Immigration and taxes might not seem like two areas that have much in common, unless you’re in the immigration process. With the current political climate, it’s important that anyone going through the immigration process understands the importance of being in compliance with your taxes and what it means for your application.
Why Taxes are Important in Immigration
Anyone that is applying for green card, naturalization, or a favorable exercise of discretion (e.g., cancellation, asylum) must demonstrate good moral character (GMC). As part of establishing good moral character, USCIS will request your tax returns for the 3-5 most recent tax years. The government can go further back to 10 years in some cases, such as for cancellation of removal.
An applicant who fails to file tax returns or pay his or her taxes may be precluded from establishing GMC.
What Types of Tax Issues will Affect my Immigration Application?
Obviously, the failure to file your tax returns or failure to pay the taxes you owe will be major issues for your application.
Additionally, what’s on your tax return may have an impact on the success of your application. If the USCIS officer uncovers inconsistencies in facts submitted on the application, the applicant may be precluded from establishing GMC due to an attempt to defraud the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by avoiding taxes. The following are types of issues that have precluded applicants from establishing GMC:
- Failing to file tax returns or filing under false SSNs. The later is a felony in Texas and can be considered a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT). A CIMT causes a person to be inadmissible to the United States.
- Unreported cash income. If a large portion of your income comes from cash income that hasn’t been reported on your tax return, the USCIS may question how the income you reported on the return is sufficient to support yourself and your household. Matter of Locicero, 11 I&N Dec. 805 (BIA 1966); Sumbundo v. Holder, 602 F.3d 47 (2d 2010)
- Single or head of household filing status by a married petitioner.
- Claiming earned income tax credits (EITC) while not a lawful resident.
- Falsely claiming dependents on your tax return.
- Claiming false deductions on the tax return. Meyersiek v. USCIS, 445 F.Supp.2d 202 (D.R.I. 2006)
Can I Apply for Citizenship if I owe Taxes?
This is a question that is asked frequently. The answer is ‘yes’, but only if you have made arrangements for payment. The USCIS office will request a letter from the taxing authority indicating that (1) the applicant has filed the appropriate forms and returns; and (2) has paid the required taxes, or has made arrangements for payment.
What Should I do if I Believe my Taxes Were not Filed Correctly?
You should amend your tax returns for at least a period of 5 years, or 10 years if you’re seeking cancellation of removal. If you have other issues with your application that may put into question good moral character, then you may want to amend tax returns up to 10 years. If you owe additional taxes after filing the amended returns, you should hire a tax professional to assist you in making arrangements with the IRS to resolve tax debt.