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I have a social security number, why can’t I work?

February 6, 2018

Having a Social Security Number Does Not Automatically Permit you to Work in the US

Often, people in the US on non-immigrant visas, particularly F1 student visas, will obtain social security numbers through a University work program or Optional Professional Training (OPT). Many times, when these work permit programs expire, because the student needs money, the student will continue to work using the social security number they received as a result of their University work permit program. Often, universities advise students that it is ok to continue working as long as the student complies with all US work regulations, such as paying taxes. This advice could jeopardize the student’s ability to obtain US permanent residency status in the future, because any work in the US without a properly obtained and valid work permit is “unauthorized work”.

Companies like ride sharing companies have become very popular sources of “unauthorized” work, because they hire workers as independent contractors and require only a social security number. Because these companies do not hire employees (they treat their drivers as independent contractors, they do not use e-verify, which allows them to hire a driver with just a social security card. Be aware that just because you have been hired as an independent contractor and you pay taxes properly, you may be engaging in “unauthorized work”.

Here’s the problem:┬áMost permanent residency applications require the applicant to detail their work history. And, all permanent residency applications require the immigrant to answer all questions on the application truthfully. Any student who has followed US work laws and properly paid taxes has now developed a trackable work history that can be cross referenced as part of a permanent residency green card application. Under an adjustment of status application, the immigrant cannot have performed unauthorized work while on the non-immigrant visa. The adjustment of status rules however provide some leniency, as long as the immigrant did not perform unauthorized work for more than 180 days.

Unauthorized work is a bad idea in any event. Non-immigrant visa holders should avoid working in any job for which the US government has not issued a work permit. While there may be legal exceptions that will allow the non-immigrant visa holder to apply for and receive a permanent residency visa pursuant to an adjustment of status application, the best advice is to avoid unauthorized work.