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Source: Social Security Facebook

How Do Refugees Get a Social Security Number?

Ruchi Gupta - Author

Oct. 15 2021, Published 8:36 a.m. ET

You’ll need a social security number to receive social security benefits, get a job, and access some government services in the U.S. Do refugees get a social security number? Can immigrants work without a social security number?

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The U.S. receives more than a million immigrants each year. Many are refugees and asylum-seekers, while others are simply seeking to settle in the U.S. After the Taliban took control in Afghanistan in 2021, the U.S. took in tens of thousands of Afghan refugees. The U.S. first vetted the Afghan refugees through background checks before letting them in and resettling them.

Do refugees get a social security number?

You’re considered a refugee in the U.S. if you fled your home country because of war or persecution. Refugees are eligible for work permits and social security cards. After staying in the U.S. continuously for one year, refugees can seek permanent resident status.

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How to apply for a social security number as a refugee

If you’re migrating to the U.S., you’re required to apply for social security card in your country of origin at the same time you’re seeking an immigrant visa. However, that may not be possible for refugees and asylum-seekers, so they can apply for the card when already in the U.S. They can do so at the same time they apply for a work permit.

How long does it take to get a social security number for immigrants?

You should receive your social security card within two weeks after applying for it, though you may need to wait longer under certain circumstances. The Social Security Administration has to wait for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to verify your immigration status before issuing you the card, and that can lead to delays. However, in many cases, you can expect to get your social security card within seven days after receiving your work permit.

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Can immigrants work without a social security number?

The government uses the social security number to track your earnings and determine your eligibility for social security benefits. If you have a work permit already, you can start a job without a social security number, but you need to obtain the number as soon as possible.

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Types of social security cards immigrants should know about

The U.S. issues three types of social security cards:

  1. The standard card is issued to citizens and immigrants to whom the government has granted permission to live and work in the country permanently.
  2. The second type of card is issued to immigrants with temporary work permits.
  3. The third type of card is issued to immigrants who may need access to services that require a social security number. They aren’t allowed to use it for work, though.
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Working and paying taxes without Social Security

The IRS created a program that allows undocumented immigrants working in the U.S. to file tax returns. Instead of a social security number, those immigrants are issued with an ITIN (individual taxpayer identification number).

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It has been found that, together, working immigrants without a social security number pay billions of dollars in taxes per year. In California, undocumented immigrants with an ITIN are eligible for its stimulus payment.


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