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June 25, 2019

ALLAN WERNICK: It’s rare that an undocumented immigrant can get a Social Security card

January 10, 2019
There are only a few exceptions under which an undocumented immigrant cannot get a Social Security card. (Peterfactors / Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Q: Can an undocumented immigrant — a person not lawfully in the United States — get a valid, Social Security Administration issued Social Security card?

Lee Friedman, by email


A: With limited exceptions, an undocumented immigrant cannot get a Social Security card. One exception is for individuals under supervision. These are deportable individuals known to immigration who are allowed to stay here for humanitarian reasons. They can get Social Security cards allowing them to work and qualify for federal public benefits.

Sometimes an undocumented individual has a special need for a card, and the SSA will issue a card with the notation “Not Valid for Employment.” You can read more about who can get a card on the Social Security website.

An undocumented immigrant who can’t get a Social Security card, can get an Individual Tax Identification Number. The Internal Revenue Service will issue a number to any undocumented individual not eligible for a Social Security card. The only requirement is that the individual must have a legal obligation to file a tax return.

Any independent contractor who earns at least $400 must file a return. So, suppose you work cleaning homes and you earned at least $400 in 2018 If you file a 2019 tax return, and include IRS form W-7, you can get an Individual Tax Identification Number. Since you earned too little to pay taxes, you will get an ITIN at no cost.

An Individual Tax Identification Number does not authorize you to work. However, you can use it to file taxes, pay into the Social Security retirement system and, to open a bank account. You can even use it to get a home mortgage or open a business. An ITIN has the same number of digits as a Social Security card.

Some employers choose to unlawfully employ undocumented workers, but then comply with other laws by reporting their income and withholding taxes. Workers employed that way can file a tax return and often get a tax refund.

If the worker eventually gets legal status and a valid Social Security card, the worker can reconcile their ITIN and Social Security card accounts. They can claim retirement benefits based on the combined account.

Allan Wernick is an attorney and director of the City University of New York’s Citizenship Now! project. Send questions and comments to Allan Wernick, New York Daily News, 7th Fl., 4 New York Plaza, New York, N.Y., 10004 or email to [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @awernick.

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