Social Security Numbers for J-1 Visa Holders

Do you have a new Intern or Trainee program starting soon? J-1 Visa holders are eligible to obtain a Social Security Number (SSN), and we encourage obtaining one! J-1 participants will need an SSN in order to get paid by their host company. Even if the program is unpaid, it can be helpful to have. Participants and hosts should discuss in advance whether this is a required by the company, or to receive compensation.

The process for obtaining an SSN is simply, however, there are a number of steps involved, so it takes time. You will need to anticipate and plan accordingly. J-1 participants may arrive in the U.S. up to 30 days before the program start date and they may use this time to apply for the SSN.

How does a J-1 holder obtain a Social Security Number?
In order to obtain an SSN, the J-1 participant must take the following steps:

1.Visa Validation. Upon arrival to the U.S., participants must send us their U.S. residential address via our website. We will then use this information to validate their visa within the government SEVIS database within two business days. J-1 holders cannot successfully apply for an SSN until their visa has been validated.

2.Social Security Office Appointment. The participant will then need to visit a local Social Security Office with all required documentation to apply. It is advised that the participant applies for the SSN no less than 10 days after entry to the U.S. and 48 hours after providing Cultural Vistas with the required information to validate their visa. This is to ensure that all databases have adequate time to communicate with one another. Applying before this time may result in further delays. To apply, the participant will need to take the following documents to their nearest Social Security Office:

  • Form SS-5: The SSN application form–can be downloaded from http://www.ssa.gov/
  • Form DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility)
  • Letter of Sponsorship (printed from their approval email sent by Cultural Vistas)
  • I-94 Record Printout: The admission number and electronic I-94 can be accessed online for the duration of the J-1 program here. Participants should click on “Get Most Recent I-94” to save and print their I-94 travel record. This should list their most recent entry into the U.S.
  • Passport with J-1 visa
  • Form DS-7002 (Official Training Plan)
  • Offer letter from host company (if available)

3.Wait. It may take over 2 weeks to receive the SSN, which will be mailed to the address provided on the Form SS-5.

Do J-1 participants need an SSN to begin the program?
No!  Please read the guidance from the Social Security Administration on this topic. Participants can be added to their host organization’s payroll without an SSN. They can show the receipt of having applied for the card, and/ or the host organization will be able to use a “dummy number” to enroll them on the payroll until they get their number. Participants must give their host organization their Social Security Number (listed on the card they receive) as soon as they receive it.

As a reminder, participants should not be classified as independent contractors.

A participant received an SSN in the past?
Then you are already good to go! An SSN is a lifelong personal identification number. If a J-1 participant has already been in the U.S. and obtained a SSN previously, they do not need to apply for a new SSN. The number previously obtained should simply be used.

Having trouble?

If a participant runs into any problems obtaining the SSN, they should reach out to their primary contact at Cultural Vistas, or train@culturalvistas.org – we are happy to help!