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Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)

Every person who receives income in the United States is required to have a taxpayer identification number.  Under current procedures at the Social Security Administration, an individual who (i) is not eligible to work as an employee in the U.S. and/or (ii) chooses not to work as an employee in the U.S. (e.g., a student) generally is not allowed to obtain a Social Security number. In such cases, the individual then must apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or ITIN.

Non-resident students applying for a tax-treaty exemption for non-qualified scholarships (generally non-tuition related) they receive must apply for an ITIN. That is because the tax form necessary to claim the tax-treaty benefit requires a taxpayer identification number. 

Regulations and Procedures

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently announced interim changes that will strengthen its procedures for issuing ITINs. The IRS will only issue ITINs to individuals who provide proper documentation from an issuing agency including passports, birth certificates, or certified documents. Notarized documents are no longer accepted to support applications. However, nonresident aliens who are applying for an ITIN for the purpose of being able to claim benefits under an income tax treaty may continue to provide  "notarized" rather than "certified" documents.

In addition, effective 10/2/12, the IRS allows individuals studying in the United States under the Student Exchange Visitors Program (SEVP) to get ITINs under a streamlined process whereby their educational institution can provide a letter verifying their status. This is because SEVP participants already provide the required documentation to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  IIT does provide such a letter.

ITINs will not be issued based on applications submitted through certifying acceptance agents unless they attach original documentation or copies of original documents certified by the issuing agency. A "certifying acceptance agent" is an individual, business or organization authorized by the IRS to assist alien individuals and other foreign persons in obtaining ITINs.

New ITINs will expire after five years. Those individuals who still need an ITIN will be able to reapply at the end of the expiration period.

An individual who cannot otherwise obtain a Social Security number may file for an individual taxpayer identification number by completing Form W-7 (Application for IRS Individual Tax Identification Number).

The most important things to note about Form W-7 are the following:

  • When filing the form, you must provide proof of foreign status, as well as identification.
  • The form may be filed in person at the IRS, through the mail by sending it to the IRS, or with a certifying acceptance agent.