NAICU Washington Update

New IRS Requirement Affecting International Students

September 20, 2012

Earlier this summer, the IRS announced important changes to strengthen procedures for issuing Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers.  ITINs are required for taxpayers not eligible for a Social Security Number. Many international students receiving scholarships or stipends are affected by this change.

For the fall semester, until final regulations are announced for 2013, the IRS will issue ITINs only when applications include original documentation, such as passports and birth certificates, or certified copies of the documents.  Notarized copies or copies submitted by certified acceptance agents will not be allowed.

The IRS hasn't yet given a satisfactory definition of what qualifies as a “certified” copy.  This is causing considerable confusion on campuses as classes resume.  In addition, it was suggested that students mail the IRS their original passport to satisfy the requirement. That is not only unwise, it’s also illegal.

To assist the many students facing this new requirement, several NAICU member institutions have suggested to the IRS that detailed records on international students studying in the U.S. already existed in the Department of Homeland Security's Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).  Initially, the IRS was unaware of the amount of data collected via SEVIS.

To their credit, IRS staff held several conference calls with NAICU’s participation, to explore the complications private colleges  and their students were experiencing with the new regulations.  They understood the urgency on campus to either grant scholarships or other payments to students who hadn't yet secured ITINs, putting colleges at risk in an audit, or alternatively, to withhold payment, delaying the students' enrolling in classes.

After several conversations, IRS officials said they intend to publish interim amended rules that would effectively exempt international students from the new requirements if they were already enrolled in the SEVIS system.  That could happen during the pre-election congressional recess.

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