Social Security office
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How to Get an Unrestricted Social Security Card in the U.S.

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Aug. 3 2021, Published 3:17 p.m. ET

In case you weren’t aware, the SSA (Social Security Administration) issues three types of Social Security cards. One type, the only Social Security card that is unrestricted, is issued to U.S. citizens and people lawfully admitted to the U.S. on a permanent basis, the SSA explains on its website.

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The second type of Social Security card is issued to people lawfully admitted to the U.S. on a temporary basis who have DHS authorization to work.

The third is type of Social Security card is issued to people from other countries who “are lawfully admitted to the United States without work authorization from DHS, but have a valid non-work reason for needing a Social Security number; or need a number because of a federal law requiring a Social Security number to get a benefit or service,” according to the SSA.

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What is the difference between a restricted Social Security card and an unrestricted one?

Social Security office
Source: Getty Images

The Social Security Administration issues restricted Social Security Cards to individuals lawfully admitted to the U.S. on a temporary basis, according to the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).

Restricted cards are stamped with the restrictions “Valid For Work Only With DHS Authorization,” “Valid For Work Only With INS Authorization,” or “Not Valid For Employment,” according to the USCIS. These cards can't be used for Form 1-9, but employees can provide a different document from List C or a document from List A instead, if applicable.

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The SSA issues unrestricted Social Security cards to U.S. citizens and individuals lawfully admitted to the U.S. on a permanent basis. These cards allow individuals to work without restriction for any employer, according to the USCIS. The card shows a name and a Social Security number and isn't stamped with a restriction.

How to get an unrestricted Social Security card

If you are a U.S. citizen or you are lawfully admitted to the U.S. on a permanent basis, you can apply for a Social Security card by filling out SSA Form SS-5 and taking it—along with the required documents—including qualifying proof of age, identity, and U.S. citizen or immigration status—to a Social Security office or Social Security Card Center.

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In a webpage outlining the benefits and responsibilities of asylees, the USCIS states that individuals who are granted asylum are authorized to work in the U.S. and can apply for an unrestricted Social Security card at a Social Security office as soon as they have asylee status.

The SSA lists documents it will accept as proof of an asylee’s non-citizen status:

  • An I-94 with a stamp showing the individual is granted asylum under section 208 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)
  • An employment authorization document (either Form I-688B showing “274A.12(a)(5)” on the face of the card under Provision of Law or Form I-766 showing “A5” on the face of the card under Category)
  • An original order of an Immigration Judge granting asylum under the INA on official letterhead
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