While the following information is not related to the legal service we provide related to immigration cases, we do see the following questions frequently and can provide some general information.  This information is not to be construed as legal advice and employers are encouraged to discuss related issues with their appropriate, tax, payroll or other appropriate resources. For a number of reasons, a newly arrived Foreign National employee may not receive their Social Security Number (“SSN”) from the Social Security Administration by the time they are scheduled to begin work in the U.S. This tends to make things more complicated for employers payroll and benefit administrators therefore this information mainly pertains to the payroll and benefit issues that can arise when onboarding your new foreign national employee:

Can An Employer Delay An Employee’s Start Date Until The Social Security Number Is Received?

An SSN is not required to complete the Form I-9 employment authorization verification UNLESS the employer participates in E-Verify, however E-Verify rules specifically prohibit employers from delaying an employee’s start date until a Social Security Number is received. E-Verify instructs employers to allow the employee to start as planned, complete the Form I-9 timely and wait to enter the case in E-Verify once the Social Security Number is received. Additionally, for employees who have obtained work authorization benefits through various visa statuses, delaying an employee’s start date until they receive their Social Security Number, rather than when they were scheduled to begin work could jeopardize that visa status. Finally, delaying work for pay for work authorized foreign nationals until a social security number is received may be considered a discriminatory employment practice and expose the employer to liability.

How Does An Employer File Wage Reports For Employees Without Social Security Numbers?

The Social Security Administration has a helpful webpage on how to file wage reports for employees without SSNs.

How Can An Employer Enroll A New Employee In Benefit Plans Or Process Payroll For An Employee Without A Social Security Number?

Payroll and Employee Benefit Plan Providers have a process for how to accommodate pay and enrollment for employees who have applied for, but not yet received, their Social Security Number.  This is a common occurrence for newly arrived foreign nationals, and, as such, most payroll and benefit providers have developed processes to accommodate this. Each provider’s process may vary somewhat so employers should contact their providers to determine what those processes are.

How Long Does It Usually Take For A Social Security Number To Be Received?

A newly arrived foreign national on a non-immigrant visa (L’s, H’s, etc…)  cannot apply for their Social Security Number until they arrive in the U.S.

Upon arrival, they need to apply in person at their local Social Security Office for their Social Security Number. Per Social Security Administration’s guidelines, if all goes well, the turnaround time to receive their Social Security Card should be about 3 weeks from the date of application. (This is why they say it may take up to 4 weeks on the receipt, as they give themselves a little cushion before people start calling).  At the 4-week timeframe, it is definitely time to start calling Social Security to see what the holdup is.

Can The Social Security Number Application Process Be Expedited?

The Social Security Administration does not offer an expedited process for foreign nationals on a non-immigrant visa.

What Can Be Done If It Has Been Longer Than 4 Weeks And The Social Security Card Is Still Not Received?

Often,  the issue is with the SAVE database . SAVE is a U.S government information service that verifies the status of foreign-born benefit applicants seeking a public benefit or license such as applying for a Social Security number.   Database information errors are most commonly caused by something being mis-keyed from the Social Security Number Application.  The result is that what is entered by Social Security doesn’t match what is actually in the SAVE database.

As soon as Social Security contacts SAVE (this is all done online) to verify the foreign national’s eligibility, a case is created in the SAVE system, and the employee or employer can actually view the status of this (The status displayed is either “pending” or “returned to Agency” – not any detail)  by entering a document number (such as I-94) and the employee’s birthdate into their Case Check tool .  Once the issue is resolved and returned to Social Security for action, Social Security, per their guidance, generally takes 10 (business) days to issue the Social Security Number.