New ITIN Requirements in PATH Act Pose Challenges for Taxpayers and IRS

The PATH Act, signed into law in December 2015, may cause trouble for nonresident aliens who use individual tax identification numbers (ITINs) to file U.S. tax returns, as it creates additional hurdles to maintain a valid ITIN.  First, ITINs granted before 2013 must be renewed between 2017 and 2020 pursuant to a staggered schedule or they will expire.  Second, if an individual fails to file a U.S. tax return for three years, their ITIN will expire.  Third, the Treasury must adopt a system that will require in-person ITIN applications.

The new requirements are part of Congress’s attempts to reform certain IRS programs in order to improve their reliability, but it will likely inconvenience many taxpayers seeking to acquire ITINs.  Nonresident alien individuals need to obtain an ITIN to complete a Form 8233 asserting treaty relief from withholding on personal services income.  The process is already a difficult one for many nonresident alien taxpayers due to various procedural hurdles—such as obtaining a written denial letter from the Social Security Administration—that already existed.  Moreover, many nonresident aliens whose income is exempt from U.S. tax under a treaty do not file a Form 1040-NR and attach Form 8833 as required.  The changes in the PATH Act may force them to meet this filing requirement.

The result of the changes will increase the volume of applicants, since many will need to be renewed in the coming years.  Speaking at the recent American Bar Association Section of Taxation meeting in Washington, D.C., Julie Hanlon-Bolton, a representative from the IRS Wage and Investment Division, stated that the IRS is currently debating whether the ITIN offices will require additional staffing, and whether new or expanded offices may be needed in Austin, Texas.  This would require employing additional certified acceptance agents.  A certified acceptance agent is someone who has been trained to verify the authenticity of identification documents and trained in the process for a person to apply for an ITIN.