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I am a graduate student on a J-1 visa and my wife and foreign-born children are both J-2s. Is it possible to get Social Security Numbers for my J-2 children so that we can enter them as dependents on a family tax return and thus benefit from childcare-related tax breaks and benefits like the EITC / newly expanded Child Tax Credit that require children to have SSNs? (My wife and I are resident aliens so we are otherwise eligible for these tax benefits.)

Someone suggested to me that we could apply to USCIS for employment authorization for my children (who are technically J-2 dependents) and get SSNs for them in this way, but one is a toddler and the other is a preschooler, so work authorization sounds a bit absurd... Technically, both J-2 spouses and children are eligible for an Employment Authorization Document, but is there any lower age limit? In law or in practice? The applications are pretty expensive and take many months to get approved, so I'm reluctant to go that route without knowing that others have actually successfully gotten work authorization (and thus SSNs) for their young children... I don't want these applications to get rejected.

Let me also note that for the older child we got an ITIN in the past and had her as a dependent on our 2020 tax return with an ITIN, but the benefits are much worse with an ITIN than with a SSN... And for the younger one we have no U.S. number for the moment. So I filed for an extension on my 2021 taxes until this is clarified.

We are not trying to game the system in any way. We are paying taxes like any U.S. citizen, and should also be entitled to the same childcare tax breaks. We are currently not eligible for them only because our children were born outside the U.S., and that's frustrating.

Any tips will be highly appreciated!

@user102008, you provided an excellent reply to a thread that appeared related, I wonder what you'd think about my case.

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I think your understanding is correct. Your J-2 children can only get SSNs if they get EADs, and I believe that they can get EADs no matter how young they are.

You would have to get the SSNs issued before the tax return filing deadline, including extensions, in order to qualify for the tax benefits (so for 2021 taxes, since you got an extension, you have until October 15 to get the SSN). If you apply for EAD for them now, they might not be able to get it by October 15.

Another tax benefit you haven't listed above is the stimulus payments for the children. It's too late for the first two stimulus payments, which are on 2020 taxes, since the children didn't have SSNs by the 2020 tax deadline. But for the third stimulus payment, which is on 2021 taxes, you can get the tax credit for the children if their SSNs are issued by the 2021 tax deadline, including extensions. (Though the income limits for the third stimulus payment are pretty low, so you might not qualify for that anyway.)

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  • thank you so much for your informative answer. I agree there are excellent tax reasons to apply for an EAD, and thus for an SSN for my children, potentially worth thousands of dollars in my case. HOWEVER, my designated advisor at the international office of my university (dealing with visa issues etc.) is adamant that the I-756 applications would be denied because my children are below the legal age limit for employment in the US, and that ITIN is the only option. So do you actually know of people on J-1 visas who actually successfully got EADs and SSNs for their children?
    – kalafior
    May 28 at 3:50
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The EITC requires SSN that is valid for work in the US (with or without DHS authorization). While you may be able to get an SSN for your children, it is unlikely that you can get them an EAD, and as such their cards will be marked as "not valid for employment" (See SS-5 instructions):

If you are not authorized to work in the U.S., we can issue you a Social Security card only if you need the number for a valid non-work reason. Your card will be marked to show you cannot work and if you do work, we will notify DHS.

You've hit the block intended specifically for people like you: foreigners subject to the US taxation. You get to pay the taxes, but don't get to enjoy the breaks. Welcome to the US.


As corrected in the comments, your children (J-2 category minor children of J-1) can in fact get an EAD. USCIS form I-765 has no age restrictions.

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  • "it is unlikely that you can get them an EAD" J-2 children can get EADs. However, it is questionable whether it is worth the cost. And without an EAD, they won't be able to get an SSN. SS cards marked "not valid for employment" are only issued in extremely rare circumstances.
    – user102008
    May 12 at 22:36
  • @user102008 actually I was surprised to learn that you are in fact correct and there's no age restriction for I-765. I thought it could only be filed for ages 16 and up (based on this), but I was wrong.
    – littleadv
    May 12 at 22:39
  • Thank you so much for your research here! As noted in my comment on the post by @user102008 above, the university official who deals with my visa dossier claims my children will be denied EADs because they are too young. You seem to have initially thought so, too, but changed your mind and now think that there is no age restriction. What made you change your mind? Did the interpretation quoted on the archived Department of State page that you linked got rescinded? Is there any other (current) document that I could quote to the university official to point out that he is wrong?
    – kalafior
    May 28 at 3:58
  • @kalafior I went through the eligibility criteria in the form instructions and couldn't find any reference to age at all.
    – littleadv
    May 28 at 6:14

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