The University of Iowa

Social Security Numbers

Social security numbers are a unique number, primarily issued to individuals for tax purposes.  International students are not automatically eligible for social security numbers.  However, students who obtain U.S. job offers may apply for a social security number at the Social Security Administration (SSA). 

On-campus employers should provide students with a job offer letter formatted like this sample letter.   Please see the specific instructions below on how to date these letters and when to give them to your student.

This process applies to those students who are on a University of Iowa F-1 or J-1 student visa.


When to Create the Social Security Job Offer Letter for New Students

As of August 2016 - The local Social Security Administration office has received an increasing number of fraudulent or outdated requests from students no longer employed, and issued new guidance to ISSS about when the SSN employment letters should be created and given to students, as well as the timeframe in which students should apply for the SSN.  Note we are not referring to the standard offer letters you might give to grad assistantants or other employees; we are referring to the special department employment verification letter that is strictly for SSN purposes as shown in the sample above.

  • New students cannot take steps to apply for the SSN until the second week of classes.  We generally give students the date of the Wednesday in the second week of the semester.  This is due to requirements in SEVIS reporting and processes in other federal databases.  This particular requirement applies only to students new to the UI; ongoing students can apply for the SSN at any time.
    • Fall 2017 - August 30
    • Spring 2018 - January 24
  • On the SSN letter, you will be asked to enter the start date of the employment as well as the date the letter is created.  It is fine if the start date listed is prior to the date the SSN employment verification letter is created - the start date should reflect the true first day of employment; the date following the signature of the HR representative should reflect the date the letter is created.
  • Students must go to the Social Security Administration within 14 days of the date on the department employment letter.  For this reason departments should not create the letters too early, as it may cause the student to have to return to you for an updated letter.  This is beyond the control of ISSS and is a requirement of the local SSA office.  This applies to any international student, new or ongoing.
  • Letters should not be given to students before the first day of employment.  It is fine to give them the SSN letter after the first day, particularly given the 14-day constraint mentioned above.  This too applies to any international student.


Student Application Process

The student should then upload the letter into iHawk system.  An ISSS advisor will provide the student with a second letter that comes from ISSS.  The student should take both letters, his/her passport, I-94 card, and I-20 or DS-2019 to the SSA to complete the application for a social security number.  Students receive a detailed email from ISSS containing all instructions along with a map to the SSA office and their hours.   They are also informed of the requirement to go within 14 days of the date on the department letter.  If a student waits too long, ISSS will deny the request and require the student to obtain an updated verification letter from the department or the SSA will tell the student to come back with an updated letter.

Generally, it can take about 10 days to receive the actual social security card.  In the interim, these students may begin their work on-campus for a limited amount of time with a temporary ID.  Please contact an HR representative for more information.  Please be aware that the SSA must verify the student’s status prior to issuing the number; the ISSS counsels that students who have just arrived to begin their studies must wait until after the start of classes to apply for an SSN to ensure there are no problems.

Students with off-campus offers should be prepared to show proof of their work authorization (CPT, OPT, or Academic Training) in addition to their passport, I-94 card, and I-20 or DS-2019 when applying at the Social Security Administration.  No letter is needed from the ISSS.

The Social Security Administration provides further information on employers’ responsibilities when hiring foreign workers. 

Individual Tax identification Numbers

Students who will receive payment from the university (ex. fellowships) but are not actually working in the U.S. are ineligible for a social security number.  These students should apply for and receive an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number or ITIN instead.  Please contact Human Resources for questions.  ISSS is unable to assist with ITIN issues.

Occasionally students can claim dependents on their tax return.  In that situation, the ITIN is used to identify the dependents of the person filing a tax return, and the application is filed at the time the tax return is submitted.