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Social Security and Tax Identification Numbers

Nonresidents who receive employment income in the United States are eligible for a Social Security Number (SSN) and must apply for one to comply with U.S. tax laws.  Faculty, researchers, graduate assistants and staff members have 30 days to receive their number and may begin work while applying.  The application process should start upon a nonresident’s arrival to the U.S. or start of employment.  Generally, the number is issued within two weeks, but can occasionally take 30-60 days.  Once an employee receives the card, they must bring it to the Payroll Office. 

Nonresidents hired as temporary employees (hourly employee) or through a Special Pay, cannot begin services for the University until they receive their Social Security Number.  Social Security Administration’s policy allows individuals to apply for the number up to 30 days before the start of services, which allows time to receive the number before starting services with Northwestern. 

Application instructions

Jump to instructions for:

F-1/J-1 students

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 Northwestern

Complete the following application steps:

  1. Obtain a Job Offer Letter (see a sample) from Northwestern hiring department. 
  2. Using this Job Offer Letter, F-1 and J-1 students must request a Social Security Letter from the International Office.
    How to apply for an SSN
  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.  J-1 Student Interns should proceed to the J-1 Scholar section below.
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.

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 from Northwestern hiring 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 I-797, H-1B Approval Notice
    • J-1 Scholars must bring original DS-2019

The closest Social Security offices are located at 2116 Green Bay Road in Evanston and 605 W Washington Blvd in Chicago. Additional offices can be found on the Social Security website. Office hours are generally Monday-Friday 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Nonresidents who will receive stipends from a scholarship or fellowship, but will not be employed, such as a graduate assistantship or temporary employment, will not be eligible for a SSN and must instead apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).  Applications are often be completed with the University as part of the on-boarding FNIS process.  If it is a short-term scholarship or Payroll is unable to assist in applying, applications are submitted on Form W-7 when filing the U.S. tax return.  Instructions for applying with a tax return are on our nonresident tax webpage

Students that receive an ITIN and later become eligible for a Social Security Number, because of employment such as assistantships or temporary employment, must apply for a SSN and cancel their ITIN.

The IRS must be notified in writing when individuals obtain their Social Security Number (SSN).

  • The letter must state that you have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) and now also have a SSN and you will discontinue use of the ITIN.
  • It must include your legal name, current street address, city, state, zip, previously assigned ITIN, new SSN, the current date, and signature.
  • Mail this letter to:
    Internal Revenue Service
    ITIN Operation
    O. Box 149342
    Austin , TX 78714-7342