Employment, SNN & Taxes
I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Process
The Immigration Reform and Control Act requires all U.S. employers to verify the identity and employment eligibility of all new employees, citizens and non-citizens alike. By law, I-9 verification must be completed within the first 3 days of employment. Accordingly, all employers must keep I-9 files for each of their new employees. Even if you already have a Social Security Number (SSN), you must still complete the I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification process. Additional information regarding the Form I-9 is available on the USCIS website.
I-9 Verification for On-Campus Student Employment
Working on-campus in the U.S. is not permitted without proper authorization.
- Be enrolled full-time at the start of the upcoming semester if the semester has not yet begun. You must be registered for classes in order to work on SUNY Cortland Campus.
- Receive a job offer. You may not begin on-campus employment until you have completed the I-9 process and your information has been entered into the university system. Please check Student Employment for recent job postings.
- You will need to apply for a Social Security Card (PDF) if you do not already have a SSN.
- Complete the I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification process at the Career Services Office, Van Hoesen Hall, Room B-5.
F-1 Student Off-Campus Employment Options
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
CPT is designed to provide work experience directly related and integral to a student's degree of study. CPT can be part-time (fewer than 20 hours a week) or full-time (20+ hours a week). Generally any internships, even if it's unpaid, requires CPT authorization.
A student must be in valid F-1-status and have been a full-time student for one academic year (Fall and Spring semesters) before participating in CPT.
An exception may be made for programs that require an internship from graduate students in their first year of study. This first year requirement must be documented by the academic department.
A student must have a written job/internship offer on company letterhead before applying for CPT. The job offer must indicate the position, the exact dates of employment, the number of hours per week and the company's address.
*Please see the International Programs Office for the CPT application packet and further processing details.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training is a 12 month (364 days) employment authorization that provides an opportunity for F-1 students to apply knowledge acquired from their academic program to a work experience in their major field of study.
OPT must be recommended by the International Programs Office and approved by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS OPT work authorization is issued in the form of an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) commonly referred to as an EAD card. The EAD is a photo identity card similar to a university ID or driver's license. It indicates the date an authorized F-1 student may begin employment and the date the student must end employment.
If you are applying for OPT based on completion of your degree, you can submit your application for OPT as early as 90 days prior to your program end date (e.g. if your graduation date is May 17 you may apply for your OPT as early as February 17). Please be aware that your application must be received by USCIS by no later than 60 days after the day you complete your program or the program end date indicated on your I-20, whichever occurs first.
*Please see the International Programs Office for the OPT application packet and further processing details.
Required Filing of Income Tax
Filing your Federal and State income taxes is an important process to complete as you prepare to study in the United States. If you have lived in the USA the previous year and you have an F or J visa, you will have to fill out form 8843. You have to fill in this form even if you have NOT worked in the USA in the current year. If you have lived and worked in the USA you will need to complete the Federal forms (1040 NR and 8843) and a New York State tax form (IT-203). You can obtain these forms online and submit them online, or you can have a commercial tax preparer complete your forms for you for a fee.
For more detailed information, please visit this website.
Who needs to file an income tax return?
If you are visiting the U.S. from another country on an F, J, M or Q visa and you are classified as a nonresident for U.S. tax purposes, you are required to file an income tax return each year that you have income subject to U.S. income tax. If you did not earn any income, you must file IRS Form 8843. Form 8843 must also be filed for every family member who is in the U.S. on an F-2 or J-2 visa.
I only arrived in the U.S. in December of the current year and I didn't work. Do I still have to file IRS Form 8843?
Yes. If you were in the U.S. only for one day in the current year, you must file IRS Form 8843.
I'm an F-1 or J-1 student and I had no U.S.-source income or scholarships for this year. Do I need to file an income tax return?
Although you don't have to file an income tax return, you must file IRS Form 8843. Dependent spouses in F-2 and J-2 status must also file Form 8843.
I only worked for a very short time in this year and I didn't earn very much money. Do I still have to file an income tax return?
Yes. If you have any U.S.-source income, including scholarship/fellowship grants, you must file IRS Form 1040NR-EZ (or 1040NR) and IRS Form 8843.
I was in the U.S. for only a few months this year and did not work or receive a scholarship/fellowship grant. I have since returned to my country. Do I still have to file IRS Form 8843?
If you were in the U.S. on an F or J visa, you must file IRS Form 8843 for each year that you were in the U.S.
What happens if I fail to file an income tax return?
If you owe taxes and don't file an income tax return, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can charge you penalty and interest. Fines and penalties can often amount to more than the original tax debt. There can also be immigration consequences for failing to file an income tax return. Applicants for permanent residency ("green card") are frequently asked to provide proof of tax filing for previous years in the U.S.
Sprintax Tax Prep Services1-866-601-5695
To do your taxes yourself:
From this IRS (Internal Revenue Service) website, download Federal forms 1040 NR and the 8843. For general questions, call 1-800-829-1040 (toll free). If you are out of the USA, the best source of assistance for international tax filing questions is the IRS International Customer Service at 215-516-2000 (toll number).
Visit the New York State tax website and download the IT-203 form.
Social Security Numbers
Social Security Number: What it is, eligibility, and how to apply
Please note: This handout provides general information on the Social Security Number. When you check in at the Office of International Programs, Miller, Room 16 an advisor will provide you with more specific information on the Social Security Number application process and location.
What is a Social Security Number?
The Social Security Administration issues Social Security Numbers to all who are work-eligible as a way to identify participants, including taxpayers, in the federal government's social security program, which provides retirement and disability benefits to workers and their families. Although the Social Security Administration states that the SSN is intended only for employment purposes, some public and many private institutions, such as banks, phone companies, and utilities (gas and electric) have adopted the SSN as a unique identifier for its customers. There is no charge for a Social Security number and card.
Do I need an SSN?
If you are going to work in the United States, either on-campus or with off-campus work authorization, you must obtain a Social Security Number. Your employer will withhold Social Security taxes from your paycheck and submit them to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which credits each payment to your Social Security account. You may start working on-campus at SUNY Cortland without a SSN, but you must provide your SSN to your department and the University Registrar upon receiving your card.
Am I eligible for an SSN?
If you hold J-1 visa status, you may apply for an SSN.
If you hold F-1 visa status, you are eligible to apply for an SSN if you meet at least one of the following criteria, and can provide proof of employment (see International Student Advisor for details).
- you are currently working on campus
- you have been offered an on-campus job
- you have obtained off-campus work authorization
If you hold any other visa status, please consult with an International Student Advisor advisor or the Social Security Administration about your eligibility to apply for an SSN.
How do I apply?
- To apply for a Social Security number, please:
1. Come to the International Student Advisor to talk with an advisor about your eligibility for a SSN. If you are eligible, the International Student Advisor advisor will provide you with a letter certifying that you have the necessary immigration status and work authorization to be eligible for an SSN. The Social Security Administration requires this letter when you apply for your SSN.
- After you have been in the U.S. for at least 10 days, take the documents listed below to the Cortland County Office Building on 60 Central Avenue, Cortland. This office is open on Thursdays ONLY from 9 a.m. to noon and your International Student Advisor must notify the office ahead of time to let them know that you are coming. (When you come to the International Student Advisor for your certification letter, the International Student Advisor on duty will provide you with directions to this office.)
You will need both originals and copies of the following documents:
- Completed Social Security Application form
- Certification of your immigration status and work authorization (F-1 or J-1) and Proof of employment (F-1 students only). This proof is a letter that you must obtain from the International Student Advisor.
- Passport biographic page
- I-94 front and back (small, white arrival/departure card )
- I-20 (F-1) or DS-2019 (J-1) Certificate of Eligibility for Visa
- You will receive your number and card in 4-8 weeks. Once you receive your card, please take it to the Registrar's Office at Miller Building, Room 223, to update your SSN in the university information system and inform the administrator in the department that is employing you.
Not eligible for a SSN?
What if I am not eligible for an SSN?
As mentioned above, some other government agencies (e.g., the state departments of motor vehicles) and private institutions (e.g., banks, phone companies, utilities) now use the SSN for administrative and identification purposes. Below is some information on how to access these services without an SSN.
New York State Driver's License
The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles requires all applicants for driver's licenses to provide a Social Security card, or a letter from the U.S. Social Security Administration stating that you are not eligible for a Social Security Number. The SSA Letter must have been issued within the last 30 days. You can obtain a letter from the local SSA office.
You do not need a Social Security Number (SSN) in order to open up a bank account. You will need to show your passport and a copy of either your bill from SUNY Cortland or your student identification card. You will also be asked to complete a W-8BEN form (for tax withholding).
When opening up a checking account, you can apply for a check card. This Visa or Mastercard check card can be used to make purchases. The amount of your purchase is debited, directly from the checking account.
A credit card is available by applying for a Secure Credit Card (minimum is between $500 and $1000). The funds have to be in an account at the bank. This is necessary because there is no credit history or SSN to do a credit history report. The advantage to the Secure Credit Card is that it helps to establish credit. Several local banks, including CFCU and Tompkins Trust Company, have the secure credit card. M&T bank does not have this service.
Students applying for gas and electric utilities through NYSEG are not required to have a SSN. You will be asked to provide a Cortland ID, passport, biographical information, address etc., as well as a lease. If lease is for less than a year, then you are required to pay a deposit.
Verizon Land Phone: (For those living off campus in non-Cortland housing.)
You can set up an account without a SSN. Call 607-890-1350 to initiate the order and you will then be transferred to the Welcome Center. Because you do not have a SSN, you are asked to verify your identification by faxing 2 forms of ID, which should include your passport and I-20. Four hours after faxing the information, and after they have had time to process the fax, you are asked to call the original number 607 890 1350, to set up your account. There is no advance payment required when setting up the account. Installation fee will be included in your first month's bill.
Cellular phone companies require a deposit from customers who do not have a SSN or credit card history. Prices vary between companies. For example, Sprint requires a deposit between $125-$250 and Verizon's deposit is $400. This deposit would be refunded after one year if you maintain a good payment history. To avoid paying a deposit, many choose to purchase pre-paid calling cards.
A Note on Taxes
Because all international students must submit tax forms to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) each Spring, international students and family members who not eligible for an SSN can apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) when submitting their tax forms. The International Student Advisor will provide more information on taxes forms and the ITIN at the beginning of the Spring semester. For more information, visit the IRS website.
Contacting the Social Security Administration
For more information, visit the Social Security website or call toll-free 1-800-772-1213 (for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, call the TTY number, 1-800-325-0778). They can answer specific questions and provide information by automated phone service 24 hours a day. To contact the Syracuse SSA office, please see below.
Social Security Administration
Federal Building, 4th Floor
100 South Clinton Street
Syracuse, NY 13261
1-800-772-1213 (Automated Customer Service)
Hours of Operation: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. (except for Federal holidays.)
International Programs Office
Daniela Baban Hurrle, Director
Old Main, Room 219
P.O. Box 2000
Cortland, NY 13045
8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Monday - Friday