A Social Security Number (SSN) is issued for employment purposes in the United States. SSNs enable the government to track earnings for tax purposes and the Social Security System.
Do I need a Social Security Number?
Social Security Numbers are needed for:
- Employment: You must have a SSN in order to work in the U.S., even for work on the WPI campus. Therefore, once you have found a job you can apply for a SSN.
Social Security Numbers are NOT needed for:
- Banking: F- and J-visa holders do not need an SSN to open a bank account or for most other financial transactions. The bank may ask you to complete a form W-8BEN to prove that you are exempt from the requirement of providing an SSN.
- Purchasing a cell phone: Your cell phone company might tell you that you need an SSN to purchase a cell phone or a calling plan. It is not required to have an SSN, but if you do not, the phone company will probably ask you for an additional deposit. Some "prepaid" cell phone plans do not require an SSN or an extra deposit, so make sure to check with your phone carrier.
- Driver's License: In Massachusetts, you will need to show either your SSN card or a denial letter from the Social Security Office if you want to apply for a Massachusetts driver's license. Download our Getting a Massachusetts Driver's License (PDF) document for more information.
How can I get a Social Security Number?
When applying for a Social Security Number, the process always starts at the International House. We have the application forms and instructions on how to apply. Students and Scholars in F or J status must be registered in SEVIS before applying for their Social Security Number. The Social Security Administration verifies the status of all non-immigrant applicants for Social Security Numbers with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This USCIS check can add about a six-week delay in obtaining a Social Security Number.
For more information and to obtain the proper forms, download the Social Security Administration's Guide for International Students (PDF).
Am I required to pay the FICA tax?
Most employees are required to pay a certain percentage of their earnings to the Social Security System through the Federal Insurance Compensation Act, otherwise referred to as the FICA tax.
However, most F-1 and J-1 employees are usually exempt from the FICA tax. Employers are frequently unaware of this provision. This exemption can be found under Section 3121 (b) (19) of the Internal Revenue Code.
If your employer is deducting FICA taxes, most companies can refund you this money. If your employer will not refund these taxes, the U.S. government has a procedure for filing a return.
If you are considered a Resident Alien for tax purposes, then you are NOT ELIGIBLE for a FICA tax refund. Resident Aliens are treated (for tax purposes) like U.S. citizens.
For more information on Social Security and Medicare, download the U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens (PDF).
How to get a FICA tax refund
First, try to get a FICA refund from your employer. This is the easiest and most efficient way to get your refund. If you receive a refund from your employer, there is no need to file additional paperwork with the IRS.
If you have spoken to your employer and the company is unable to refund your FICA withholdings, you can file for a refund through the IRS.
To file with the IRS:
- You must try to get a statement from your employer concerning why they are unable to refund your FICA withholdings. If your employer refuses to give you a written statement, there is a space on Form 8316 to explain the situation.
- Fill out IRS Form 8316 (PDF)
- Fill out IRS Form 843 (PDF)
Include the following documents in your mailing:
- A copy of your W-2
- A copy of your most recent nonresident income tax return (if available)
- A copy of the visa page of your passport
- A copy of Form I-94
- A copy of your work authorization (if you are on OPT)
- A copy of your Form I-20 or DS-2019 (if you are on CPT or Academic Training)
- A written statement that you unsuccessfully requested a refund of these taxes from your employer (This can be the statement you obtained from your employer, or your own statement that you were denied refund of these taxes by your employer and were unable to obtain a statement from them)
You can send your paperwork in one of two ways:
- If you are sending your paperwork with your tax returns, then send it to the same address you are sending your taxes.
- If you are sending your forms independent of your tax forms, you should send all your paperwork to this address:
Internal Revenue Service Center
ATTN: FICA Return
Department of the Treasury
Odgen, UT 84201-0038
Am I considered a Resident Alien for tax purposes?
Students in F-1 or J-1 status usually become Resident Aliens for tax purposes after spending a certain amount of time in the U.S. For F-1 students, the time is approximately five years; for J-1 students, it is two years.
If you have a Green Card, H-1B status, or meet the "Substantial Presence Test," you are considered a Resident Alien for tax purposes. To read more about if you meet the "Substantial Presence Test," visit the Substantial Presence Test (PDF) section of the IRS website.
What is an ITIN?
An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) is a tax processing number issued by the IRS. It is a nine-digit number that always begins with the number 9 and has a 7 or 8 in the fourth digit: example 9XX-7X-XXXX.
The IRS issues ITINs to individuals who are required to have a U.S. taxpayer identification number but who do not have, and are not eligible to obtain, a Social Security Number (SSN) from the Social Security Administration.
For example, if you have a fellowship, it is not considered employment, so you are not eligible to apply for an SSN. However, your fellowship is taxable income, so you need to file an income tax return. In this instance, you would apply for an ITIN.
Even though the nine-digit number combination looks similar to an SSN, you cannot use an ITIN for identification purposes; it is strictly for tax uses only. For example, you cannot use an ITIN to apply for a bank account or a cell phone plan.
For more information on how to apply for an ITIN, visit the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number section of the IRS website.
Do I need to file a Form 8843 during tax season?
Contrary to popular belief, even students who did not receive an income during the year have to file a tax form. This form is called Form 8843 (PDF). All students who are considered non-resident aliens for tax purposes have to fill out this form. If you had an income and filed the 1040NR (using CINTAX or a paper form), Form 8843 should be attached to your tax file and submitted by the annual tax deadline of April 15. However, students who did not file a 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ (students who did not have an income) have additional time to file Form 8843, which should submitted by June 15. Please check with the International House if you have trouble filing this form.
It is not recommended that you carry your SSN card with you in your wallet, as you do not need it for everyday reasons. If someone steals your SSN, it is easy for that person to commit "identity theft" and make financial purchases under your name. Visit the Federal Trade Commission for more information on identity theft.