Nonresident Alien Tax Frequently Asked Questions

Who is considered a nonresident alien for federal income tax purposes?

If you are a non-U.S. citizen, you are considered a nonresident alien for tax purposes unless you pass 1 of 2 tests: the Green Card Test or the Substantial Presence Test.

Green Card Test

You are a resident alien for tax purposes if you have a green card and are an alien who is a lawful permanent resident of the U.S.

Substantial Presence Test

You are a resident alien for tax purposes if you have been physically present in the U.S. for a 183-day period over the last 3 years, including 31 days in the current year. Note that certain immigration classifications may have an affect on exempting days of presence.

Consultations

We recommend you consult with our Immigration & Nonresident Alien Tax Specialist to determine your federal income tax classification.

The U.S. tax calendar year is January 1 through December 31. You can be both a nonresident and a resident alien during the same tax year. This usually occurs in the year you arrive or depart from the U.S.

Additionally, the rules given to determine if you are a U.S. resident alien for tax purposes does not override tax treaty definitions of residency. If you are a dual-resident taxpayer, you can, in some cases, claim the benefits under an income tax treaty.

What is the difference in taxable income between individuals classified as resident and nonresident aliens for tax purposes?

All U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and resident aliens are taxed on their worldwide income less allowable deductions.

Nonresident aliens are generally subject to tax on only U.S.-sourced payments. Nonresident aliens qualify for very few allowable income deductions.

What forms of payments constitute income for an individual classified as a nonresident alien for tax purposes?

All U.S.-sourced payments to the nonresident alien are subject to federal taxation, unless an exception applies.

These payments may include, but are not limited to:

  • Awards
  • Compensation
  • Consulting fees
  • Honoraria
  • Royalties.
  • Scholarships/fellowships
  • Stipends
  • Travel
  • Wages

I'm an international student on an F-1/J-1 immigration status. Do I have a tax filing obligation to the U.S. government?

Yes. All international students classified as nonresident aliens for tax purposes must file tax return(s) every year, whether or not they were employed or received taxable payments in the U.S. during the reporting year.

If you worked or received taxable payments during the reporting year, complete and file the following forms from the Internal Revenue Service:

If you did not work or receive taxable payments, complete and file:

Dependents in F-2 and J-2 status must also complete and file:

The U.S. tax-filing deadline is always April 15th.

I only worked for a very short time during this calendar year and didn't earn very much. Do I still have to file tax returns?

No, if you are a nonresident alien for tax purposes and had U.S.-sourced earned income less than the personal exemption amount applicable to the tax reporting year, file the following Internal Revenue Service form(s):

If the only income you received is a taxable scholarship payment(s), or a combination of both wage and scholarship, file the following IRS form(s):

What happens if I fail to file my taxes?

If you owe taxes and don't file, the Internal Revenue Service can assess penalty and interest and seize U.S. bank assets for repayment.

Fines and penalties can often amount to more than the original tax debt. In addition, there can also be immigration consequences for failing to file taxes.

Applicants for adjustment of status to either H-1b or lawful permanent residency are frequently asked to show proof of tax filing for previous years in the U.S.

I'm married and have a child who was born in the U.S. Can I claim personal exemptions for my wife and child?

Generally no. Only nonresident aliens from certain tax treaty countries can claim exemptions for their dependents and only in certain specific circumstances. These tax treaty countries include:

  • Canada
  • India
  • Japan
  • Korea
  • Mexico

For further explanation, contact our Immigration & Nonresident Alien Tax Specialist.

Do citizens and lawful permanent residents of the U.S. need to prove they are eligible to work?

Yes. While citizens and lawful permanent residents of the U.S. are automatically eligible for employment, they too must complete the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 (pdf) in the presence of a Human Resources staff member, and submit the required documents for employment verification listed on the form.

The list of acceptable documents is also available from Human Resources.

Can I submit photocopies of documents used for completion of Section Two on the Form I-9?

No, employees must present original documents.

The only exception is that employees may present a certified copy of their birth certificates, which have been certified by the county recorders office where issued.

I lost one of my eligibility documents. Will a receipt from the issuing agency be sufficient for I-9 processing?

Yes, in most cases an employee may present a receipt for the application of a replacement document (e.g., Social Security card, driver's license) in lieu of the original document.

  1. At time of employment, attest your eligibility to be employed in the U.S. in section one of Form I-9 (pdf).
  2. Also at time of employment, present the document receipt for section two verification.
  3. Within 90-days of the date your employment begins, you must present the actual document.

Note: An application for the initial U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services work authorization or an extension of expiring work authorization is not sufficient.

If my employment eligibility is based on documentation that will expire, must I contact Human Resources to revalidate my status?

Yes, but only if the eligibility is based on U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services documentation. It is the employee's responsibility to inform Human Resources of any change in immigration status and/or employment eligibility.

To maintain continuous employment eligibility, an employee with temporary work authorization should apply for new documentation at least 90 days before the current expiration date. Human Resources must re-verify the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 (pdf) no later than the date the current work authorization expires. When possible, Human Resources will notify the employee 90 days prior to the document expiration date.