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Can an Employee Start Working Without a Social Security Number?

by | Aug 12, 2021 | I-9 and E-Verify, Immigration


It might take a while for foreign nationals arriving in the United States to work to obtain their Social Security number (SSN) for various reasons.

As of this writing, it can take Social Security offices a few weeks to issue a SSN and card.

What should you do if you need to onboard a worker without a SSN?

Note that yes you can onboard the person without a SSN.  Below are tips to assist you.

Don’t Delay Their Start Date

The social security administration allows for the onboarding of an employee without a SSN, as long as that person is otherwise authorized to work.  For example, the person has a valid employment authorization document or a work visa. 

Guide Them to Apply for a SSN

Advise the new worker that they need to apply for a SSN and card as soon as possible and to provide you with this information once they receive it.

The foreign national may know nothing about obtaining a SSN and card because it’s somewhat unique to the United States. So, the employee may need guidance.

There are clear, step-by-step instructions here.

If a worker applied for the SSN but has not yet received it, obtain and record in a memo that the worker has applied for a SSN but has not received it yet and the following information from the worker: full name, address, date of birth, place of birth, father’s full name, mother’s full maiden name, gender and the date he or she applied for the SSN.

Pay Your New Employee

Employers do not need a SSN to begin paying a foreign national employee. Most payroll and employee benefit plan providers have processes for how to do this. The best way to learn what you need to do is to contact your specific payroll provider because processes vary.

Where the lack of a SSN might impact an employer is if the worker still doesn’t have a SSN  by the time the employer has to file wage reports (W-2s) to Social Security. There are a couple of possibilities here.

If the worker is filing by paper and they applied but did not get their number yet:

  • In Box A, enter “Applied For”

If the worker is filing electronically and they applied but did not get their number yet:

  • In the SSN field, enter all zeros

For additional information, please review

Employer Responsibilities When Hiring Foreign Workers (ssa.gov)





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