for classes
  3. You have a secured job offer from an NU department

Complete the following application steps:

  1. Obtain a Job Offer Letter (see a sample) from the NU office/department that will employ you.
  2. Using this Job Offer Letter, F-1 and J-1 students on-campus must request a Social Security Letter from the International Office.
  3. Bring the following documents to the Social Security Office
    • Original Job Offer Letter (dated within 30-days of SSN application);
    • Social Security Letter from IO (dated within 30-days of SSN application);
    • Passport;
    • Original I-20 or DS-2019;
    • Printout of your I-94 Record (accessible online)
    • Social Security Application (Tip: write name appears exactly as it appears on your I-20 or DS-2019);

J-1 Student Interns should proceed to the J-1 Scholar section below.

Instructions for F-1 Students on CPT or OPT

Students with approved CPT (reflected on page 3 of a CPT I-20) may apply for an SSN with the I-20 reflecting CPT and their passport. You may not apply for an SSN any earlier than 30-days before the start-date of your CPT authorization.

Students with approved OPT must have an EAD card and passport to apply. You may not apply for an SSN any earlier than the effective start-date listed on your EAD.

Instructions for J-1 Students on Academic Training

Students with approved Academic Training (AT) must have a DS-2019 reflecting AT and a letter from the IO (J-1 Student Social Security Letter Request Form) to apply for an SSN.

Instructions for H-1B beneficiaries and J-1 scholars (including J-1 student interns)

You can apply for a Social Security Number 10 days after you arrive in the U.S.

Bring the following documents to the Social Security Office:

  • Original Job Offer Letter written by your Northwestern department;
  • Passport;
  • Printout of your I-94 Record (accessible online);
  • Social Security Application (Tip: write name appears exactly as it appears on your immigration documents);
  • Additional original documents:
    • H-1B Scholars must bring original H-1B Approval Notice
    • J-1 Scholars must bring original DS-2019

Need assistance?

If you have any trouble obtaining the SSN, please ask to know the name of the person helping you and for a letter from the Social Security Office detailing the reason of the problem. Next, please contact the IO during walk-in hours.

Approval and Social Security card

Once your application for an SSN has been approved by the Social Security Administration (SSA), the SSA will send a Social Security card to the address you provided on your application form.  The usual processing time is two weeks. If additional security procedures are necessary, processing times may range from 4-8 week. The SSA no longer issues a number in advance of the card being mailed.

Most likely you will receive a Social Security card that has the notation- "Valid for work only with DHS Authorization." SSA issues this type of card to students and dependents in F-1, J-1 and J-2 immigration status because the card, alone, does not authorize employment.