Two U.S. government agencies, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) use the term non-resident alien.

USCIS Definition: Persons who reside temporarily in the United States in non-immigrant status are known by USCIS as non-resident aliens. The most common non-immigrant statuses at UMASS include F-1, F-2, J-1, J-2, H-1B, and TN.

IRS Definition: For IRS purposes, a non-resident alien is any non-citizen or legal permanent resident who has not resided in the U.S. for more than 182 days in any given year, as evidenced by the Substantial Presence Test (SPT). Persons who meet the SPT will be taxed primarily the same as legal permanent residents and citizens, which may include withholding of FICA from employment compensation.

Non-resident F and J visa holders in the U.S. must file an annual tax return between January 15 to April 15 each year (IRS Form 1040NR-EZ or Form 1040NR) and/or statement (Form 8843) to substantiate non-resident status with the Internal Revenue Service. This includes F-2 and J-2 spouses and children. Many, although not all, of our international students and researchers at UMass are non-resident aliens (NRAs) for tax purposes. Persons who are NRAs for tax purposes are generally taxed at much higher rates on all U.S. source income than are resident aliens and citizens. Therefore, it is important for NRAs to have a basic understanding of the U.S. tax system.

Generally, NRAs whose only income during the tax year was from wages and who earned less than the personal exemption ($3,950 for tax year 2014) are not required to file a tax return. However, if any taxes were withheld, they must file a return to claim a tax refund. The $3,950 threshold only applies to wage income. Non-resident aliens are required to file a tax return if they receive any taxable scholarship/fellowship grant, income partially or totally exempt from tax under the terms of a tax treaty, and/or any other income, which is taxable under the Internal Revenue Code. Forms 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ must be filed by the April tax filing deadline every year. In addition, non-resident students and scholars who are filing a tax return must file a Form 8843, which is a Statement of Exempt Individuals. The Form 8843 is a one-page document that is returned with the 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ. The purpose of the form is to verify non-resident alien tax status. Non-resident students and scholars who are not required to file a tax return (because they have no income) should still file Form 8843. F-2 and J-2 spouses and children who earned no U.S. source income during the tax year only file a Form 8843. Persons who are outside the United States on April 15 have until June 15 to file their tax return.

Every year Isenburg School of Management students volunteer to assist international students and scholars with their tax return preparation. This is known as the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA). These volunteers are trained to assist with preparation of non-resident alien tax returns. 

Form W-2: All employees who have taxable income from employment in the United States will receive a Form W-2, which is a statement of earnings. This form will arrive at the home address of the employee in mid-January. The Form W-2 is essential for filing a tax return.

Form 1098-T: The Tuition Payment Statment that is provided by UMass to all tuition paying students. The information about your tuition will help to determine whether you or the person who can claim you as a dependent may take the Hope credit or the Lifetime Learning credit when filing Federal Income Tax forms. UMass must obtain your correct Social Security Number (SSN) or valid Tax Identification Number (TIN) to file tax credit information with the IRS as well as furnish you with this statement. If you have questions about this contact the Bursar's Office at 413-545-2368 or bursar[at]admin.umass[dot]edu.

Form 8843: All NRAs must file this form whether or not they received income in the U.S. This form must be submitted by June 15.

Form 1042-S: All non-resident aliens who have scholarships that are greater than the amount of their fees or have tax treaty exempt wages will receive a Form 1042-S, which is a statement of that type of income received during the year. Persons who have ONLY a TA or RA fee waiver or a scholarship less than their semester fee charges will NOT be issued a Form 1042-S. The NRA will receive this Form 1042 S mid-March. Therefore, persons with the above types of income may not file a tax return until AFTER they have received Form 1042-S.

Effective May 29, 2015, an F-2 dependent may study part-time in any certified program at an SEVP-certified school. Previously, an adult dependent who studied in an academic or vocational curriculum (English as a Second Language or a graduate level course, for example) might have been non-compliant with the conditions of nonimmigrant status.  Now, an F-2 dependent may engage in a course of study that does not amount to what current regulations define as full-time for an F-1 student.  An F-2 dependent is a spouse or minor child of the F-1 student who meets all of the following conditions:

  • Has been issued a Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status
  • Holds F2 immigration status
  • Has been admitted to the United States in F-2 status or applied for and been granted a change of status to F-2 in the United States by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

An F-2 dependent who engages in post-secondary part-time study must attend an SEVP-certified school, and the program of study must be in the school’s SEVP certification.  Online classes alone will always be less than a full course of study for F-1 students, and so are permissible for an F-2 dependent at the postsecondary level.  An F-2 dependent may enroll in a combination of online and in-person classes that is less than a full course of study as defined by regulations governing F-1 students (at UMass, undergraduate full-time equivalency is considered to be 12-credit hours or more; graduate enrollment is considered full-time at 9-credit hours or more).

Additional information can be found here (NAFSA: Association of International Educators website):,_2015/

Follow the instructions posted here.

A SSN is not required from NRAs before they are allowed to begin working on-campus. However, a SSN is required before a NRA can benefit from a tax treaty exemption from withholding. 

On July 1, 2002, the Social Security Administration (SSA) was mandated to verify Social Security number applicants with a USCIS database. In most circumstances this process takes 3-4 weeks but can take as long as 2 months to receive your Social Security Card in the mail. All newly-arrived nonresidents must conduct SEVIS registration during the first 2 weeks of the semester before submitting an application for a Social Security number (the SEVIS registration dates are provided during the International Student Orientation).

Are scholarships and prize awards taxable?

Scholarships made to NRA students will be taxable income for any portions of the scholarship greater than the student's educational expenses or any amount provided directly to the student by cash or check. Educational expenses include resident and non-resident fees, student activity fees, information technology fees, and any additional fees required by an academic department. The portion of scholarship or prize award determined to be taxable will be withheld at a minimum of 14% unless there is a tax treaty that exempts the scholarship income from withholding.

When a department decides to hire an NRA, all routine "new hire" paperwork should be completed without delay. The W-4 must be completed with name, address, SSN, and a signature and date. The figures on the W-4 are irrelevant to the "new hire" process for an NRA. There is no requirement to have an Social Security Number at the time of hire for a newly-arrived NRA.

Most students on a F1 or J1 immigration status may be employed for up to 20 hours/week when school is in session and up to 40 hours/week during authorized vacation periods. Employment is limited to on-campus jobs only, without additional authorization from either USCIS or an International Student Advisor. See student employment authorizations for more information.

Employment of postdoctoral researchers and others in J1 non-student status is also common. Persons in J1 non-student status are eligible for full-time employment at UMASS and may be in benefit-eligible positions. Contact IPO for more information.

The United States currently has tax treaties with more than 50 countries. These treaties are designed to decrease the likelihood that the NRAs will be taxed on the same income both in the U.S. and the country of tax residency. Treaty benefits will not be honored unless appropriate treaty forms are completed and on filed in the Human Resources Office in 325 Whitmore, the HR staff can assist with filing these forms. Working for a PI at UMASS who received a grant is considered compensation for services, which is covered under the independent personal services article of a treaty. This is because the institution or the investigator is deemed to be the recipient of the grant, not the NRA. Read more about tax treaties and it's impact on you in this IRS publication.

Student Treaties: Tax treaty benefits for students receiving compensation for employment are generally limited to a specific amount of income for each tax year (usually between $2,000 and $5,000 per year). Most treaty benefits will end once the student becomes a resident alien for tax purposes, so most treaty benefits will last no more than five years, with only a few exceptions. Tax treaty benefits for scholarship income may also be available for students, even if there is not a corresponding treaty for compensation income.

Non-Student Treaties: Tax treaties for non-students are generally not limited to a specific amount of income, but are limited by a specific number of years. In some cases, if a non-student remains in the U.S. beyond the period covered by the treaty (usually two years from the date of entry), a "retroactive clause" in the treaty requires payment of all taxes that were previously exempt. It is, therefore, important to monitor these dates and treaty benefits carefully. Recipients of a research grant may be eligible for tax treaty benefits on the maintenance allowance provided in the grant, and should initiate a tax review immediately upon receipt of the grant.

Persons in F and J student status are exempt from counting days toward the Substantial Presence Test for a period of five tax years. Therefore, as NRAs, FICA withholding will not be required and tax returns must be filed on the Form 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ

Persons in J-1 non-student status are exempt from counting days toward the SPT for a period of two tax years. Therefore, as NRA's, FICA withholding will not be required and tax returns must be filed on the Form 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ until two years of physical presence have been completed.