I am a French citizen on a J1 visa in the USA, and recently became a resident alien. As such, I will be taxed. If I read correctly the IRS page, I can claim exemption for my wife and our two kids (all of them being residents as well, and on J2 visas).

But, as they say,

CAUTION: Your spouse and each dependent must have either a Social Security Number or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number in order to be claimed as an exemption or a dependent.

According to this brochure (second paragraph), my wife can't get a SSN because she is not authorized to to work in the US by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). We're going to re-submit a demand for an ITIN.

However, I think that our children are allowed to get an SSN.

  1. Is that correct: can children on a J2 visa ask for an SSN?
  2. Is there any advantage to obtain an SSN rather than an ITIN?

Edit / Update: as it turns out, I used the Tax treaty between France and the USA to be completely exempted from taxes, and hence didn't need to claim any exemption. Consequently, there was no need for ITIN for my dependants, since they weren't claimed as exemptions.

  • 1
    The Social Security Administration does in some cases issue SSNs for those who lack work authorization. The card says that it is not valid for work without DHS authorization, or something like that. I don't know what the criteria are for issuing these numbers, let alone whether your wife or children would qualify.
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 19:17
  • Note that you can only claim your kids as dependents if they are resident aliens. It's not clear from your description whether they are or not.
    – user102008
    Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 20:52

1 Answer 1


In general, except for rare cases, you can only get an SSN when you are authorized to work.

People on J-2 (including both spouses and children of the J-1) have the option to apply for EADs (note that it is not cheap; the fee for I-765 is $410), in which case after they get the EADs they would be authorized to work and can get SSNs based on that; but without an EAD, they are not authorized to work and generally cannot get an SSN if they do not already have one.

An SSN is not needed for tax filing purposes. When someone who doesn't have an SSN, and who is not eligible to get one, needs to file a tax return, or is claimed as a dependent on someone else's tax return, they use an ITIN (they would apply for the ITIN together with the tax return if they don't already have an ITIN). Note that if you are eligible for an SSN, you can't get an ITIN or use an ITIN on your tax return, so it's not a choice -- you are only eligible to use one or the other at a given time.

One disadvantage of ITINs is that it is somewhat of a hassle to apply for one. The person either has to mail their original passport with the application (so they wouldn't have access to the passport for a while and sometimes it gets lost in the mail), or mail a copy certified by the issuing agency of the passport (most countries' passport issuing agencies do not certify), or you have to line up at one of a few select IRS authenticating taxpayer assistance centers that accept the application in person with the passport and can certify it and give it back to you the same day.

If they will get SSNs within the next 3 years, another solution would be to file without them for now (file Married Filing Separately and don't claim the kids as dependents) and amend the return later when they have SSNs.

  • Thanks a lot! Does that mean that going to an IRS "local office" providing the services listed here would prevent us from having to mail passports? This sort of office seems pretty common to me, so maybe it's not too much of an hassle to simply go there.
    – Clément
    Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 22:03
  • 1
    I think you need to find an "acceptance agent". There's a list here: irs.gov/individuals/acceptance-agent-program
    – mkennedy
    Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 0:11

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