Immigration Law Associates
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Applying for Naturalization if You Owe Back Taxes or Dependent Support Payments

Posted on Tuesday, August 21, 2012

During the recent recession, an increasing number of potential candidates for naturalization have experienced financial issues. As a result, they may owe taxes that they have been unable to pay, or may have fallen behind on spousal maintenance or child support. In some circumstances, we must advise a client to postpone their application for naturalization until they are able to fulfill these important financial obligations. However, this is not always the case, as two successful case reviews will show.

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We were recently contacted by a permanent resident who had been laid off from his job and could not pay the taxes he owed to the federal government. He wanted to become a U.S. citizen, but was worried about a question on the naturalization application about his tax status. An applicant for naturalization must show good moral character, and paying all taxes owed is an important factor in this determination.

Fortunately, our client had filed his tax return and was in the process of negotiating an affordable payment plan with the IRS. We reviewed this person’s documents and background information and found that he was otherwise eligible for naturalization. The fact that he had properly filed his tax return and was doing everything he could to fulfill his tax obligation were important factors in his favor.

We advised him to obtain a statement from the IRS evidencing his good faith efforts to pay the taxes he owed. We then filed his naturalization application and waited for him to be called for his interview.

Prior to the interview, an installment plan was finalized with the IRS and our client started making regular payments. We advised him to obtain a copy of the approved payment plan and present it at his interview along with proof that he had been making the required payments.

Because the client was complying with the law and could prove that he was meeting the terms of his agreement with the IRS, the officer was able to make a finding of good moral character and he was granted citizenship.

If you are a permanent resident who plans to apply for citizenship in the future, you should always file a tax return even if you are unable to pay your taxes in full. If you have not, you may still be eligible for citizenship as long as you file as soon as possible and pay the required penalties. However, you must also take steps to negotiate a payment plan with the IRS and then make several payments on time prior to your naturalization interview.

There is another question on the naturalization application asking if you have ever failed to support your dependents or to pay alimony. Many potential applicants mistakenly believe that a failure to fully pay all spousal maintenance and child support will result in an immediate denial of the naturalization application. This is certainly true if the failure to fulfill these obligations is willful, but what if the failure is the result of difficult economic circumstances? A review of a real case can be instructive.

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We had a client who had lost his job and was unable to make full alimony and child support payments to his ex-wife and their children. However, he did draw upon his savings for sufficient funds to ensure that his legal dependents were provided with the basics of life: food, shelter and medical care. He worked multiple part-time jobs and continued making partial payments until the day of his naturalization interview.

At the interview, the officer reviewed our client’s support order and requested proof of his payments. He produced a letter showing that he had been laid off from his job, and then provided cancelled checks evidencing that regular payments were made to his dependents, even if less than required. He also presented bank statements to prove that the payments were made from his account, and copies of his recent pay stubs to show that he was doing everything he could to generate income. Finally, he provided a letter from his ex-wife attesting to his financial difficulties and approving the current payment amount until his economic situation improved.

Since there were no other issues in this client’s case, the officer approved his application and he soon took the oath of citizenship. If you should find yourself in a similar situation, please remember that doing what is right – showing that you take your responsibilities seriously by paying whatever you can afford – can help USCIS arrive at the all-important finding of good moral character.

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