Report to Congress on Options for Enhancing the Social Security Card



All applicants for an original SSN must complete a Form SS-5-FS (Application for a Social Security Card). They must submit evidence of age, identity, and citizenship or lawful noncitizen status. If the applicant is a noncitizen and does not have an INS document authorizing work in the U.S., the applicant must also document that he/she has a valid nonwork reason for needing an SSN.

Applicants for an original SSN, age 18 or over, are also required to have an in-person interview. During the interview, the applicant is asked for prior names and surnames and the reasons for never before needing an SSN. Effective February 1998, applicants for an SSN under age of 18 are required to provide evidence of their parents' names and SSNs in addition to the evidence mentioned above.

Generally, SSNs are not assigned to individuals who live outside the U.S. unless they are U.S. citizens or lawfully admitted permanent residents. Applications from qualified people outside the U.S. are taken by U.S. foreign service posts and forwarded to SSA's Office of International Operations for processing.


Breeder Documents

The Social Security card verifies the fact that SSA has assigned a number to a particular person based on a certain set of identity data. However, the identity data contained in Social Security records are only as reliable as the evidence on which the data is based. The documents a Social Security card applicant must present to SSA or another authorized agency to establish age, identity, and citizenship or noncitizen status for an original Social Security card--primarily a birth certificate and immigration documents and referred to as breeder documents--have been relatively easy to alter, counterfeit, or obtain fraudulently in the past.(2) (Breeder documents are documents that are used to obtain other documents used for identity; e.g., a birth certificate is used to obtain a drivers license which is then used as an identity document.)

1996 Immigration Reform Requirements

In 1991, OIG issued a follow-up report to a 1988 study on efforts to control birth certificate fraud. OIG reported that major weaknesses in the procedures used by issuing agencies continued to hamper the ability of user agencies, both Federal and State, to rely on birth

certificates as evidence. While some State and local jurisdictions have initiated reforms, most are severely constrained from making major reforms by increasingly limited resources. Recognition of the problem of breeder documents led to the requirement in the 1996 immigration reform legislation to improve the security of identification-related documents. The requirements provide standards that States are to include on birth certificates to make them more tamper-resistant and counterfeit-proof.

The 1996 immigration reform legislation prohibits Federal agencies from prospectively accepting copies of domestic birth certificates that do not conform to standards set forth in regulations. The birth certificate standards are to include certification by the issuing agency and use of safety paper, the seal of the issuing agency, and other features designed to resist tampering, counterfeiting, and duplicating for fraudulent purposes. The standards may not require all States to use a single design and must accommodate the differences between States in the way birth records are stored and birth certificates are produced. The restriction on the acceptance of birth certificates by Federal agencies applies to birth certificates issued beginning 3 years after the regulation is promulgated.

HHS is to provide grants to the States to develop the capability to match birth and death records, within and among States and to note the fact of death on the birth certificates of deceased persons, beginning first with people born after 1950. Grants are also to be used for projects in 5 States to demonstrate the feasibility of a system by which State vital statistics offices would receive reports of death from reporting sources within 24 hours of the source acquiring information about a death.(3) HHS is to report to Congress by September 1997 on ways to reduce birth certificate fraud, including any use of a birth certificate to obtain an SSN or State or Federal identification or immigration document.

The 1996 immigration reform legislation also prohibits Federal agencies from prospectively accepting for any identification-related purpose a drivers license unless the license has an application process that requires evidence of identity as required by regulations published by the Secretary of Transportation. The regulations must require security features designed to limit tampering, counterfeiting, photocopying, and use of the license by impostors; and the license must contain an SSN which can be read visually or by electronic means. The restriction on acceptance of drivers licenses by Federal agencies is effective beginning October 1, 2000.(4)


The EAB program offers parents the opportunity to apply for an SSN for their newborn at the hospital during the birth registration process. If the parents want an SSN for their child, the information is transmitted through the State to SSA where a Social Security card is issued.


Applicants for replacement Social Security cards must submit evidence of identity, and if foreign-born, evidence of current noncitizen/work eligibility status.


SSNs are assigned and original and replacement Social Security cards issued centrally from SSA Headquarters in Baltimore, based on data provided on the application and entered into the system by either an SSA field office (FO) or the Office of International Operations (OIO). The essential data, such as: applicant's full name, date and place of birth, sex, mother's maiden name and father's name are used to electronically screen SSA's data base for a previously assigned SSN. An SSN is assigned within 24 hours of the date the SSN application is processed, assuming there were no questions about the data. A card is issued, mailed, and received by the applicant in 7 to 10 days.

The following table provides the number of new and replacement Social Security cards issued in the past 3 years:

Table 1. Number (in Millions) of New and Replacement Social Security Cards Issued(5)--

FY 1994-1996


Issuance Method

Original Cards





















See Appendix E for a description of the enumeration process. 2. SSA may use a birth certificate to determine age, name, date and place of birth, and citizenship. However, the birth certificate is not used to establish identity.

3. Section 656(a) of P.L. 104-208, Division C, "Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996."

4. Section 656(b) of P.L. 104-208, Division C, "Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996."

5. Social Security Administration Accountability Report for Fiscal Year 1996.