Many international students and scholars who are married and/or have children ask if they can claim their spouse and/or children as dependents on their income tax returns. The answer is, "it depends."
If you are an F-1 or J-1 student, and have been in that status for five or fewer years (since 2008 or later) OR if you are a J-1 scholar or faculty member who has been in that status for two or fewer years (since 2011 or later) you are considered to be a non-resident for tax purposes. You can only claim a spouse and/or children as dependents IF you are a national of one of the following four countries:
- Republic of Korea
If you are a national of any other country, you cannot claim a spouse and/or children as dependents. This is because only those four countries have entered into tax treaty agreements with the United States that permit a spouse or dependent to be claimed as a dependent by a non-resident. This also means that only residents from those four countries can also claim tax credits based on having dependents.
Here are the specific rules:
A spouse exemption is available to married individuals from Canada, Mexico, and the Republic of Korea. A spouse exemption is also available to married students from India IF the spouse is living with the student in the United States and if the spouse had no earned income for the 2012 tax year. No other countries are eligible for the spouse exemption. If you are claiming a spouse exemption, you cannot file form 1040NR EZ. Instead, you must file form 1040NR.
Only individuals from Canada, Mexico or the Republic of Korea can claim children who live with them as dependents. Individuals from Canada or Mexico can also claim children who don't live with them as dependents. Students from India can only claim children living with them in the United States if the children are U.S. citizens or U.S. permanent residents. If you are claiming a dependent exemption, you cannot file form 1040NR EZ. Instead, you must file form 1040NR.