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Immigration and Naturalization Service's Ability
to Provide Timely and Accurate Alien Information
to the Social Security Administration

Report Number I-2003-001
November 2002


The Social Security Administration (SSA) has been concerned about the fraudulent acquisition and misuse of Social Security Numbers (SSNs) for several years. In September 2000, the SSA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) reviewed 3,557 SSNs and found that the SSA had issued 999 (28 percent) invalid SSNs. Of these, 949 cases (95 percent) involved fraudulent Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) documents.1

As a result of this discovery, the SSA OIG reiterated two recommendations to the Social Security Commissioner that were contained in a 1999 Management Advisory Report.2 Because of the high rate of SSNs inappropriately assigned due to fraudulent documents, the SSA OIG recommended that the SSA focus on security rather than on customer service, and also recommended that the SSA implement independent verification of documents from the INS until the Enumeration at Entry program was completed. "Enumeration at Entry" is a term used by the SSA that refers to the process of automatically assigning SSNs to newly admitted immigrants based on electronic verification of their work eligibility status by the INS. The process obviates the need for the SSA to visually inspect and verify INS documents prior to issuing an SSN. In a 2001 Congressional Response Report, the SSA OIG again suggested that the SSA verify all documents submitted by aliens before the SSA issues an original SSN.3

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the process for issuing SSNs has received additional scrutiny because of its national security implications. In October 2001, the SSA OIG stated, "Most recently, we learned that SSNs may have been misused by members of foreign terrorist organizations to infiltrate American society while planning the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001." 4

SSA's Efforts to Improve Control of Issuing SSNs

On July 11, 2002, SSA Deputy Commissioner James B. Lockhart III announced that the SSA plans to verify the immigration status of all aliens applying for SSNs who have been in the United States for less than 30 days. It will also electronically verify documents for all nonimmigrant applicants through access to the Nonimmigrant

Cleaning Up SSN Records

According to a Washington Post article, the SSA sent letters to more than 800,000 businesses notifying the employers of SSA records in which their employees' names or SSNs did not match the agency files. In 1999, the SSA collected $4.9 billion in social security taxes for accounts in which there were discrepancies.

The SSA attempt to reconcile wage records and the likely increase in employer scrutiny of employees' SSNs may raise the need for, and value of, illicitly obtained, but valid SSNs. Because of the "no match" letters, aliens who are not eligible to work may find making up or stealing SSNs too great a risk. Therefore, the number of aliens who use counterfeit or fraudulent documents to apply for SSNs is likely to grow.

Source: "Record Checks Displace Workers," The Washington Post, August 6, 2002, p. A1.

Information System (NIIS).5 If documents cannot be verified through NIIS, the SSA will automatically initiate a manual secondary verification procedure, which will preclude an alien from receiving an SSN until the INS verifies the alien's status.

The change in the SSA's procedures for verifying alien status requires the INS to provide timely and accurate responses to the SSA's document verification requests. Further, the use of new or modified electronic databases to conduct the verification process presents additional challenges for the SSA and INS.

Purpose of the Review

In response to a request from the SSA OIG, the Department of Justice (DOJ) OIG initiated this limited scope review to determine whether the INS can update information about immigrants and nonimmigrants into its databases and provide that information to the SSA in a timely fashion.

Scope and Methodology

In our report, we discuss the visa process from the time aliens file their visa applications through entering into the United States and the processes used by immigrants and nonimmigrants in obtaining SSNs. We divided the report into two parts because the methods of providing immigrant and nonimmigrant information to the SSA differ greatly. Part 1 discusses the immigrant process and Part 2 discusses the nonimmigrant process. We examine the INS's role in providing immigrant status information to the SSA using Immigrant Visa DataShare (DataShare), and nonimmigrant status information to the SSA using the new verification process with NIIS.

We conducted our review from May 22, 2002 to September 12, 2002. Our methodology included interviews with the INS, DOS, and SSA staff responsible for DataShare and the implementation of the SSA's electronic access to NIIS information. We reviewed the Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) between the INS and SSA and between the DOS and SSA, the INS Inspector's Field Manual, INS e-mail and correspondence related to DataShare implementation and SSA access to NIIS, DOS policy and procedures for immigrant and nonimmigrant visas as implemented by the Office of Visa Services, SSA Program Operations Manual System (POMS), SSA internal correspondence directing changes in procedure for issuing SSNs to aliens, previous DOJ OIG and SSA OIG reports, and INS and SSA congressional testimony.


  1. "Procedures for Verifying Evidentiary Documents Submitted with Original Social Security Number Applications," September 2000, Audit Report A-08-98-41009, SSA OIG.

  2. "Using Social Security Numbers to Commit Fraud," May 1999, Management Advisory Report A-08-99-42002, SSA OIG.

  3. "SSN Misuse: A Challenge for the Social Security Administration," October 2001, Congressional Response Report A-08-02-22030, SSA OIG.

  4. Ibid.

  5. NIIS is an automated central repository of nonimmigrant arrival and departure information.