ISSP provides tax help for W&M’s international community

It has been said that two things are certain in life: death and taxes. Although the former remains beyond the Reves Center’s reach, each year the Office of International Scholars, Students and Programs (ISSP) helps William & Mary’s international community with its U.S. tax concerns.

International students and scholars have special tax needs that are very different from the tax needs of most Americans. Most W&M international students and scholars are considered to be non-resident tax aliens. Because of this classification, many popular tax preparation options are not appropriate. 

ISSP provides tax services for W&M’s international community in two ways: specialized tax software and on-campus tax advising sessions. 

Thanks to ISSP, W&M international students are able to access tax preparation software specifically created for non-resident tax aliens, known as Windstar Foreign National Tax Resource (FNTR) software. 

“An international student recently used a name-brand tax preparation software that gave him a tax credit for which it determined he was eligible,” said Emily Hogge, ISSP immigration specialist and orientation coordinator, explaining the importance of Windstar software. 

“We looked into the tax credit on the IRS website and discovered that the student wasn’t eligible, and the software was wrong.” 

ISSP also offers individual tax sessions for international community members with Richard Bradshaw, the commissioner of the revenue for James City County. 

For the past 20 years Bradshaw has been providing Virginia State Tax informational sessions, along with informal individual sessions. This year both ISSP and Bradshaw decided to formalize the individual tax sessions with a set appointment schedule. 

During the 15 minute sessions, international students and scholars bring their Windstar completed federal tax return and Bradshaw helps with the state return.

“The key is to make sure the returns are done correctly,” Bradshaw said.  “And that’s what we do during the appointments.” 

So far, about 100 international students and scholars have utilized the various tax preparation tools ISSP offers.  As the tax deadline approaches, the number is expected to spike.  Last year around 200 individuals used the software, and 40 people attended a state tax session. 

“Windstar was easy to use, once I had someone show me how to use it,” said Hao Wei Zhai, applied science Ph.D. student.  “The ISSP tax preparation made filing very easy, very convenient.”  

For ISSP, easing the stress for international students and scholars is of the utmost importance.

“Taxes can be very intimidating for international students and scholars because the process is often very different from their home country,” explained Hogge.  “We’re glad to have specialized resources to help them as they file their taxes.”