Undocumented immigrants may need to prove, sometime in the future, how long they have been in the US and a good way to provide that proof is to obtain a Tax Identification Number (ITIN) and pay their taxes.
The first thing one should understand is that ITINs are numbers provided for tax purposes only. This is issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to people who are ineligible to get a Social Security Number (SSN) to ensure that they will still be able to pay their taxes. It does not confer an immigration status nor provide work authorization.
It cannot be used to track those who are unlawfully in the US or enforce immigration policies. In fact, because privacy is a very important tenet in taxation, the IRS is not allowed to share any taxpayer information to any other government agencies except to the Treasury Department in tax investigations or non-criminal tax investigations.
The issuance of ITINs has been criticized as allowing undocumented foreign nationals to blend in with the rest of the society without any regard to whether they are potential terrorists or whether they may endanger the safety and security of the community. They subvert immigration policies, the critics claim.
It cannot be denied, however, that through the issuance of the ITINs since 1996, the government was able to build a bigger tax base by including even undocumented immigrants and those who are here lawfully but are not able to get SSNs, in the collection of taxes. In 2010, more than 3 million people paid more than $870 million in income taxes using ITINs and in 2012, undocumented immigrants were able to contribute to the US’s coffers $11.8 billion in both state and local taxes.
Aside from undocumented immigrants, non-resident foreign nationals who have US-based businesses and who receive taxable income from such businesses are also able to pay their corresponding tax obligations through the ITINs. Foreign students who qualify as residents (based on days they are present in the US) as well as dependents or spouses of foreign nationals on temporary visas can also pay their taxes here through the ITINs since they cannot get a SSN.
As for undocumented immigrants, the ITINs have also been proven useful not only in establishing their length of stay here in the US but also their good moral character. Compliance with federal tax laws can help establish good moral character which is an important factor if one hopes to legalize his immigration status. Having tax returns with one’s ITIN on file with the IRS is an excellent form of documentation.
In addition to ITINs being useful for documentation purposes, it likewise confers added benefits especially those that can be accessed by taxpayers. For example, immigrant taxpayers can get Child Tax Credit worth as much as $1,000 per qualifying child. They can use the ITIN in opening bank accounts and in getting a driver’s license in some states, for example.
ITIN holders are not eligible for social security benefits or the Earned Income Tax credits. But the income reported with the ITIN may be credited to the benefits they will be eligible to receive once they become lawful permanent residents in the future.
In order to apply for an ITIN, one needs to submit a filled out W-7 form, along with a completed tax return to any IRS office. They need to include proof of identity and foreign status.