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Why an ITIN cannot be used to start a business

If you came to New York as a foreign exchange student, you may have a student visa that allows you to seek gainful employment for a certain amount of hours per week. Perhaps, like many other immigrants, you've dreamed of starting a small business while you're here. There are obviously all sorts of laws and regulations associated with launching an online or in-person business. To prevent problems with your current status, it's probably best to do a lot of research and make sure you understand what you can and cannot do.

Many immigrants in your situation receive Individual Tax Identification Numbers because they have to file income tax returns if they are working paying jobs in America. If you do not have a green card, you also do not have a Social Security Number. The ITIN functions as your tax form identification.

What it is and what it's not

Since the ITIN is an identification, it's understandable why someone might think you could use it to launch a business. Here are a few important facts about these assigned numbers, however, as well as information about starting businesses under temporary visa statuses:

  • An Individual Tax Identification Number is not a legally acceptable form of personal identification.
  • Those who marry U.S. citizens and arrive in the United States often receive such numbers while awaiting full process of their green cards.
  • Foreign investors residing abroad but purchasing real estate in the United States also receive ITIN's in order to pay real estate taxes.
  • You cannot use an Individual Tax Identification Number to start a business.
  • To become eligible to launch a business while you are living in the United States, you must obtain a green card (which makes you eligible for a Social Security Number) or a visa that allows you to participate in entrepreneurial endeavors.

Some students have tried to remain in New York after their temporary visas expired. This is typically not a good idea since doing so would create an undocumented status, which could therefore complicate matters if you try to apply for a green card to start a company in the future. Tens of thousands of green cards are issued by lottery drawing every year. It would likely be less stressful to try to obtain one before your student visa expires.

Such situations are often quite challenging for immigrants. However, you can be very hopeful as thousands have come before you to receive quality educations in America and have then gone on to become permanent residents who contribute actively to their communities and boost the economy through their successful business ventures. If you have questions about business law or need help with a particular matter, you may seek consultation with a business and commercial law attorney who has experience handling issues particular to immigrants.

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