A Social Security Number (SSN) is a national identification number used to track US earnings and to report required tax information. It is assigned permanently and does not change or expire, even after you return home or during an extended absence from the country. As a nonimmigrant, you are not required to have an SSN unless you become employed in the United States. The ISO can help you to determine if you are eligible for the SSN and advise you on the application process.
The SSN is an important form of identification in the United States and you should keep this number private so it is not used without your knowledge or permission. It is recommended that you keep your SSN card in a safe place, but separate from your immigration documents. This information is the key to your financial identity in the United States!
According to US law, a Social Security Number is required only for employment and tax-reporting purposes. However, many institutions – including banks, credit cards, the Department of Motor Vehicles, utility companies, and other businesses – often request an SSN to establish identity or review your credit history. It is your choice whether to give your SSN in these cases, but the business also has a choice of whether to provide a service without that information. If you are uncertain about giving out your SSN, you are always free to ask why the number is required, how it will be used, and whether it will be protected.
The ISO has prepared a handout on Identity Theft with helpful tips on keeping your information safe and steps to take if you feel you may be a victim of this crime. There are several credit reporting agencies in the United States, which can help you to monitor your personal details and report any fraudulent activity on your account(s). This can help to notify potential creditors of the problem and require that you be contacted directly before approving a new credit application or large transactions.