Whether you are petitioning for a family member, applying for naturalization, defending yourself against deportation, or serving as a co-sponsor for another immigrant, there are many circumstances that require the Department of Homeland Security to scrutinize your tax records.
Here at WGV, we have seen many tax documents with errors and omissions, some of which have cost our clients many thousands of dollars to rectify, plus subjected them to fines, penalties, and findings that they lack good moral character. With tax season now in full swing, here are five tips to keep in mind if you or a loved one are an immigrant tax filer in the United States.
You do not need to have a social security number to file taxes
All workers in the United States – whether authorized or not – are able to file tax documents with the IRS. If you do not have a valid social security number, you may apply for an “ITIN” or “Individual Tax-Payer Identification Number” when you file your return. The ITIN will substitute for a social security number on your taxes, though including it may render you or your spouse ineligible for certain benefits.
You should not file as “Head of Household” if you live with your spouse
Many spouses of undocumented individuals file as “Head of Household” even though they are married and living with their spouse. While there are many tax benefits granted to persons filing as “Head of Household,” this filing status is essentially a declaration that you are either single or residing separately from a spouse. If you need to convince the immigration service that you are residing with your spouse in a good faith marriage, having tax returns filed as “Head of Household” works against you and could even be considered fraudulent.
Do not declare Dependents unless you have paid at least 50% (half) of that person’s living expenses
In order to legitimately claim a dependent on your tax return, you need to be able to prove that you have provided, during the tax year, at least 50% of that person’s living expenses. Naming relatives on your tax return as dependents in order to maximize a tax refund is illegal and a bad idea for anyone trying to avoid problems with the IRS or DHS.
Do not declare children for the Child Tax Credit unless they are living with you
To properly claim a child for the Child Tax Credit, the child must physically reside with you, be younger than 17 years, unmarried, and dependent on you for care. Do not claim your children if they are living outside your home.
Beware of tax preparers who promise big refunds
At WGV, we have seen that some tax preparers routinely file returns for clients with the objective of maximizing the tax refund. In order to do so, the preparer often includes questionable dependent information, designates an improper filing status (e.g. “single,” “head of household,” etc.), or includes children that do not reside with the filer.
This approach often leaves clients vulnerable to fines, penalties, and even potential criminal charges, while the preparer him or herself faces little to no liability. Beware of tax preparers who do not conduct a complete interview each year to see how your circumstances may have changed, or who encourage you to claim dependents or children that are not legitimately yours to claim. You should NEVER sign a blank tax return – always insist on seeing the tax preparer’s work. Also be wary of tax preparers who offer to prepare and file immigration documents for clients, as doing this is a crime unless the person is an attorney or accredited by the government for non-profit work.
WGV encourages clients to work with well-established, accredited, and reputable tax preparers. For a listing of tax preparers and their credentials in your area, visit https://irs.treasury.gov/rpo/rpo.jsf.