Tax Time for Immigrants: What You Should Know


April is coming fast, and for Americans, that means tax time is coming, too. It may be tax time for you, too.

Millions of immigrants pay taxes every year, even if they’re undocumented. If you’re not yet one of them, you should consider doing so.

The Benefits of Paying Taxes

Tax documentation can be extremely helpful either when you apply for your green card or when you apply for permanent citizenship. It can help you:

  • Show proof of good moral character.
  • Show proof of continuous presence.
  • If filed jointly with your spouse, show proof of a bona fide marriage.

You should file even if you are working under the table or are otherwise undocumented. We’ve even seen cases where filing taxes helps with Cancellation of Removal proceedings. 

Yes, your returns can show you’re working without a permit, but if you’re already an undocumented immigrant the completed tax filings tend to help you more than they tend to hurt you.

In addition, your tax information is privileged. The IRS cannot give it to USCIS, to ICE, to law enforcement, or to the Department of Homeland Security. It can’t be used against you to initiate removal of any kind, which means it’s a safe way to create the evidence you’ll need to pave the way towards a legal presence in the country.

The Disadvantages of Paying Taxes

Paying taxes can be quite expensive for some immigrant families, so it’s a good idea to start saving up now. If you have been “paid under the table” then you haven’t been receiving income tax withholding throughout the year. This means the bill can be quite large.

In addition, you won’t be eligible for certain tax breaks like the earned income credit, which can drive your tax bill all the higher. 

Another disadvantage is that mistakes can be very costly, which means you should consider working with a tax professional. For example, if you are already a green card holder you’ll want to be careful to disclose your immigration status on your tax return. Laws have been proposed which would make an omission of this information grounds for the revocation of your green card should the omission be discovered.

What You’ll Need to Pay Taxes

You’ll need to file for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or ITIN. You do this simply by filing a form with the IRS.

You will have to include documentation which substantiates your status as an immigrant, as well as documentation which substantiates your identity.  Supporting documents include:

  • Your passport.
  • A USCIS photo ID.
  • Visas.
  • A U.S. driver’s license or foreign driver’s license.
  • A foreign military identification card or U.S. military identification card.
  • A national identification card.
  • A U.S. state identification card.
  • A foreign voter registration card.
  • A civil birth certificate.
  • Medical records (for dependents under age 6).
  • School records (for dependents under age 18).

At least one of these documents needs to contain your photograph, and the IRS may require you to provide certified translations of documents that are in a foreign language. If you mail these documents in they’ll return them to you. You can also walk them into the local IRS office, or find an Acceptance Agent who can help you.

You’ll attach your W-7 to your first tax return while leaving the SSN area blank on the return. 

Nobody loves filing taxes or paying them, but there’s no denying it’s part of being a citizen of the United States of America. 

See also:

New Laws for Green Card Holders in 2020

How to Get a Green Card for Your Fiancee

Is It A Crime to Encourage Undocumented Immigrants?

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