SSA Revises SSN Application Rules, Updates SSNVS Handbook for Employers

Author: Rena Pirsos, XpertHR Legal Editor

September 2, 2015

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has issued a final rule, effective September 9, 2015, revising its regulations regarding the procedures an individual should follow to apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) card. The rule also revises certain related evidence requirements. The changes are intended to provide greater flexibility in the ways in which an individual may request a Social Security card and permits the SSA to implement an online SSN replacement card application system.

SSNs are the key identifier of individuals for the SSA and the IRS, and employers play a central role in providing correct employee name/SSN information to these agencies. Both the SSA and the IRS capture taxpayers' SSNs when employers file Forms W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, for each employee with the SSA. SSN cards are also used by employers as one of the most important forms of employment eligibility verification on Form I-9.

SSNs are issued to US citizens, permanent residents of the US and temporary foreign nationals who reside in the US to work. A newly hired employee who does not know his or her SSN or does not have one must obtain one. If an employee's card is lost or stolen, the employee must replace it. Currently, in either situation, the employee must file Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card, with the SSA. Applicants must also provide supporting documentary evidence when they apply for a card.

The final rule removes the requirement that an applicant for a replacement SSN card must file Form SS-5 at a local Social Security office. The final rule also removes references to Form SS-5 and replaces them with the term prescribed application. The agency says that a "prescribed application would simply be the application form - whether a paper form, an online application, or some other method - that we determine to be most efficient and user-friendly at any given time."

The final rule also removes the word documentary from the description in the current regulations of the citizenship, age and identity evidence required to obtain an original or replacement SSN card. Under the final rule, to obtain a new or replacement card, an applicant may provide, or the SSA may obtain, evidence to establish eligibility and identity through "data matches or other agreements with government agencies or other entities that we determine can provide us with appropriate and secure verification of the applicant's true identity and other eligibility factors." The SSA said these changes will give the agency the flexibility to adapt the SSN application process "as necessity and technology allow."

However, in response to concerns that this will make it easier for unauthorized immigrants to fraudulently work in the US by obtaining SSNs, the SSA said it will continue to require the same evidence to establish an individual's citizenship, age and identity to obtain a new or replacement SSN card. The agency noted that removal of the word documentary does not imply any modification to the current evidentiary requirements.

The SSA said that it is developing, and will gradually roll out on a state-by-state basis, a new online application that will allow adult US citizens who are not reporting any changes to their record (i.e., name or date of birth) to more conveniently and quickly apply for a replacement SSN card online after registering through the my Social Security portal. Eligible individuals will be required to have a US mailing address and a valid US state-issued driver's license or identity card.

Further, to prevent data breaches of individuals' electronically provided and processed personal identifying information, the SSA assured that it "employs a dynamic enterprise-wide cyber security program and leverage[s] a defense-in-depth strategy." The agency said if it detects any suspicious activity it will refer an individual to a local Social Security office for in-person assistance.

The final regulation also updates references to the Immigration and Naturalization Service with Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to reflect that agency's restructuring in 2003.

SSNVS Handbook Updates

In related news, the SSA has posted an updated version of the Social Security Number Verification Service (SSNVS) Handbook for employers on its website. An employer may be penalized for filing Forms W-2 on which employees' SSNs are incorrectly reported, unless the employer can prove it had reasonable cause for the errors. To avoid these costly tax penalties, an employer should verify that its employees' names and SSNs match by using SSNVS, which is a free online service.

The updated Handbook, which provides detailed instructions for employer registration and use of SSNVS, includes new information on the correct use of SSNVS and the situations in which an employer cannot complete the registration online. To avoid employer liability for failure to comply with federal and/or state antidiscrimination laws, the updated Handbook also importantly cautions employers not to take adverse employment actions against employees solely on the basis of mismatched name/SSN information and explains what an employer should do if an SSN fails to verify.