U.S. Income Tax Basics Landing Page

TAX ALERT

Federal and State Tax Deadlines Extended Until July 15, 2020

TAX WEBINAR

Do you have questions about the U.S. tax-filing process or want to know how to use Sprintax for your federal nonresident tax return?

Federal Tax Status: "Nonresident Alien" (NRA) or "Resident Alien"

Your tax status is separate from your immigration status. It is based only on your presence in the U.S. over a period of years, with special rules for students and scholars in F or J status. If you spend any part of the year in the U.S.--even one day---that year counts as a tax year. 

"Nonresident aliens" for federal tax purposes must file a nonresident tax return. Don't commit tax fraud by using TurboTax or other similar software and mistakenly file a resident tax return for which you are not eligible! 

Nonresidents report and pay taxes only on U.S. income. Residents follow the same tax rules as U.S. citizens and pay taxes on their worldwide income.

Student working
F and J Students

F and J students are generally considered "nonresident aliens" for federal tax purposes for the first 5 tax years going back a number of years. For example, a student who was in the U.S. 2013 -2016 would have been an NRA for those 4 years. If she left and returned to the U.S. in 2018 for a new program, she would become a "resident alien" in 2019 because it was the 6th tax year.

Professor or Researcher teaching
J Scholars (Researchers and Professors)

J scholars (researchers and professors) and their dependents are considered nonresident aliens for two out of every six tax years. For example, a J scholar who entered the U.S. on December 31, 2017 was considered an NRA for 2017 and 2018, but became a resident alien in 2019 because it was her third tax year out of the last six years.

The Basics

Form 8843 is required by the IRS for all Fs and Js (including F-2 and J-2 dependent spouses and children) who are "nonresident aliens" for federal tax purposes*--even if you had no U.S. income. Form 8843 is an informational statement that shows you were in the U.S. and were a Nonresident Alien (NRA).

If you didn't have any U.S. income in 2019, the 8843 is the only form** you need to send to the IRS, and the deadline is June 15, 2020.  You do not need a Social Security number or an ITIN if this is the only form you need to file. (*Residents do not have the 8843 requirement.)

You can log in to use Sprintax from the next page to complete the 8843 form at no cost, along with mailing instructions.  

**If you choose to complete Form 8843 without using Sprintax, be aware that the ISSO is not able to answer any questions about it and note that the IRS mailing address is on page 3 of its instructions.

  • IRS Form 8843 is required for each F or J dependent, including children. Each 8843 must be mailed in a separate envelope. When you use Sprintax, they will ask for information about your dependents and will generate a complete 8843 form for each family member. 
  • J-2 spouse with employment authorization who had income will need to file their own tax return because nonresidents are not able to file a joint tax return. Request a Sprintax code by email from the ISSO that serves your campus. 
     
    • ISSO Morningside campus: isso@columbia.edu
    • ISSO-CUIMCcumc-intl-students@columbia.edu

The tax year is January 1 - December 31. The tax system is "pay-as-you-go” which means that in most cases employers withhold money out of your paycheck for taxes during the tax year and send it to the federal and state tax authorities. A personal tax return is due April 15th of the following year. 

If you had U.S. income in 2019, the 8843 is part of your tax return that is due on April 15, 2020. A tax return is a reconciliation between tax that has been withheld and tax that is owed, depending on the amount of taxable income. You either get a refund for overpayment or owe the government money for underpayment. Log in from the Columbia portal on the next page for federal forms at no cost to you..

If you have taxable U.S. income, you will receive a form by mail or electronically that reports the annual total. You need this to file a tax return. 

  • The most common, a W-2 form, also known as the Wage and Tax Statement, reports an employee's annual wages and the amount of taxes withheld from their paychecks. The employer is required to send a W-2 to each employee (and to the IRS) by the end of January the following year. At Columbia, Payroll in the Finance Division is responsible for the W-2.
     
  • The 1042-S is another form that reports different types of U.S. income (e.g. fellowship and travel grants, income covered by a tax treaty). The Payer must send you this form by March 15th the following year. See Year-End Tax Reporting Documents from Columbia's Division of Finance.

See the list of documents you may receive or require for a tax return on our Filing Your Nonresident Tax Forms page.

If you earn money in more than one state during the calendar year, you may need to file a state tax return for each.

You may be a nonresident alien (NRA) for federal tax purposes but be considered a resident for state tax purposes. 

When you live in NYC and have income, you are liable for both NY State and NYC taxes in addition to federal taxes. Unlike your federal tax status, your Immigration status as an international student or scholar is not relevant to your New York State and NYC tax status. Here's what to expect: 

There are exceptions to the April 15th date when it falls on a weekend or state holiday. The deadline for filing a 2019 tax return is April 15, 2020.

"Nonresident aliens" for federal tax purposes must file a nonresident tax return. Don't commit tax fraud by mistakenly filing a resident tax return for which you are not eligible! 

Your situation is unique and different from your fellow students and scholars because it is dependent upon the amount of time you have spent in the U.S., the nonimmigrant status(es) that you have held, the type of income you may receive, and if your nationality makes you eligible for a tax treaty benefit.

Columbia's Human Resources Processing Center has walk-in hours to address questions regarding tax treaty eligibility. Note that even if you have a tax-exempt income through a treaty benefit, you still must file a tax return.

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Click here to view this short video Your Filing Obligations by Sprintax Tax Preparation for Nonresidents.

How to File

Most international students and scholars are nonresidents for federal tax purposes. Due to the complexities of U.S. tax law and legal restrictions, the staff of the ISSO (and all University offices) are neither qualified nor permitted to provide individual tax advice.

To assist you, Columbia provides access to Sprintax, an easy-to-use tax preparation software at no cost for your federal forms. You also have the option of using it for a state tax return for an individual fee of $29.95.

Check out our youtube tax workshop playlist for an overview.