Can I choose not to use my student exemption from the substantial presence test, or must I do so no matter what? i.e. Is the student exemption from the test optional or mandatory? If optional, how do I declare my intent to not exempt myself? Can I just not file an 8843?

I know most people try to go in the other direction for tax purposes (try to file as a non-resident), but unless I have severely misunderstood the tax code, my tax burden will actually be lighter as a tax resident than as a non-resident.

For an explanation, I am a student studying in the US under the F1 visa, and have no income that is not earned in the US. I also don't plan to earn any income from non-US sources until I graduate and land a job either in the US, whereupon I will become a tax resident and render the discussion moot, or outside the US, which will make me a non-resident again, since I won't be in the country for the substantial presence test to apply to me.

The tax burden reduction comes in the form of my planned investment income, which if a NRA will be subject to a 30% withholding (on both capital gains and dividends as a student), and if not will be much lower, if I understand everything correctly.

Even if I get all the tax stuff wrong, the question is still relevant: can I choose to not claim the student exemption to the substantial presence test?

  • 1
    The instructions for the form 8843 say: "If you don’t file Form 8843 on time, you may not exclude the days you were present in the United States... Failure to exclude days of presence in the United States could result in your being considered a U.S. resident under the substantial presence test." so it seems to me it is allowed, but I'm not sure. Did you find out the answer?
    – QNA
    Mar 22, 2020 at 19:29

1 Answer 1


As I understand it, it is mandatory to be an "exempt individual" as a student if you have not been an exempt individual for some part of 5 previous calendar years. (If you have been an exempt individual for some part of 5 previous calendar years, then you are by default not an exempt individual as a student unless you claim a closer connection to a foreign country.)

The only exception I can see is if you do not substantially comply with the requirements of your visa, i.e. you have engaged in activities that are prohibited by U.S. immigration laws and could result in the loss of your visa status, in which case you would not be an exempt individual. That is probably not something you want to do though.

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