“Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.” That quote, which is attributed to the famous U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., seems to have been taken to heart by not just the IRS, but by the INS (which is officially known today as the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)). In the immigration context, it could very well be re-phrased “Taxes are the price you pay for citizenship,” because if you are not paying the proper taxes, you are not going to be able to gain United States Citizenship.
In general, the USCIS does not look into an applicant’s financial health when processing citizenship applications. Being a billionaire does not move you to the top of the list, and having previously declared bankruptcy will not disqualify you. The financial issue that will cause problems, however, is a checkered tax history.
Properly filing taxes with the IRS and any applicable state or local taxing authorities is part of the “good moral character” requirement all applicants for citizenship must adhere to. Years ago, immigrants had to prove their good moral character by having people vouch for them. Today, the government assumes people are of good moral character unless proven otherwise. Not paying taxes, or fudging them a bit to make what you owe appear smaller, is considered something of good moral character would not do.
The government looks back five years when it does its “good moral character” investigations, so it is critical that you have your taxes in order for those years. (If you are applying for citizenship under the special rules that apply to spouses of U.S. citizens, the government will only look back three years.)
If there is a silver lining to having tax issues, it is that tax issues are, for the most part, fixable. Back taxes owed can be paid up, or you can negotiate a settlement or payment plan with the IRS. And improperly filed returns can be amended and refiled.
If you are getting ready to apply for citizenship and you think you may have tax issues that will raise a red flag, working with an attorney who specializes in immigration law alone, and has no experience dealing with complex tax issues, is not a good idea. Attorneys specialize in different things, and if taxes are the thing that might keep you from becoming a U.S. citizen, it is in your best interest to work with a tax lawyer as well as an expert immigration attorney.
If you’ve been denied U.S. Citizenship because of tax issues, it is time to get your financial house in order. As previously mentioned, the government looks back 5 years when it investigates “good moral character,” so if you have just been denied, you can start a fresh lookback period today and apply again in 5 years. Working with an experienced tax professional will ensure that you won’t get denied citizenship because of your taxes when you are eligible to apply again.
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