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To File or Not to File? Income Tax Season Approaches

Published: Monday, February 4, 2019

With April 15 looming, undocumented immigrants may be wondering if they should file income taxes. Although tax law requires everyone who earns over a certain amount to file taxes, most immigration benefits do not require submitting tax returns. However, they can be helpful. Someone planning to apply for an I-601A “hardship” waiver can use the return to show that the qualifying relative (a spouse or parent) will suffer financial hardship without the waiver applicant’s income. Filing tax returns is also evidence of “good moral character,” a favorable factor in the government’s discretionary analysis of I-601A – and certain other –cases.

An undocumented immigrant working without authorization may apply to the IRS for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (an ITIN). It is for the sole purpose of filing taxes and does not provide work authorization. However, it is perfectly valid and legal, and so even if the holder is working with a fake social security number, he or she can still use a tax return filed with an ITIN as evidence in an immigration case.

Simply filing taxes using an ITIN is legal and does not put the filer at any risk of detention or other adverse immigration consequence. However, before seeking any immigration benefit, an undocumented worker should consult a qualified attorney.

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