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Cultural Competency and the ITIN: What It Is and How to Obtain One

Updated on February 18, 2014

Obtaining an ITIN

There are a few steps to take in order to obtain an ITIN:

1) Obtain Form W-7 by going to your public library to access and download Form W-7.

2) Go to your nearest VITA Center, mentioned in a previous article and present the W-7 form to the agent who will do your tax return. Both will need to be mailed. Consult to get the correct address.

2) You will receive your ITIN number in the mail-usually within six weeks if there are no problems with your application.

3) You need to bring the two forms of Identification to present with your W-7 application.


The ITIN stands for Individual Tax Identification Number, or ITIN for short.

While it might be little-known fact that you must have an ITIN if you do not have a Social Security Number (hereafter referred to as an SSN) if you work in this country, it is the hope of this article to once again inform those who would otherwise not have the knowledge or mentorship. As our landscape changes in America, those who come here want to obey all laws, but with such a structured infrastructure and many laws, it is almost impossible to know all the ins and outs of becoming a model citizen. In my years of experience with immigrants and refugees, I have not met one who didn't want to obey the laws. After all, America is the greatest nation in the world and they feel privileged to be here, even though some may not have had a choice in their journey here.

That having been said, in order to make sure that laws are obeyed in terms of income tax - one of the major components of being an American citizen - one must have either an ITIN or an SSN.

What's The Difference Between an ITIN and an SSN?

A Social Security Number or SSN is issued to American citizens at birth and also to some refugees and immigrants whose governments have special agreements with the United States. There are different types of SSN issues and some say Not Valid For Employment, which indicates that the person is of retirement age and will not need to work, that the person has come to this country as a refugee (to avoid religious or political persecution or because the person is escaping further religious or political persecution).

An ITIN, however, is usually issued to those who make their way to this country through somewhat more unconventional or unofficial means. Those means might include entering this country without papers, or "undocumented" as it is called. Undocumented immigrants are not exactly in this country under the most legal of conditions and may have brought children with them to add to the situation. As we all have to eat, this undocumented person will then secure some means of income, mostly being paid in cash, sometimes being paid with only a stub receipt.

Why Does Someone Need an ITIN, then, If Being Paid In Cash?

The employer who pays in cash with a stub receipt may one day have a "review" by the IRS of his or her business operations. The pay stub receipts indicate to whom the money was paid. If this happens, it is then possible that those who received the money and stub receipts will also be "reviewed" and found out to not have any official capacity in this country.

If, however, the payee goes to his or her local IRS office and applies for an ITIN there or at the VITA Center, mentioned in a previous article, and then "declares" how much was earned by adding up the stub receipts and pays an honest tax on those earnings, that person is more likely to be considered a non-citizen in good standing.

Does the ITIN Guarantee Citizenship, then?

Being considered a non-citizen in good standing with an ITIN does not guarantee citizenship. One still has to go through the citizenship process. However, the fact that someone has an ITIN helps with an overall profile when being considered for citizenship.

Another advantage of the ITIN is the move in some states towards converting the ITIN into Social Security eligibility after citizenship is awarded. Please consult your local citizenship bureau for more information.

Does Everyone Need An ITIN?

People who live and work in this country who have no SSN but have a job must have an ITIN in order to pay taxes.

Children of those who are undocumented, once they begin to work, must have an ITIN.

Spouses who are in this country on a Visa and have a job, must have an ITIN.

Below you will find examples of the various SSN and ITIN cards for further understanding.


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