In the United States, a Social Security Number (SSN) is a 9-digit number issued to citizens, permanent residents and temporary (working) non-residents by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Its primary purpose is to track individuals for taxation purposes; it is not intended to be used for identification purposes.
Per current legislation, SSNs can only be issued to someone who:
- Is a citizen or permanent resident of the United States or
- Has a valid job offer and/or is eligible for legal employment
Currently, SSNs are only issued to non-residents who have an employment offer. Dependents with F-2 status are not eligible for a SSN because they are not permitted to work. However, J-2 dependents are eligible to apply for a SSN.
Students do not need a SSN to register for classes at USC, get a driver’s license in California or open a bank account. However, landlords and utility, cable and cell phone companies may request a SSN to do a credit history check to determine the amount of deposit they will require to secure housing or to activate services. Students without a SSN may be required to pay a higher deposit payment prior to receiving service.
Students are able to start working once the application is filed although the number has not been assigned yet. Please see this link (Item 1.3.2) for information.
The SSA provides more information on SSNs for international students.
Students and scholars who are not eligible for a SSN may be eligible for a Tax Identification Number (ITIN) to use for filing taxes during tax season reporting.