SSN, ITIN, and Taxes
Acquiring a Social Security Number (SSN)
U.S. federal law requires all individuals employed in the U.S. to have a Tax Identification Number: either a Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
Of the two types of Tax Identification Numbers, the SSN is the most common. SSNs are a 9-digit number issued to citizens, permanent residents and temporary (working) non-residents by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Its primary purpose is to track individuals for taxation purposes; it is not intended to be used for identification purposes. Please note that the Social Security Administration will not issue an SSN for the purpose of opening a bank account or obtaining driver’s license or telephone; nor do you need a SSN for these purposes. Dependents with F-2 status are not eligible for an SSN because they are not permitted to work. However, J-2 dependents are eligible to apply for an SSN since they can apply for work authorization.
IMPORTANT: An SSN is not required to begin employment, but must be obtained immediately after being hired. You need a job or a job offer letter to apply for an SSN. After you apply for the SSN and while you wait for your Social Security card to be delivered, your employer can use the letter you receive from the Social Security Administration stating that you applied for an SSN.
Please note that for non-EAD based F-1 student employment (CPT and on-campus employment), the Social Security Administration will not process an application for an SSN if it is more than 30 days in advance of the scheduled employment start date; in the case of EAD-based F-1 employment, the employment start date on the EAD card must already have been reached before the Social Security Administration will process the application for an SSN.
How to Apply for an SSN with On-Campus Employment
Students must have their employing department issue an job offer or hire letter and submit a copy to the Office of Immigration. The letter must be on department letterhead and include the following information:
- Your full name (as written in your passport)
- Your Jag ID
- A brief description of your position, including the job title
- Your start date of employment
- The amount of hours you will work per week
- Your salary and/or pay rate
The Social Security Administration requires F-1 and J-1 visa holders to submit proof of on-campus employment and an eligibility verification letter from an Immigration Coordinator in the Immigration Office.
Students must complete the DMV/SSA Request Form and return it to the Office of Immigration along with the printed employment offer letter.
NOTE: Scholars and employees in H-1B, J-1, O-1, or F-1 OPT who require an SSN will be given information during orientation from their Immigration Coordinator.
Before you can submit an application to the Social Security Administration for an SSN, your F-1 or J-1 SEVIS Record must have been registered/validated at least 10 days prior to your SSN application date.
If you are a new student or scholar that just arrived, you may need to wait until 10 days after you have completed check-in, orientation, and registered for classes before applying for an SSN.
The Office of Immigration suggests that you avoid going to the SSA on the first and the last day of the month because the waiting time on those particular days may be several hours.
Social Security Administration
550 Government Street Suite 100
Mobile, Alabama 36602
Hours of operation: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 9:00am-4:00pm and Wednesday 9:00am-12:00pm (Closed on Wednesday afternoons, Saturday, Sunday, and federal holidays)
If you are not in Mobile, please check for your nearest local office with the Social Security Administration.
Take the following documents with you:
- Employment offer letter
- Social Security Number eligibility letter
- Your original, valid passport
- Form I-94
- Your most recent Form I-20 (F-1 Students) or Form DS-2019 (J-1 Students/Scholars). *International faculty and staff in other visa statuses should take the document that proves that status (e.g. I-797 Approval Notice for H-1B visa holders, EAD Card, I-94 Card marked for TN Status, etc.)
Make sure to provide a valid mailing address on the SSN Application. Please do not list the Office of Immigration address on your application for privacy reasons. When applying for the SSN, request a receipt for your application.
Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
The Individual Taxpayer Identification Number is an alternative tax number offered by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to those individuals who receive income through grants and scholarships from U.S. sources but who are not employed and thus not eligible for a Social Security Number.
All students/scholars who have received income from U.S. sources must file income tax returns. If you are not employed in the U.S., the Social Security Administration in Mobile and in other cities in the U.S. will deny your application for a Social Security Number. Issuance of an SSN requires that you be employed in the U.S.
If you are a student athlete or student who receives a grant or scholarship in the U.S. or if you are a J-1 scholar who receives U.S. funding, and you do not have on-campus employment that would make you eligible for a Social Security Number, you may be eligible to apply for an Individual Tax Identification Number or ITIN.
ITIN Application Instructions
The Office of Immigration assists F-1 and J-1 students in requesting an ITIN. Students should email the Office of Immigration to schedule an appointment for assistance in filing the ITIN.
Students will need to complete the Form W-7 and if claiming a tax treaty benefit will also need to complete the Form W-8BEN. If you are unsure if your country has a tax treaty or what the percentage rate of withholding is, you may reach out to Payroll for this information. In addition to the Form W-7 and Form W-8BEN, students will need to bring original copies of their valid passport, visa, I-20/DS-2019, and I-94 Arrival Record.
Please note that, per university policy, no employee of the University of South Alabama can give tax return filing advice or complete tax refund documents for you. The Office of Immigration specializes in immigration matters, not taxes. If you require additional information or have specific questions, please direct your inquiries to a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA).
Most international students and scholars are liable for taxation on any income earned in the United States from the beginning of their arrival in the U.S. Income can include: salary, scholarships, fellowships, money earned from U.S. mutual funds or U.S. bank accounts.
Taxes for each calendar year are reported in the spring of the following year. Tax forms are filed with both the U.S. government (federal) through the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the U.S. state(s) where income was earned.
F-1 and J-1 students and their dependents are usually considered non-residents (NR) for tax purposes for their first five years they reside in the United States. Non-residents file federal form 1040NR (long form) or 1040NR-EZ (short form).
Scholars are also typically considered non-residents (NR) for tax purposes for their first two years in the United States. H-1B, TN or O-1 status holders who have been in the U.S. for more than 183 days, should visit the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), specifically Publication 519 (U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens), to find out which resident (1040, 1040A or 1040EZ) or non-resident tax forms to fill out.
To determine residency threshold for tax liability, use the “ Substantial Presence Test” utilized by the IRS.
All non-residents in F and J status, and each of their dependents, must file Form 8843 every tax season, even if no income was earned. Please note that being a resident for tax purposes does not mean resident for immigration purposes.
Documents needed to file tax returns:
Typically, foreign nationals will need the following documents to file their tax return (this may change depending on your circumstances) along with the previous year’s tax return if they filed last year:
- W-2 (lists wages, salary, compensation)
- 1042-S (royalty payments, scholarships)
- This is typically not issued by University of South Alabama Payroll until March 15th and is required if you are receiving a scholarship that includes housing/meals
- 1099-SERIES (rent, investment income, settlements, etc.)
- Social Security Number (SSN) of Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
- If you are a student athlete or other foreign national not eligible for a Social Security Number, tax season you will need an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
Online Tax Preparation and Tax Preparation Software
International students should not use Turbo Tax, 1040.com or other similar tax preparation software that you see advertised on the web to file your federal taxes; these services are intended for U.S. Citizens only and do not utilize the correct federal tax forms for non-residents. There are a few online software programs that can assist with the preparation of taxes for non-residents, such as Sprintax and GLACIER Tax Prep (GTP).
Phone and Tax Scams
Be aware of e-mail and telephone scams that target international students and scholars! The IRS, nor any government agency or law enforcement agency, does not send unsolicited emails or calls and does not request detailed personal and financial information.
If you receive an email or call, you should not open the email as it likely contains some sort of virus or malware nor answer the call. If you do answer, do not let them bully you... hang up. International students and scholars should never provide their SSN/ITIN to anyone via an email or telephone.