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Tax Rules for Non-Citizens

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Are Non-Citizens Required to Pay U.S. Taxes?

In some cases, non-citizens are required to pay U.S. taxes.  This will depend on their immigration status, and sometimes on the length of time that they’ve been in the U.S.  This is true even if the person does not intend to stay permanently in the U.S.  If a non-citizen immigrant does meet the tax requirements, they are required to render taxes, or else they may face certain legal consequences.

Which Non-Citizens Must Pay U.S. Taxes?

For tax purposes, non-U.S. citizens are categorized in three different categories:

  • Permanent Residents:  All lawful permanent residents are required to pay income taxes.  Permanent residents are those persons who have been issued a green card.  They are classified as “tax residents” and therefore must pay taxes as a citizen would
  • Certain non-permanent aliens:  Non-immigrants who have spent a total of 183 days of the current year in the U.S. must pay taxes as well. 
  • “Weighted” system:  Non-immigrants who have spent less than 183 days of the current year may be required to pay taxes if they have spent a total of 183 days in the U.S., using a complicated “weighted” system.  This system is complex, as it counts each day in the U.S. from the previous year as 1/3 of a day, and each day in the year before that counts as 1/6 of a day.  Added up, if the total for the 3 years reaches 183 days, the person must pay taxes.

This last category can present many different challenges for the non-immigrant.  For example, they might not remember exactly how many days were spent in the U.S. over the last 3 years, and it may be difficult to perform the actual calculations.  In such cases, the services of an immigration lawyer may be necessary in order to avoid committing a tax violation.

What Happens if a Non-Citizen Doesn’t Pay Taxes When Required?

Some immigrants may be hesitant to deal with taxes, especially if they are in the country illegally or have overstayed a visa.  However, the legal consequences for an immigrant or a non-immigrant who fails to pay the required taxes can be quite severe.  For example, the consequences may include:

  • Criminal tax consequences, such as a monetary fine, citation, and/or possible jail time
  • Immigration consequences, including losing their chances for change of status, or losing their chances at applying for U.S. citizenship
  • In serious case of tax violations (such as tax evasion or tax fraud), deportation or removal may be necessary

Lastly, non-citizens who aren’t considered tax residents may still want to file taxes if they have been working for an employer who has been withholding taxes from their wages.  They might qualify for a refund, and it may reflect well on their immigration record in the long run.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Immigrant Tax Laws?

The tax rules for immigrants can often be very confusing.  If you need help understanding how tax laws apply to non-citizens, you should contact an immigration lawyer immediately.  Your attorney can help review the laws in your area, so that you don’t end up committing any tax violations.  Also, your lawyer can represent you in court if you are being summoned for an appearance.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 09-07-2012 04:19 PM PDT

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