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Federal Tax Information

IMPORTANT: UH staff cannot assist you with completing your tax returns. These pages contain general information only. If you need assistance with preparing your federal tax return, contact the Internal Revenue Service or a certified public accountant.

General information

How to determine tax status

How & when to file an income tax return

IRS forms, publications, & local offices


General information [top]

Everyone in the U.S., regardless of immigration status, is responsible each year for submitting a complete and accurate income tax statement to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), an agency of the U.S. Treasury Department. This is called "filing a tax return.” Foreign scholars must file a U.S. federal tax return with the IRS if they earned income while in the U.S. Even if you did not have income from a U.S. source, you must file a tax form just to keep your tax status straight with the U.S. government.

April 15th filing deadline: You must file a federal tax return covering the current calendar year by April 15 of next year if you were in the U.S. at any time during the current calendar year.
Individual’s responsibility: In many countries, the government assesses and collects taxes owed by individuals. In the U.S., it is each person’s responsibility to meet his/her tax obligations. The U.S. government will not do it for you, but it will penalize you if you do not do it yourself.

If you are employed in the U.S., you must help your employer estimate how much of your income should be "withheld" (or deducted) from your wages for the purpose of paying taxes. Your employer pays those amounts directly to the U.S. government on your behalf. On your annual tax return, you must reconcile your tax amount with the government. If you paid too much, you may claim a refund.

Most J-1 scholars are not subject to the Social Security (FICA) tax withholding. J-2 dependents who work in the U.S. and most individuals who hold employment-based immigration statuses in the U.S. are subject to Social Security taxes.

Social Security Number (SSN): Foreign nationals who are authorized to work in the U.S. (such as J-1 exchange visitors, H-1B workers, and TN professionals) are eligible for SSNs. If you have an SSN, use it as your taxpayer identifying number on your tax returns. See SSN & ID Cards for more information on obtaining an SSN.

Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN): If you are a spouse or non-working foreign national who does not have USCIS employment authorization but has income such as interest, investments, or rental property, you may apply for an ITIN by filing Form W-7 with the IRS. See the IRS website for more information or apply in person at a local IRS office.


How to determine tax status [top]

Before you can prepare and file a tax return, you must first determine your tax status – that is, whether you are a resident or nonresident alien. Resident aliens are taxed on worldwide income. Nonresident aliens are taxed only on U.S. source income.

Substantial Presence Test (SPT): Use Chart: Nonresident Alien or Resident Alien? (see pages 3-4 of IRS Publication 4011) to determine resident or nonresident alien tax status.

  • H-1B, O-1, and TN employees must use the SPT from the date of arrival or change of status.
  • J-1 exchange visitors who are in the U.S. to teach or conduct research and their J-2 dependents may be exempt from the SPT only if they have been in the U.S. no more than 2 out of the previous 6 years. Any part of a calendar year in which a person was present in the U.S. counts as a full year for tax purposes. A person who was in the U.S. in J status for more than 2 calendar years of the prior 6 years must use the SPT to determine residency status. However, if all income for services done in the U.S. is from a foreign source, the person is considered a nonresident alien for 3 years. See Chart: Are you an exempt individual? (see pages 1-2 of IRS Publication 4011) to determine whether you are exempt from using the SPT.


How & when to file an income tax return [top]

Once you have determined your tax status, you can prepare and file your tax return.


Nonresident aliens who have U.S. source income must file a Form 1040NR or Form 1040NR-EZ along with Form 8843. This includes J-2 dependents with U.S. source income. Those who received income subject to withholding in a given year must file by April 15 of the following year. Those with income not subject to withholding must file by June 15.

Nonresident aliens who have NO U.S. source income MUST STILL FILE FORM 8843 by June 15. They do NOT need to file Form 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ. However, they must file Form 8843 to document their status as nonresident aliens who are exempt from counting days toward the substantial presence test.

SAMPLE federal nonresident alien tax exercises:


Resident aliens are subject to the same federal income tax filing requirements as U.S. citizens. Whether they must file income tax returns depends on their filing status and income. If they are required to file income tax returns, they should use Form 1040 or Form1040EZ. See IRS Publication 519 U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens and IRS Publication 17 Your Federal Income Tax Guide for more information.


IRS forms, publications, & local offices [top]

Federal Tax Forms & Publications:

  • Form 1040NR: U.S. Nonresident Alien Income Tax Return
  • Form 1040NR-EZ: U.S. Income Tax Return for Certain Nonresident Aliens with No Dependents
  • Form 8843: Statement for Exempt Individuals and Individuals with a Medical Condition
  • Publication 519: U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens
  • Publication 901: U.S. Tax Treaties
  • Publication 4011: Foreign Student and Scholar Resource Guide

Forms, instructions, and publications are available through: