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Documented or Not, Tax Time is Coming

KUT News

Contrary to what you may have heard, people in the country illegally can file a return. They use a special IRS-issued number called an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN). But new IRS rules effective this month mean some changes for people using ITINs.

In 2010, the latest available data from the IRS, nearly 18 million people paid their taxes with ITINs.

“Taxpayers who file with an ITIN, they contribute to Social Security,” said IRS spokeswoman Irma Treviño.

Normally, people contributing to Social Security expect to get some benefit from the program once they retire. Eber doesn’t. We agreed not to use his last name because he’s in the U.S. illegally.

“I am 35 years old, and I work construction,” Eber said in Spanish. “But these past days I haven’t been able to work because it’s been raining and I work with dirt, and if the ground is wet, we cannot touch it. But whether I work or not, I still have to pay my taxes.”

It’s a duty, he says, the right thing to do. He also sees it as a savings mechanism because he has two young children and he often gets a tax refund.

When the ITIN program started in 1996, once a number was issued, it could be used indefinitely. Not anymore. Treviño says numbers issued starting this month will need to be renewed every five years. Existing numbers are grandfathered in.

“If taxpayers have their ITIN, they can use their ITIN; when there is an opportunity to acquire a Social Security number, they need to return their ITIN to the IRS,” she said.

There are few ways for someone with an ITIN to get a Social Security number. That would mean going from illegal status to legal resident. For most people, only a change in the nation’s immigration policy will give them that chance.

Over the years, the ITIN program has had few changes and hasn’t become more restrictive. On the contrary, when the biggest change took place in 2003, it shortened the list of documents needed to apply to just a birth certificate and a valid photo ID.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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