U.S.citizens and green card permanent residents can obtain a Social Security Number (SSN) for use in connection with filing tax returns and other identity related matters. Non-resident aliens (NRAs) or resident aliens whose residency is based on the substantial presence test (based on number of days present inU.S.over a three-year period) are not eligible to obtain a Social Security Number. Instead such individuals may obtain an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). These numbers always begin with the number 9.
Obtaining an ITIN involves submitting Form W-7, Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number with certain specified documentation of foreign status and identity. Formerly, the specified documents could be submitted in the form of locally notarized copies of the original documents, most commonly the requesting individual’s passport, the notary certifying it o be a true copy of the original or foreign document in the form of an apostille.
Now IRS has decided to tighten the identity verification rules. No longer will certified copies of original documents be acceptable. Under Interim rules to be finalized before the 2013 tax filing season, individuals must now submit their original documents or certified copies of original documents. One cannot walk-in and display for inspection the documents to an IRS official. The documents must be left in the custody of IRS and “will be forwarded to an ITIN centralized site for processing.”(IRS News Release IR-2012-62, June 22, 2012). The commonly known translation for the quoted phrase is “Expect to never see your documents again.” In fact, present Form W-7 instructions warn: “To avoid any loss of your documents, it is suggested that you do not submit the original documentation.”
Thus, it probably is unwise for NRAs to submit an original passport unless they want to have difficulty returning to their home country. Apart from one’s passport, other current original or certified documents (must show expiration date unless issued within 12 months of application if no expiration date is normally included on document) that may be submitted include:
- National ID card showing photo, name, current address, date of birth and expiration date.
- U.S.driver’s license.
- Civil birth certificate(must submit for dependents under 18)
- Foreign driver’s license.
- U.S.state ID card.
- U.S.military ID card.
- Foreign military ID card.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) photo ID.
- Medical records (only for dependents under age 14, or age 18, if a student).
- School records for dependents under age 14 or age 18, if a student.
If a passport is not submitted, two of the other listed documents must be provided. Thus, applicants will have to determine which original documents they are willing to part with or for which certified copies and/ or an apostille can be obtained. Moreover, it can take six weeks or longer to obtain an ITIN (longer in peak periods). Thus, one may have to do without the ID document for a while and longer if it is lost.
Most ITINs are issued to NRAs who must file aU.S.tax return to or obtain an ITIN for a spouse or dependent child in connection with filing aU.S.tax return. These applicants will have to follow the new procedures and deal with the dilemma of submitting important documents that are difficult to replace, if lost, or become unavailable for a time, while IRS delays its verification process.
Some applicants need not supply original documents and may continue to follow the old rules contained in the Form W-7 instructions (supplying notarized copies). These include:
- Military spouses and dependents without an SSN.
- NRAs applying for treaty benefits
- Those applying because they are subject toU.S.withholding of tax at source on various kinds of income (rents, royalties, dividends, interest, etc.), or,
- Need an ITIN for other reporting purposes.
I am not at all sure that IRS realizes the problems these new rules will engender. I doubt many will want to submit a passport or other original important documents and may find difficult obtaining certified copies of two documents.
© 2012 by Robert S. Steinberg, Esquire
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