The University of Iowa

International students seek Social Security numbers

February 26th, 2015

By Li Dai, The Daily Iowan

Some international students working in dining halls or convenience stores are there for one primary reason, and it’s not for the paycheck.

They are after a Social Security number.

Many international students find employment with UI Housing and Dining (photo by UI Housing and Dining)

“In my sophomore year, I worked in Burge Market Place for one semester, and the most important reason I worked is to get Social Security number,” University of Iowa junior Zhuoye Zhang said.

The Social Security Administration website says people do not need a Social Security number to get a job, but once students have a job, a number is needed for the employers to report their earnings to the IRS.

Once international students obtain part-time jobs with the university in some capacity, students must provide information that proves they are attending that university with some sort of employment and documentation of their expected hours and work duties. Students cannot be legally be paid for their work until they receive a number.

From here, they are assigned a Social Security number. Students don’t have to be citizens to receive the number. According to the Social Security Administration website, the department will send a number and card once immigration details are verified, which can take two to four weeks or more.

Bill Kelly, assistant manager of Hillcrest Marketplace, said University Housing and Dining employs the largest number of UI students because it takes a lot of help to staff all of its outlets. However, he said, it doesn’t track the number of international students working in the dining halls.

“We do have a high percentage of international students working in dining, because they have been very reliable and have a good work ethic,” he said.

UI junior Hao Wang said Hillcrest and Burge Marketplaces are the two easiest places for international students to get part-time jobs. Some even choose to leave their jobs once they receive their Social Security cards.

“I stopped working in Hillcrest Marketplace after obtaining the Social Security number,” Wang said. “I know many international students didn’t want to keep working after they get Social Security numbers.”

For these students, it is a way to put down simple roots in the United States.

“Most of my Chinese friends suggested me to get Social Security number because they said it is useful to apply for credit cards,” Wang said. “My Chinese friends told me that a Social Security number can help me to stay and find a job in the United States after graduation.”

There are misconceptions about what a Social Security number guarantees for these students.

“Students only need a Social Security number if they have a valid offer of employment,” said Michael Bortscheller, an assistant director of International Students and Scholars. “Some students want Social Security numbers because they believe — incorrectly — that they need one in order to get a driver’s license.”

Zhang was one such student who said taking the driver’s-license test as a motivation for getting the number.

Bortscheller said Social Security numbers do not necessarily help students find jobs after graduation. He pointed out that many international students apply for Optional Practical Training  — which allows them to work on existing student visa for up to a year after graduation to gather experience — without receiving a Social Security number.

Still, students seek the little blue government-issued card.

“I think a Social Security number is important because it helps to record our covered wages or earnings,” said UI sophomore Ru Huang, who worked in Hillcrest Marketplace for three months. “These records are necessary for us to buy a car or a house in the United States.”