How Income Tax Filing Can Affect Immigration
Contributor: Van T. Doan
Another tax filing season has recently come and gone, to most people’s relief. If you are an immigrant to the United States, even an undocumented immigrant, it is important for you to understand your obligations regarding filing and paying taxes. Here are some common questions we hear from our clients and others regarding immigration and taxes.
I am undocumented. Is it a good idea for me to file an income tax return?
Many undocumented immigrants are afraid to file a U.S. income tax return because they are justifiably concerned about drawing government attention to themselves. However, there may be good reasons for undocumented immigrants to file a tax return.
Even if you don’t have a Social Security Number (SSN), you can apply for an individual taxpayer identification number that will allow you to file a tax return. Filing a tax return as an undocumented immigrant can support your claim of good moral character.” While good moral character is an important factor in becoming a citizen, it is also considered when immigration officials are deciding whether to cancel removal of an undocumented immigrant.
Cancellation of removal is a process that allows certain undocumented immigrants who are in deportation proceedings to not only avoid deportation but be granted a green card. Cancellation of removal is at the discretion of the immigration judge, and there are only a limited number of these green cards available. Therefore, anything you can do to show that you are a good person who deserves to remain in the United States is essential. Filing and paying taxes, especially when you might have been able to avoid doing so, could help you.
Not every undocumented immigrant is eligible for cancellation of removal. In addition to being of good moral character, you must have lived in the United States for at least 10 years; not committed any crimes or broken certain important laws; and be able to show that your removal would result in exceptional hardship for a close family member such as a spouse, parent, or child who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.
To learn whether you could be granted cancellation of removal, or discuss your concerns about filing taxes as an undocumented immigrant, contact an experienced immigration attorney.
Could I lose my green card for putting the wrong information on my U.S. income tax return?
In a word, yes. The IRS divides non-citizens into “resident aliens” and “non-resident aliens.” (These are IRS categories and have nothing to do with how you are classified by USCIS.) Green card holders are generally categorized as resident aliens.
If you are a green card holder and you state on your income tax return that you are a “non-resident alien,” the government may interpret that as an indication that you have abandoned your status as a lawful permanent resident. It is important to speak with an immigration attorney before you file a tax return that says you are a non-resident alien.
Could paying taxes in another country put my green card at risk?
Again, the answer is yes. One way this could be discovered is if you have spent time outside the United States and are subject to an interview by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) when you return. If a CBP official asks you whether you have earned income in a country other than the U.S., or paid income taxes in another country, a “yes” response could lead the government to believe that you are actually residing in another country. That could put your green card status at risk and even subject you to removal from the United States. Talk to a U.S. immigration attorney before leaving the U.S., or before returning, to ensure your status is protected.
I have a green card. Can I become a citizen if I don’t file tax returns?
Failing to file a U.S. income tax return when you should certainly will not make it easier for you to become a naturalized citizen—and it could make it much harder. As discussed above, only individuals who demonstrate “good moral character” are granted citizenship, and an important component of showing good character is fulfilling your tax obligations. It makes sense that the United States wants citizens who are willing to contribute their fair share to the public purse, not just take from it.
When applying for naturalization, you will be asked if you have fulfilled any obligations to file and pay taxes. If you have not done so, your application could be denied on grounds that you have not shown good moral character.
What if I have failed to pay taxes in the past but want to do so before applying for citizenship?
If you should have filed a tax return or paid taxes in the past and failed to do so, you are not alone. However, you must take steps to correct this situation before applying for a change of status. You can file a late or amended return. Depending on the situation, you may have to pay interest or penalties.
To learn more about ensuring that your taxes are in order so that your immigration status will not be negatively affected, contact our law office to schedule a consultation.
Categories: Immigration Law