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Immigration attorneys are constantly asked why someone who is not a U.S. citizen should file a return with the IRS, and how an individual without immigration status can file a tax return. First, any individual who has taxable income should file a return, regardless of their immigration status (see the IRS’ filing requirements here). Second, and more importantly, if one is seeking an immigration benefit, you will want to show that you are complying with all applicable United States’ laws, such as filing a tax return.

The filing of a tax return comes into play across various immigration benefits. The majority of immigration applications have a “good moral character” or discretionary component when being reviewed by an immigration authority, which leads to inquiries into the proper reporting of income earned. Oftentimes, this is where the issues of:

  1. Has an applicant filed a tax return, if they are required to do so?
  2. Has an applicant filed a joint return with their U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse, if they are married?
  3. Does the applicant owe any outstanding taxes?

The answers to these questions could negatively affect an individual’s immigration case, depending on the circumstances. Therefore, it is important for non U.S. citizens to be aware that filing an accurate return is critical, not only for compliance with IRS law, but also to prove to immigration that they are fulfilling their obligations under the laws of a country they wish to receive a benefit from.

Another benefit of filing a tax return is that it can demonstrate to immigration that you have resided in the United States for a certain period of time. Proof of one’s physical presence in the U.S. is another factor taken into consideration by immigration for certain applications. The filing of a tax return can serve the dual purpose to prove one’s earnings, as well as their residence in the U.S.

Individuals who are ineligible for a social security number due to their immigration status, but earn sufficient income that should be reported to the IRS, can apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) on IRS Form W-7. The sole purpose of an ITIN is to report an individual’s income, and does not provide social security benefits or work authorization. However, as discussed above, it is valuable for these types of individuals to file a tax return under an ITIN for future immigration benefits they may seek.

For questions, comments or additional information, please contact a member of our Immigration Practice Group, at or via phone at 215.495.6500.