Managing H-2A Onboarding Without Social Security Numbers

February 28, 2024

This week while onboarding workers with wafla for our Ready On Arrival project I saw firsthand how frustrating, and work "flow" interrupting not having the Social Security Number (SSN) of an H-2A worker can be. Two of the required forms for onboarding ag workers, the W-4 and I-9, both have fields for the SSN, leading to confusion among frontline HR staff during a stressful and busy onboarding when a bus full of H-2A workers has just unloaded.

If you can, try to get the SSN from the H-2A recruiter. While this H-2A worker may not have worked for you before, they may have worked for a different US farm and would already have an SSN.

However, if you're sure an H-2A worker has not yet received a Social Security Number (SSN), they should apply for one as soon as possible. This will often involve transporting the worker or workers to a local Social Security Administration office. There they will submit the SS-5 form. The Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) both require an SSN for wage reporting purposes.

Likely the worker will need to fill out a W-4 form before they receive their SSN, so they can begin working and you can start paying them and withholding tax correctly. Together you should follow these steps:

  1. Complete the W-4 Form: The worker should complete all the parts of the W-4 form to the best of their ability. They should calculate their withholding based on their expected income, marital status, and any other relevant factors.
  2. Leave the Social Security Number Field Blank: If the worker does not yet have an SSN, they should leave the Social Security Number field blank.
  3. Inform the Employer: The worker should inform you (or you may already know because you arranged it) that they have applied for an SSN but have not yet received it. 
  4. Follow Up: Once the H-2A worker receives their SSN, they should provide it to you as soon as possible. Your HR or payroll staff can then update their records and report the worker's wages to the SSA and the IRS using the correct SSN. For record consistency, if you want, have the H-2A worker to fill out a new W-4. While the W-4 is usually only signed at the time of hire, a worker can update their W-4 at any time. If you are doing this in bulk for a group of employees this is when you'd export the updated withholding information from an onboarding system like Harvust, or if it's just a one off H-2A worker inputting the new number into your payroll system by hand is probably faster.

Remember, it's important for both the worker and the ag employer to follow all relevant tax laws and regulations. There are additional steps you may need to take if you are filing W-2s and the employee still has not received their SSN. If you're unsure about how to handle a specific situation, it's always a good idea to consult with a tax professional or the IRS. Organizations like Washington Growers League, and wafla can also provide good guidance.

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James Christopher Hall

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