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

F-1/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 (retrieve your record)
    • Social Security Application (Tip: write name appears exactly as it appears on your I-20 or DS-2019);
  4. NOTE** The Social Security Office in Evanston is currently closed to the public due to COVID-19. Please call 888-371-0791 if you have an urgent need for a new SSN. Be prepared to state why it is urgent.

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

F-1 Students on CPT

Apply for a Social Security number in person at a local Social Security Administration office. Apply no earlier than 30 days before your scheduled employment start date. Bring with you:

  • Form I-20 (updated and reflecting the F-1 CPT authorization on page 2)
  • Passport
  • I-94; printout of your electronic I-94 arrival/departure record, which can be obtained at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/
  • Form SS-5 Typed, not hand written and completed to the best of your ability.  You can ask the SSA Officer to assist you in completing the form
  • Offer letter from Employer

F-1 Students on OPT

Apply for a Social Security number in person at a local Social Security Administration office. Apply on or after the start date on your EAD card. Bring with you:

  • Form I-20 (updated and endorsed for practical training)
  • Passport
  • I-94; printout of your electronic I-94 arrival/departure record, which can be obtained at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/
  • Form SS-5 Typed, not hand written and completed to the best of your ability.  You can ask the SSA Officer to assist you in completing the form
  • EAD card
  • Form SS-5 Typed, not hand written and completed to the best of your ability.  You can ask the SSA Officer to assist you in completing the form

J-1 Students Authorized for Academic Training

Apply for a Social Security number in person at a local Social Security Administration office. Bring with you:

  • Form DS-2019 (updated with the Academic Training notation)
  • Passport
  • I-94; printout of your electronic I-94 arrival/departure record, which can be obtained at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/
  • Form SS-5 Typed, not hand written and completed to the best of your ability.  You can ask the SSA Officer to assist you in completing the form
  • Form SS-5 Typed, not hand written and completed to the best of your ability.  You can ask the SSA Officer to assist you in completing the form
  • Letter from the OISS; (J-1 Student Social Security Letter Request Form) to apply for an SSN
  • Offer letter from Employer

Note: J-2 dependents with employment authorization will need to bring the above documents plus their EAD card in order to apply for a Social Security number.

J-1 Scholars, J-1 Student Interns & H-1B Employees

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.