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Federal Tax Status: "Resident Alien"
Students and scholars in F‐1 or J‐1 status are often surprised to learn that have become a “resident alien for tax purposes” because nothing has changed---they are still in a nonimmigrant status. Your tax status, however, is separate from your immigration status. This resource page is to help you understand your resident tax status and file a tax return, if needed.
Make sure you're a resident for federal tax purposes. TurboTax and similar products are for a resident tax return. If you are considered a nonresident, you must file a nonresident tax return instead. Learn more by reviewing the Nonresident or Resident Alien information on our U.S. Tax Basics page.
- You became a green card holder (U.S. permanent resident) in the past tax year.
- You are an F-1 or J-1 student (or an F-2 or J-2 dependent) who has exceeded 5 tax years in student status, not necessarily
consecutive. Any time (even a day) spent in the U.S. during a calendar year counts as one tax year.
- You are a J-1 scholar (or a J-2 dependent) who was in the U.S. for more than 2 out of the last 6 tax years. Any time (even a day) spent in the U.S. during a calendar year counts as one tax year.
- You don't file Form 8843 or any other form if you had no income in 2020
- You can file electronically. The nonresident return is still paper that has to be mailed to the IRS.
- You can file a joint tax return if you're married
- You may be able to claim a variety of credits,exemptions or deductions for children
- You may be eligible for education credits (Form 1098-T is needed)
Filing a Resident Tax Return
When you are certain you are a resident for federal tax purposes, here are some resources available to you.
Note: Columbia provides free use of Sprintax for nonresident federal tax forms because the rules for nonresidents are different from rules for residents and are not well known. In contrast, residents have many free resources they can use.
State Tax Return
Don't forget -- you may also need to file a tax return for each state in which you had income.
Keep in mind that each state has its own income tax regulations and forms.
If you use an online tax preparation system, after completing your federal tax return, it should guide you to complete your state tax return.
- IRS Substantial Presence Test
- IRS Publication 519: U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens
- IRS Federal Tax Free File
- Form 1098-T
- Form 1040 and 1040 instructions
- NYC public libraries for Tax Assistance
- Commercial tax preparation software such as TurboTax, Taxback, and TaxAct
- NYS Income Tax Definitions
- E-file a NY State Tax Return for Free