Many people do not realize that the choices they make when filing Federal Income Tax Returns can affect their immigration status. Applicants for permanent residence, naturalization, and certain types of nonimmigrant status must submit copies of previously filed Federal Income Tax Returns with their applications. Officers may scrutinize every aspect of the returns including how they were filed (jointly, head of household, etc.), the number of dependents claimed, the amount and type of deductions taken and reported income, among other items. If an immigration officer determines you have committed tax fraud, it could lead to a denial of an immigration benefit and, in some cases, lead to removal (deportation).
For example, a common issue raised as tax fraud is that of claiming dependents or family members who are not qualified as dependents. In order to claim someone as a dependent, the dependent must:
- Be a U.S. citizen, national, or resident, or a resident of Canada or Mexico.
- Not take a personal exemption or be claimed as a dependent by someone else.
- Not be married and file a joint tax return.
- Be related to you, under 19 years old or, if a full-time student, under 24 years old (no age limit if permanently or totally disabled), live with you for more than half the year, and be someone for whom you provide more than half of their support.
- Live with you or be on the list of “relatives who do not live with you” category as listed in Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Publication 501, not make more than $4,050 in 2017, and you must provide more than half of their support if claiming a “relative.” (All updated IRS Publications can be found at www.irs.gov).
Many people claim relatives from Canada or Mexico as dependents because they send money to them for support. This is allowed only if you provide more than half of their support.
If your annual earnings are below a minimum amount set by the IRS, you may be exempt from filing a tax return. You can find the minimum amount in IRS Publication 501. However, if you meet the minimum amount, whether documented or not and fail to pay taxes, it can be considered a lack of good moral character and may deem you ineligible for immigration benefits. Permanent residents are required to pay income taxes if they earn at least the minimum amount. If they fail to pay taxes, they may be ineligible for citizenship in the future or experience problems when seeking to renew their green card.
If you think you may have reported an unqualified dependent, overstated or understated income or deductions, you can amend your tax returns before applying for an immigration benefit. Information about requirements for filing taxes, deductions, exemptions, etc. can be found on the IRS website www.irs.gov. You can contact your tax preparer for assistance in filing amendments.
** PLEASE NOTE, A NEW REQUIREMENT FOR CLAIMING CHILD TAX CREDIT HAS BEEN ADDED FOR THE 2018 TAX RETURN**
In order to claim a child tax credit (CTC) or an additional child tax credit (ACTC), the qualifying child must have a social security number (SSN) that is valid for employment and is issued before the due date of the income tax return (including extensions). You may not claim a CTC or ACTC for a child with an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN). To be a qualifying child for the CTC or ACTC, the child must be a citizen, national or permanent resident of the United States and must not have attained age 17 by the end of the tax year. If the child has an ITIN, you may be able to claim the new credit for other dependents. The instructions for Form 1040 U.S. Individual Income Tax Return explains who qualifies for the CTC and can be found at Internal Revenue Service’s website at www.irs.gov or on page 21 of the IRS 1040 Instructions page https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/i1040gi.pdf.
If you have any questions regarding how your income tax returns may affect your eligibility for immigration benefits, please contact our office at (714) 786-1166 for a consultation.