What is a Social Security number?

A Social Security number (SSN) is a nine-digit number issued to U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and certain nonresidents by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Its primary purpose is to track individuals for taxation purposes. It is not intended to be used for identification purposes and cannot be used as work authorization.

Per current legislation, SSNs can only be issued to someone who meets either of the following criteria:

  • Is a citizen or permanent resident of the United States 

  • Has a valid job offer and is eligible for legal employment.

You do not need an SSN to register for classes at the Middlebury Institute, to get a driver’s license in California, to open a bank account, to obtain a cell phone, or to rent a place to live.

The SSA provides more information on SSNs for international students.

Getting a Social Security Number

There are specific guidelines and procedures that international students and scholars must follow when applying for a Social Security number from the Social Security Administration. Read below for more information on how the application process works.

For on-campus work-study positions:

  • Complete your paperwork with Human Resources.

  • Obtain the SSN packet from Human Resources.

  • The SSN packet contains three forms that need to be completed: letter request (completed by you), job offer (completed by the on-campus supervisor), and SS-5 (completed by you).

  • Once the letter request and job offer letter are completed, bring these to the Office of Student Services, and a support letter will be generated.

For Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

  • Complete the CPT application process

  • After the CPT Request has been processed, an I-20 with CPT approval will be issued and you will receive an email stating it is ready to pick up.

  • You can apply for an SSN up to 30 days before your work start date.

For Optional Practical Training (OPT)

  • Apply for OPT through USCIS.

  • Receive your work authorization card (EAD).

  • You must have your EAD card the first day of your work authorization period.

To apply for your SSN, you will need the following documents:

  • Valid passport

  • Original SEVIS I-20 document (for F-1 visa holders) or DS-2019 (for J-1)

  • A valid I-94 card: this can be retrieved at www.cbp.gov/i94

  • Proof of employment eligibility (job offer letter, letter of support from ISSS, and I-20 endorsed for CPT or EAD card from USCIS)

To minimize any delays, bring originals of all documents. The SSA does not accept any photocopies of documents. A Social Security number and card will be issued within two weeks of receiving certification from the Department of Homeland Security.

Local Social Security Administration Office 

928 E. Blanco Rd., Suite 155
Salinas, CA 93901
(800) 772-1213 or (877) 600-2857