Social Security Number

6th February 1999

A Social Security Number is the most important thing you need when you get into the USA. Without it, you are a non-person and you are very restricted in what you can do.

For instance, you can't normally:

  • get a drivers license
  • get a credit card
  • open a bank account
  • get a loan
  • get a mortgage to buy a house
  • get on the payroll

You can actually do some of those things without a SSN, but it's tricky. If a bank is well disposed to you, meaning that the company you work for leans on them a little, you can open a bank account on the understanding that you will supply the SSN as soon as you get it. Alternatively, you can apply to the IRS for a TIN, a Tax Identification Number, and you can use this to open the bank account. Some banks have never heard of it, some don't want to do it, some will. Apparently, this is part of one of the Internet scams. There are a series of spam messages that offer to clean up your credit rating in the USA. If you take this offer up, they advise you to get a TIN and use that to build a whole new credit history. I've read that the fraud squad is onto the people who are pulling this scam.

Your company will obviously pay you, so you really are on the payroll, but they do need your SSN to make you official.

Regardless of the few things that you can do, you still can't do a lot without a SSN. You have to get one.

16th February 1999

On my first working day in the USA, I went to the Department of Social Services and filled out the forms and applied for my card. The only thing I had to produce was my passport with the visa inside. I had been told that the visit could take hours, and I was prepared for a long wait. It only took about 15 minutes to get the form, fill it in, wait to be called and hand it over and show proof. I should have known that a bureaucracy that was so easy at the start would soon turn nasty. When I filled in the form, I put my address down as the company's address. I did this because I didn't know where I was living, and I thought the company address would be easy to get stuff delivered to. Silly me.

I was told that the card would arrive in the mail within two weeks. I waited.

After 3 weeks, I was getting a bit edgy about it because I needed that card and I needed my phone number to get things going financially. The bank needed it to finalise my bank account. The mortgage broker needed it to start checking up on me. I needed it to get a drivers license. So I phoned the Department and asked about it. Before they would talk to me, I had to prove who I was over the phone by telling them things on the application form like my birth date and parents names and other tricky questions. Then they told me that the SSN card had already been sent to me and I should have it. Well, I didn't. But they did give me my social security number on the phone. With that I could get the bank satisfied and get the mortgage application happening. But I was a bit worried about the missing card. We hunted high and low at the company but no-one had seen it arrive. It didn't exist. So what happened to it? Had it been intercepted and someone out there is now using it to start a new identity, and thereby screwing up my credit rating? Will it arrive in six months time having travelled via Alaska? Who knows.

After 4 weeks, there was still no sign of it. I decided to apply for a replacement card. So I phoned up again and waited through the damned If you want to speak Spanish, press 1. If you want a replacement card, press 2. Answer these 32 questions and we'll mail the application forms to you in the next 2 weeks. answering system. Two weeks became too long when I found I needed the card to get a drivers license. See the saga of the Drivers License.

17th February 1999

Today I went back to the Department of Social Services and applied for a replacement card. This time, it wasn't a quick 15 minute wait. It took an hour and a half. Nearly all that time was spent watching this young, attractive blonde woman trying to do something about her son. She needed one document. The woman at the counter kept telling her You need document X that sets out XYZ, and this woman kept dumping more bits of paper on the counter and offering all sorts of useless bits of paper. At the end, there was a pile of paper on the counter that spread about 4 feet long and was about 3 inches thick. And she still hadn't got the right form. Eventually she bundled the lot up into her carry bags and apologised to the clerk and thanked her for being so patient with her. Nothing about apologising to the rest of us in line who were waiting and fuming.

Once I got served, I was okay. It only took about 5 minutes. And this time, I specified that the card was to be sent home. No having it pass through a hundred hands at work. So this time, I hope to actually get a card. And in the meantime, I am hoping that some crack head hasn't got my other card and has opened bank accounts with it and is stuffing up my credit record. Time will tell.

The wait was good in one way. First of all, there were some funny bits. Above the woman on the counter who dealt with the social security cards, was a framed photograph of Bill Clinton. Remember how once upon a time in Australia, wherever you went in government offices, there was always a photograph of the Queen? Usually a very young Queen in red and black military uniform, mounted on a horse? See how old I am when I can remember those photos. Well, here, they have photos of Bill Clinton. And for a short time, a young woman came and sat opposite me. And this young woman looked startlingly like a young plump Monica Lewinsky. She had that same sloe-eyed, plump, slutty look about her. The guy from work who was with me, even he remarked on the coincidence of having a Monica Lewinsky look-alike sitting near a photo of Bill Clinton. That was one funny moment from that hour a half wait.

The other funny moment was when I saw the sign on the wall. That helped me understand why there is an armed guard in the DSS. Here's the sign, verbatim.

WARNING
It is a federal offense to kill, kidnap, forcibly assault, intimidate or interfere with designated employees while they are engaged in or on account of the performance of their official duties.

Violators are subject to criminal prosecution.

Need I say any more about American culture, when they have to have a sign that tells that it's wrong to kill the person behind the counter?

Yes, I have to say one more thing. There was one more memorable moment when two young men sat down opposite me. One was very early 20s, and one was late teens. They must have been brothers, because you don't find too many strangers who have faces that look like frogs. The eldest one was the more distinctive. Apart from a face that distinctly resembled a frog, his clothing was designed to resemble the confederate army uniform. Boots. Grey trousers with braces, and a grey-brown army style shirt. His hair was cut short, but he had a set of sharp mutton-chop style whiskers. He could have stepped out of any of those films about the American Civil War. Sorry, the War of Northern Aggression. The younger was dressed more like a hay seed. They talked to each briefly, and it was very apparent that speech was a novelty to them. They didn't so much as have an accent, but a guttural set of grunts that had meaning. They waited patiently for 50 seconds and then decided that it was too much trouble to stay waiting, and they left.

2nd March 1999

My Social Security Card finally arrived in the mail. Now I exist. I am a legal entity in the United States Of America. I had to show the card to the Pay Office at work. I had originally been told that they would photocopy it, but it appears that they used to photocopy the cards, but found out that was illegal, so they don't do that anymore. My card has on it Valid for work only with INS authorization. I have that authorization with my H1B status. So now I have my SSN number, and my SSN card and I can pretty much do anything here in the US. Now that I have a single number that I can be tracked by, I will be tracked. I will soon have a credit history, and a credit rating.

2nd April 2000

When Anne arrived, we found that she wasn't allowed to get a Social Security Number. Because she is on a H4 visa, she isn't allowed to work, so she doesn't get to pay Social Security Taxes, so there's no need to track her, so they won't issue her a Social Security Number. Okay, fine. We didn't really need it. We've gone a year without Anne needing a SSN or a card.

Now it's tax season. If I want any sort of deductions, I have to claim Anne as my spouse. To claim her, I have to supply her Social Security Number. Oops.

We can't get her a Social Security Number. But we can get her a Tax Identification Number, and that looks like a SSN but it can only be used for tax purposes. Just what we need. So Anne took her passport and visa to the tax office in Norfolk, and filled out the application form for a TIN. They would do some preliminary checks, and then forward the documents to the main office in Richmond. It would take 4 to 6 weeks and she would get her TIN in the mail. We waited.

After 6 weeks, there was nothing in the mail. Anne phoned the Richmond IRS office and got to speak to someone about the TIN. A black guy was on the phone, with a cold and no desire to do anything. He claimed they had received nothing from the Norfolk office, it wasn't up to him to do anything, he wasn't going to do anything, she would have to take it up with the Norfolk office, and he wasn't going to help her at all, then he hung up. Just another helpful bureaucrat. Anne phoned the Norfolk office and they went through their documents and they had indeed sent it all to Richmond. The Richmond office had lost it. So they sent all the data again, and made notes on it about expediting the processing. It would take about a fortnight.

After 2 weeks, there was still nothing. Anne phoned up again. No-one in the Richmond office knew anything. There was a record of it, but the person who could help was away. Wait till Wednesday and it should arrive in the mail. We are waiting. And it's getting close to the tax deadline. If it doesn't arrive soon, I'll have to apply for an extension.