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Apply for an SSN

A Social Security number (SSN) is used by employers and employees for tax-reporting purposes. Your employer reports taxes withheld from your paycheck using your unique number, and you provide your SSN when you file an income tax return.

An SSN is not a work permit. You don’t need an SSN to open a bank account, rent an apartment, or get a credit card. SSNs are only required for tax reporting.

Who is eligible for an SSN?

In general, all international students, faculty, and staff need authorized employment to be eligible to apply for an SSN.

Students: You are eligible to apply for an SSN if you have F-1 or J-1 visa status, and one of the following is true:

  • You have a campus job or assistantship.
  • You have off-campus work authorization, you are within 30 days of the start date of your CPT, or you have started your OPT.
  • You have at least two more weeks before the end of your employment on or off campus.
  • You are a J-2 dependent, and you have applied for and received a work card from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). F-2 dependents are not eligible.

I got an SSN when I worked in the U.S. before. Do I need to apply again?

Your SSN is yours for life. You don’t need to apply for a new SSN if you already have one from a previous time in the United States.

I’m eligible! When can I apply?

After you have been in the U.S. for at least 10 days, and your job or appointment has started, you can apply. You must go in person to the local Social Security Office to apply for an SSN. 

Are you ready to apply for an SSN?

Here’s what you need to do. 

  1. Gather Docs
  2. Complete Form
  3. Go to Office
  4. Wait for Mail

1 Gather your documents.

Have these documents ready on the day you plan to apply:

  • Valid passport
  • I-94 arrival record created when you entered the U.S.
  • I-20 (F-1), DS-2019 (J-1), or I-797 (H-1B, O)

If you are an F-1 or J-1 student with a campus job or assistantship, you will also need:

Note: If you are a Cornell Tech student and have a Cornell Tech campus job or assistantship, please contact for your hiring department letter and your SSN eligibility verification letter.

If you are an F-1 or J-1 student with an off-campus job, you will also need:

  • Off-campus work authorization approval (I-20 or DS-2019) instead of the SSN Eligibility Letter
  • Employment letter
What should my hiring department say in the employment letter?

Ask your department to print your F-1/J-1 student employment letter on department letterhead and follow these guidelines:

  • Open by stating, “This is to confirm that [your name] is appointed as a [job title], starting on [start date].”
  • Briefly describe your job duties.
  • State the number of hours per week you work (no more than 20 hours during the fall and spring semesters).
  • List the department contact information, including the name and telephone number of your immediate supervisor, and employer identification number (EIN).
  • End with an original signature, the signer’s job title, and the signature date.
If you are a J-1 scholar, you will also need:
I’m a J-1 scholar at Cornell Tech. Where should I get my letter?
  • Obtain a letter from Office of Global Learning via MyStatus Portal verifying that you are eligible for an SSN

2 Print and complete the SSN application form.

3 Go to the Social Security Office.

Bring your documents and completed SSN application to the local Social Security Office. The Ithaca office is at 127 West State Street, on the second floor of the Greenstate Building.

4 Wait up to three weeks to receive your Social Security card in the mail.

After you receive your SSN, it’s best not to carry the card in your wallet. Instead, memorize the number, and keep the card in a safe place with your other important documents. Don’t lose your card! Replacing it is tricky.


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