H4 EAD SSN application

You may have obtained your H4 EAD and getting ready to work. But before that you would have to apply for your Social Security Number (SSN). Because, your employer would need it for adding you to their payroll, doing back ground verification etc. Here is a list of frequently asked questions while applying for SSN.

I already had a SSN when I used to work when I was in a different visa. Do I still need to apply?

No, social security number is issues to an individual generally once. Hence if you already have one, start using it. You don’t have to apply again for the same.

What are the documents needed? And what is the procedure?

You will need your SSN application form, Passport, ID Proof, EAD card, and a print-out of your I-94 from the CBP website. And follow the procedure described on the SSA site.

How long does it take to get the SSN?

It may take anywhere between 1-4 weeks.

If you are in H4 EAD status, choose Legal alien allowed to work

I have a ITIN number, can I keep it while I receive my SSN?

You have to rescind your ITIN after you get your SSN. Your past tax documents filed using your ITIN number has to be associated to the new SSN number. You can send a letter to IRS, that you have a new SSN and you would like to associate the the previous tax records to your new SSN. And also attach a copy of the SSN card. Get more help from IRS site.

My EAD card has not arrived. Can I use the EAD approval notice to apply for SSN?

No. For the purpose of applying SSN, you would need the EAD card. You cannot apply with just the approval notice.

I got an H4 EAD with incorrect details. Can apply for SSN with this card?

Unfortunately, you can’t apply for SSN. SSA office will not accept cards with typos. You first have to get it corrected on the EAD card. While you can start looking for jobs, you cannot apply for SSN until the information is corrected. You can check with USCIS on how to correct the information. If you are in a hurry try to raise an expedited SR request.

Do I need to work if I get a SSN? Does my tax filing status change because of SSN?

No for both. You don’t have to work if you get your SSN. But if you already have ITIN, you have to rescind that by contacting IRS. And in general, your tax filing status do not change because of SSN. You can continue to file jointly if that’s what you have been doing.

Should we notify DMV about the change from ITIN to SSN?

Yes if you have a state ID card or a drivers license without SSN, you can contact the DMV and update your SSN. DMV may ask you to bring Passport, your new SSN etc.

Do we need to get an Employment letter from a employer to apply SSN?

Not needed. Job is not a criteria for applying for SSN. So, you can apply for SSN whether you plan to work or not. It may be a good idea to apply for SSN before landing a job as the employer would ask for SSN and you can avoid unnecessary delays.

My EAD has a future effective date, can I apply for SSN before that date?

No you cannot. You can apply only when you have a valid EAD card. If the card becomes active in a future date, then you would have to wait until the start date.

The agent at SSA office told me that she cannot verify my EAD details and that she needs more time to verify. What can be done?

This is a common scenario. You don’t have to worry about it. USCIS maintains a database of approved EAD applicants. And there may be a lag in updating the database. If SSA office cannot find your information in the SAVE database then they may ask for more time to wait for verifying your details. SSA agent would basically post your information to USCIS for verification. While you are waiting for the verification, you can check the status of your case. It may take anywhere between 2-4 weeks or more. Should there be a prolonged wait, you can try calling USCIS to get the status. Once the status of your case on the SAVE website changes from “Under review” to “returned to the agency”, you can expect your SSN shortly (1-2 weeks). But if there is further delay, you can check with your local SSA office. If they say they haven’t received any update from USCIS, you can mention that you spoke with USCIS (http://www.uscis.gov/save/contact-save) and that they will not divulge any information to the application and instead wants the agency to call them directly on the toll free number (in the contact SAVE website). Alternatively, some people have found success by taking a print out of the SAVE status page and show them. Remember to make all information available to the SSA agent and be courteous. The whole process might take 4 weeks.

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How to request FOIA from USCIS

One aspect of the US immigration system is it’s complex. And like many areas of law there are many nuances. Occasionally, you may run into situation where you don’t have access to your own immigration documents or your employer is not willing to sharing them. Typically, not all employers share with employees their employer sponsored visas and green card records. Or you may not have access to family sponsored green card records. Or you may simply need historical immigration documents for your own record keeping.

And luckily, US has a law called Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which gives you right of access to your documents within the branches of government. And most agencies of government come under this including the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS is one of the immigration agencies under the Department of Homeland Security(DHS) and it holds number of important information about an immigrant. To help you obtain your documents, USCIS has a well defined process on how to make a FOIA request.

But, before you prepare your FOIA requests, make sure you are using the FOIA for the right purposes and the type of documents you are requesting is maintained by USCIS. USCIS is generally the records keeper of immigrations applications for visas, green card etc. Port of entry details for example are maintained by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). While in some cases USCIS has access to records from other adjacent agencies, it’s better to contact the agency directly. And FOIA cannot be used to ask for status of your pending USCIS immigration applications. And it cannot be used to get original documents either. FOIA also has exemptions. For example, documents pertaining to national security concerns cannot be released.

With the basics of USCIS FOIA out of the way, Let’s see how to make the application. Making the application is a simple 3 step process, although there may be nuances while filling the forms.

Step 1: Prepare for the application

Determine what documents you need from USCIS. That and beside your basic information, You would typically need for filling the form.

  • Your Recent I-94 lookup on DHS site
  • Alien Registration Number (A-Number) (optional)
  • Application, Petition, or Request Receipt Number (optional): This could be any of you receipt number of your petitions like H1b I-129, I-140, I-130. etc
  • Id proof: For example, Copy of your license or state id

While USCIS mentions most of the above as optional information, it’s better to give as much information as possible to make it easy to identify the information you are requesting.

Step 2: Fill Form G 639

USCIS prefers the form G-639 to be used for FOIA. Get an overview of the form

Step 3: Send the form

Sign the form under perjury (Summary: You agree to face consequences under US laws, if the application contains wrong information. Formal explanation) or Sign before a Notary, with necessary documents. Email to form to [email protected] Attach any additional documents that you want to send.

What happens after that? You will receive a control number with-in 2 weeks with which you can track your status You will receive a CD with documents to your address.

Have more questions? Here is the list of frequently asked questions,

What is FOIA?

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law that gives you the right to access information from the federal government. So, people have been using FOIA to request their I140 documents. More information in wiki

What types of documents can be requested from USCIS via FOIA?

USCIS holds records pertaining to your visa, green card petitions etc. So, what that means is you can request details about your H1b petition filed on your behalf by your employer. You can also request your green card labor certifications, I-140 petition filed by your employer. Similarly, your family based green card petition (I-130) can be requested. You could request your complete A-file too if you want to get all the information USCIS has.

Can I file FOIA to get information about my friend?

FOIA allows for exemptions for reasons including privacy concerns of the individuals involved. Thus, it may be possible to obtain copies your own records, but not the records of a friend or ex-spouse.

I lost my original documents, can I request the originals through FOIA?

No. FOIA can be used to request copies of your documents. And most likely USCIS will send you a soft copy in a CD. So, talk to your attorney for means to obtain your original documents.

Will my employer know about my I140 FOIA request to USCIS?

No. FOIA request ensures privacy. Your employer or their attorneys won’t know that you have contacted USCIS to get your immigration documents.

My employer didn’t share either my I140 case number or approval number. Is it still possible to apply?

Yes. It is possible to request I140 with just basic information like your name, passport number, latest I94 number etc.

Will the document provided by USCIS sufficient to port my green card priority date or apply for H1b extensions?

Yes. USCIS sends a copy of I140 application with approval stamp which should be sufficient.

How long does USCIS take to respond?

USCIS follows a three-track system. How sooner USCIS processes your request depends on the complexity of the document requested. USCIS maintains a “A-file” or Alien-file with all information pertaining to your immigration history. If you request for the complete A-File it most likely go into track 3 and might take several months to a year or even more. But if you are requesting selected documents within the A-file like your green card petition or H1b petitions or labor certification documents, most likely those will go into the simple track. At the time of writing this simple track takes about a month to process. Anything between the two is slotted in the middle track.

For current wait times, check here

I am in a hurry, Can I expedite the process with USCIS?

USCIS may accept to expedite certain requests on a case by case basis for valid reasons like when your life is at stake or your are facing trial before a judge. In other urgent cases, you can attach a cover letter about your situation. And USCIS officials may make an effort to expedite the process. But, It’s not guaranteed, hence it’s better to plan ahead.

Is there a filing fee?

Generally no for non-commercial uses. But if USCIS determines that the cost of producing the data is expensive they will contact you. Typically USCIS can charge a fee upto $25.

OK I am ready to file. What are the steps to request the I140 information?

You will have to fill the latest G639 form. Check g 639 instructions of this blog has more information.

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Parents visting US things to take care

Parents visiting the US? It may be exciting and daunting at the same time, especially for those who travel for the first time. Here is a checklist to make the trip as smooth as possible,

  • Buy health insurance in advance. You can buy it in the US or from the home countries. And the ones that cover them during the travel is better. Keep them handy during travel.

  • Necessary medicines along with doctor’s prescriptions.

  • Arrange for sufficient US dollars. Carrying small denominations will be useful if renting a cart in the airport etc. Carrying a prepaid credit/debit card can also be considered as a backup

  • Consider buying a cell phone with international roaming. This could be from their home countries. Or alternatively, a sim from the US with roaming can be activated and mailed to them. A simple full sized sim on a feature phone is more reliable than a smart phone. And they are cheap too!

  • Blankets can be handy, to be used during the flight or even in the airport when the situation arises.

  • Cheat sheet: One of my colleague creates a cheat sheet with common requests printed like “I need water”, “I am flying to New Jersey”, “I need vegetarian food” etc. This is handy for people who are not fluent in English. They can point at the appropriate requests depending upon the situations

  • Flight reservation should have at least 4 hours for transit. Otherwise, there is no room for error.

  • It’s better to avoid the last flight of the day during a transit. Worst case, when a flight is missed, airlines try to arrange for next flights. And that may happen to be the on the following day. Then one is forced to spend the night in the airport. Not a pleasant experience :(.

  • Try to get a travel companion who can assist at least during the transits at the least.

  • Wheelchair assistance can be added during flight reservation and the same can be confirmed a day before the flight from the airlines.

  • Arrange for appropriate meal preferences during the flight.

  • Arrange for preferred seat options like aisle, window etc for all the legs of the trip.

  • All the necessary visa documents, passports and supporting documents should be carried. This one is obvious.

  • Flight tickets, boarding passes and baggage claim stickers are the ones not to forget.

  • Port of entry: Familiarize them with the process, and be ready to answer about the class of visa, purpose of visit, destination etc.

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