For non-citizens of the U.S. who do not qualify for Social Security Numbers (SSNs), obtaining an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is convenient and often necessary.
The nine-digit ITIN can be used in place of an SSN for purposes of filing taxes or claiming various tax credits. It also may come in handy for other financial and identification purposes such as opening a bank account, applying for a driver’s license (depending on the laws in your state), and creating a track record of having lived in the U.S. (sometimes useful for gaining forms of immigration status such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA).
The ITIN is useful for undocumented immigrants as well as certain nonimmigrants or non-citizen spouses of U.S. citizens or immigrants in the United States filing U.S. tax returns. The ITIN does not, however, indicate or confirm legal status in the U.S., nor any right to work here.
At one time, an ITIN needed to be applied for only once. In 2015, however, Congress passed the the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act), which among many other things, clarified and confirmed 2012 IRS guidance stating that someone who got an ITIN after December 31, 2012, but fails to use it for three consecutive years (by entering it onto a tax return, or being claimed as a dependent on someone else's tax return) will need to revalidate it to avoid its expiration.
People who received ITINs before that date will also need to revalidate them, following a schedule set forth in the new law.
For the basics on how to apply for an ITIN, go to the Form W-7, Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number page of the IRS website. Applications are made by mail; you do not need to go in person to an IRS office. You will need to submit original documentation or certified copies verifying your identity and foreign status.
For revalidation, the IRS said in 2014 that, "A taxpayer whose ITIN has been deactivated and needs to file a U.S. return can reapply using Form W-7. As with any ITIN application, original documents, such as passports, or copies of documents certified by the issuing agency must be submitted with the form."
In light of the new PATH Act, however, the IRS will likely pass additional regulations regarding the revalidation process. Experts hope that the agency will then reduce the paperwork requirements for revalidation and explain whether, after successfully applying for revalidation, you will receive a new number or be able to continue using your old number. For the latest information, see the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) page of the IRS website.
Carefully read Section 203 of the PATH Act or consult a tax expert for more information.