When the time came for me to obtain social security numbers for my two Ethiopian-born children, I encountered a complicated maze of requirements.  To make matters worse, the staff at our local Social Security office had no experience with processing papers for an international adoption.  What could have been an overwhelmingly frustrating situation ultimately turned into a learning experience on both sides of the processing window.

As expressed in a letter by Felix Fornino, President of the New York City Chapter of the Adoptive Parents Committee, Inc., adoptive parents of late have encountered numerous obstacles when attempting to obtain SSNs for their adopted children, particularly when the children are under one year of age. For a variety of reasons (for instance, six-month-long mandatory waiting periods preceding finalization, court backlogs, etc.) many infant adoptions are not finalized until after children have had their first birthday. However, because birth certificates are not issued until after finalization, adoptive parents have at times been unable to satisfy Social Security Officers demanding them. This places the parents in direct violation of the Internal Revenue Service requirement that all dependent children be assigned an SSN by their first birthday. In response to these concerns,  the Social Security Administration (SSA) recently clarified its certification requirements for all applicants in question.

In general, applicants for an original SSN are required to submit evidence of age, U.S. Citizenship or lawful alien status, and true identity. At least two documents are required to establish these three factors. For adopted children without an available birth certificate, adoption finalization papers showing the child’s name, date of birth, domestic place of birth, judge’s signature, and raised seal of the clerk of court can be used to establish age and U.S. Citizenship. Other papers that can be helpful for this process are the original adoption decree, hospital or doctor records, school ID card, or religious records (such as a baptismal certificate).

When necessary, a Court Order of Temporary Custody can also be used for these purposes.

Your child must be present unless the picture ID also shows your child’s biographical information (i.e., age, date of birth, or parents’ names).  I made the mistake of not bringing my children with me when I initially applied for their SSN’s; I had to come back another time with both of them in tow.

Remember that when applying for your adopted child’s SSN, you must also show proof of your identity.  Acceptable current documents for proof of identity must be a:

  • U.S. driver’s license;
  • State-issued nondriver identification card; or
  • U.S. passport

When we were applying for SSN’s for our two children, we were missing the original readoption decree with the judge’s signature.  Even though we had the U.S. birth certificates issued at the U.S. readoption in hand, without that original signed readoption decree our paperwork could not move forward.  Consequently, we had to go back to our local courthouse and get a new signed judge’s decree (believe it or not, the court had misplaced the original and it could not be found!).

Do yourself, your child, and the Social Security staff processing your papers a favor and figure out what exactly is needed before you walk up to the processing window.  Do not count on your local office knowing what to do.  Depending on where you live, they may not have handled this type of paperwork before for either a domestic or internationally adopted child. Having all of the facts and being overprepared with documents is the best way to reduce frustration at the Social Security office.