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An HR Glossary for HR Terms

Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms

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Non-Resident Alien

What Is a Non-Resident Alien?

A non-resident alien is an individual who is not a U.S. citizen or U.S. national. They have not passed the Green Card or substantial presence test or gained permanent residency status. 

New arrivals on a J-1 or F-1 visa are generally classified as non-resident aliens. Additionally, students on these visas will stay classified as non-resident aliens until they pass the substantial presence test.

This classification is an important distinction for tax filing purposes.

What Is the Difference Between Resident Aliens and Non-Resident Aliens?

The difference between resident aliens and non-resident aliens hinges on the Green Card and substantial presence tests. If an individual passes either of those tests, they will gain resident alien status for one calendar year.

Can Non-Resident Aliens Work in the U.S.?

Non-resident aliens can work in the United States after they have been authorized. They can become authorized by filling out Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. This form confirms the alien is who they say they are and is eligible for employment.

What Documentation Is Required to Employ Non-Resident Aliens in the U.S.?

Along with Form I-9, resident and non-resident aliens must also submit identification documents. For non-resident aliens, these documents may include:

  • Certificate of Naturalization

  • Unexpired Temporary Resident Card

If those documents are unavailable, applicants can also provide a combination of identification and employment eligibility documents, which may include:

Identification Documents

  • Driver’s license or a state- or federal-issued ID card

  • School ID card

Employment eligibility documents

  • U.S. Social Security card

  • Certification of Birth Abroad (Issued by the Department of State)

How Are Non-Resident Aliens Taxed?

If an employee is any of the following, they must file a tax return:

  • A non-resident alien who has worked for a trade or business in the United States during the year.

  • A non-resident alien who has not worked for a trade or business but has a U.S.-sourced income.

  • A representative responsible for filing the return of a non-resident alien, as described in the above points.

  • A fiduciary of a non-resident alien.

  • A resident or domestic fiduciary in charge of the care of a non-resident alien or a property owned by a non-resident alien.

Any employee who meets one of these qualifications must file Form 1040-NR. If they have no dependents to claim, then they must complete Form 1040-NR-EZ.

With these forms, non-resident aliens must pay taxes on income connected with a trade or business in the United States. Taxes also apply to income that is fixed, determinable, annual, or periodical.

When an alien leaves the United States, they must file Form 1040-C, the U.S. Departing Alien Income Tax Return. This reports all income received for the entire tax year and pays the tax liability. 

Do Non-Resident Aliens Have Social Security Numbers?

Non-resident aliens can get a Social Security number (SSN). This is required if they wish to work in the United States. 

To get an SSN, non-resident aliens can apply through two different methods:

  1. While being lawfully present in the United States, submit a request for an SSN while applying for work authorization from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. This can be completed with Form I-765, the Application for Employment Authorization.

  2. While being lawfully present in the United States and carrying a visa status that allows you to work, visit a Social Security office in person.

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