Advocacy for Refugee Rights to Work: We’re Winning!

winner3Work authorized refugees CAN be paid before receiving a social security number.

Remember Christina Caspersen-McPherson’s recent success in advocating for her client’s right to work BEFORE they receive their social security number?  If not, click here to refresh your memory and find helpful resources.)

Employers – and some of us, too – continue to be confused about social security  numbers.  It’s a common belief that work authorized refugees cannot start working until they have received their social security number.  This is NOT true.

The Department of Justice Office of Special Counsel (OSC) offers resources available to help you educate employers, including a full September schedule of new webinars.  OSC can also communicate directly with employers to quickly resolve any ongoing reluctance to comply with U.S. law so that clients can exercise their legal right to work while their social security number is being processed.

Thanks to Christina’s example and continued OSC advocacy and education, Lutheran Services Carolinas achieved a similar victory last week.

Despite LSC advocacy efforts, a national employer was reluctant to risk paying a refugee without a social security number, despite LSC advocacy efforts to provide widely accepted solutions (entering zeros in payroll systems and new hire documentation.)

In less than 24 hours after requesting OSC assistance, the issue was resolved.  Carly Fisher, Employment Case Manager with LSC reports that her client is now working and receiving a paycheck.

Two similar cases elsewhere in our network are currently being resolved and several refugees are likely to begin receiving paychecks earlier than anticipated as a result.

Thanks OSC.  Thanks Christina.  Kudos, Carly!


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  1. Saniha Lakhpaty says:


    I’m a Lead Case Manager here at Catholic Charities Galveston-Houston for the Refugee Resettlement Program and also was able to get a client hired recently without a social after OSC’s assistance. We even invited OSC to come to Houston and do a presentation to educate employers, job developers, and case managers about documentation issues and how OSC can assist. It was very helpful and we see ourselves more ready to advocate for our clients!

  2. Lorel Donaghey says:

    Thanks to Nathan Nelson, Employment Specialist with World Relief in Seattle for the following comment that we’ve sent to OSC with a request for additional guidance.

    1) Computer systems set up to run a background check based on the SSN. While companies recognize individuals without SSN are work authorized, the system will not accept individuals without SSN to run the pre-hire background check.

    2) Individuals unable to complete electronic new hire paperwork when last four digits of the SSN are required to sign each page and advance to the next page. System will not accept 0000 or 9999.

    3) While OSC can encourage companies to try and work around issues like these, ultimately if the company does not want to try an alternative solution, there is usually nothing more that can be done because the law OSC enforces does not protect against policies that have a disparate impact.

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