Virtually All F- or J- international students and scholars and their dependents must file an income tax form every year in order to be in compliance with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations. This is true regardless of whether they earned income while in the United States. Income tax issues for foreigners are complex and confusing. The following is designed to give you a basic understanding of your responsibilities and tell you how to get more information. Do not construe the information presented here as individual tax advice!
Remember: ISSS advisors are not tax experts. We cannot give you any tax advice or help you with any tax issue. ISSS does not provide a tax software program, however you can consult a commercial tax preparer, or use one of the few tax software programs available, such as:
If you want to seek advice from professional tax preparer, see handout Tax Preparation Specialists.
Frequently the choice of a nonimmigrant status for a visiting scholar will be affected by tax considerations. For example, a J-1 exchange visitor is generally considered a nonresident for tax purposes for two years, whereas an H-1B scholar might be able to declare resident status for tax purposes immediately, resulting in a tax advantage, in some cases. Other considerations will also affect a visiting scholar's tax status.
Information about income taxes for visiting scholars can be obtained from an international tax specialist at Payroll and Benefit Services. Schedule an appointment.
Please note that the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) and the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) use the terms "resident" and "nonresident" to mean different things. This is enormously confusing to visiting scholars and to sponsoring departments as well. Please call ISSS for clarifications.
When you first begin employment in the United States, you will have to fill out a W-4 Form. This helps your employer estimate how much of your income should be "withheld" (or deducted) from your wages for the purpose of paying taxes. Your employer pays those amounts directly to the U.S. Treasury on your behalf. In your annual tax return, you must reconcile your account with the government to verify that you paid the right amount over the course of the year. If you paid too much, you can claim a refund, which will be paid promptly unless the government disagrees with your calculations.
There are six different types of taxes in the U.S. tax system (e.g., income tax, Social Security tax, sales tax, personal property tax) and three layers of taxation (local, state, and federal). You have obligations at several levels.
F-2 and J-2 dependents, regardless of age, are expected to file the tax form 8843 annually in the United States, even if they have no income from a U.S. source. In the case of F-2s (who cannot work in the United States), the completion of a tax form is simple. A J-2 dependent, who may get permission to work in the United States, is taxed on his or her earnings.
You can find several publications provided by the Internal Revenue Service that will help guide you through your tax forms:
IRS (for general tax information): 1-800-829-1040
To order forms: 1-800-829-3676
U.S. tax laws are difficult to understand, so some students may be tempted to ignore this obligation. Be aware, however, that the amount of information shared by the IRS and USCIS is increasing each year. It is in your best interest to meet your tax obligations.