The United States is known as an inclusive country. People from all over the world study, work and live in this country. As an international student or foreign worker, you may ask the question, what is my US tax status when I have income. Below I will give you a starting point when you ask this question or struggle with this issue.
The first step in resolving this tax problem is to understand if you are a resident alien or a non-resident alien. As for tax purposes, an alien refers to an individual who is not a U.S. citizen. Alien has two subcategories, resident alien and non-resident alien. In most cases, resident aliens are taxed on all their income, regardless where the income comes from. Nonresident aliens are taxed only on income sources from within the United States, and on most income which is from a trade or business in the United States. Often, foreign people may also subject to certain tax treaties as well that can override the regular tax rules.
Normally, you are nonresident alien unless you pass either green card test or substantial presence test for the calendar year. The green card test means you meet the test as a lawful permanent resident of the United States. You are regarded as a lawful resident if you are given privilege to reside in the United States permanently as an immigrant. Often, governmental agency (i.e. USCIS) will issue you a registration card when you have this status. This status continues unless the resident status is taken away from you (administratively or judicially). A green card holder pays taxes, and is subject to the same tax rules, as a US citizen
If you are not a green card holder, you may be regarded as resident alien if you pass the substantial presence test for the calendar year. The starting point for this test is that you must be physically present in the United States, including all 50 states and the District of Columbia. IRS has certain time/day requirement for this test. Take 2016 as an example, you should be present in the United States at least 31 days in 2016 and 183 days during past 3-year period includes 2016, 2015, and 2014. The basic rule to count the days is to count all the days that you were present in 2016, 1/3 of the days that you were present in 2015 and 1/6 of the days that you were present in 2014. Assume a foreign worker who were present in the country for 90 days in 2016, 180 days in 2015, and 300 days in 2014. Let’s do the counting quickly, for this person, his/her days of presence are 90+ 1/3*180+1/6*300=90+60+50=200>183. In general, this person passed the substantial presence test and is required to file a form 1040 (or one of its variations). A non-resident alien conversely, would file a Form 1040NR.
Exceptions apply when you count the days that you are present in the United States. For example, you don’t count the days that you commute to work in the United States from Canada or Mexico, you are unable to leave the country, or you are exempt individuals. When you are unable to leave the country due to medical condition or you are exempt individuals. You must file Form 8843. In this case, you may be exempt individuals if you are holding “F”, “J” or “Q” Visa. Certain restrictions may apply. Details about form 8843 will be discussed in later post.