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What is an unrestricted Social Security card? How can I apply for it?

A Social Security number is neccessary to gain employment in the United States but some cards are issued with work restrictions. Here's what that means...

The three types of Social Security benefits

Your Social Security number is used to identify and accurately record your employment and earnings history and enables you to claim from a variety of benefits programmes.

In most instances simply knowing your number is enough to get a job or take advantage of a government programme, but you should also have been issued with a Social Security card. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has three types of card that it gives to recipients, two of which have certain work restrictions.

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The unrestricted Social Security card is issued only to US citizens and people who have been lawfully admitted to the United States to reside on a permanent basis. The card will display your name and Social Security number and will let you work in the US without restriction.

How to get an unrestricted Social Security card

Given the huge amount of freedom that they give the owner to seek employment in the US, getting an unrestricted Social Security card is hugely important for job seekers.

To apply for the card you will need to complete the SSA’ Form SS-5 and take it to a Social Security office or Social Security card center, along with the required documents. The form will detail exactly what is required for your application but typically includes proof of age, identity and citizenship or immigrant status.

An asylee (someone who has successfully sought asylum status in the US and is already present in the country) can also apply for an unrestricted Social Security card. Once granted asylum you will need to attend a Social Security office with proof of your non-citizen status in the US.

What other types of Social Security card are there?

As mentioned only one of the three Social Security cards is unrestricted, meaning that the other two impose limits on employment.

The second type of card shows the owner’s name and Social Security number, but carries the restriction "VALID FOR WORK ONLY WITH DHS AUTHORIZATION" on the front. This means that the cardholder requires approval from the Department of Homeland Security before being able to work, and only on a temporary basis.

The third of the Social Security cards carries the words "NOT VALID FOR EMPLOYMENT" on the front, making it pretty clear that the holder is not authorised to work. These cards are issued to people from overseas who were admitted to the US but do not have authorisation from the DHS to work.

Recipients of these cards will only be granted one if they are in need of a Social Security number for any non-work reason, or to get a benefit or service.


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