U.S. nonimmigrants face more risks during tax filing season

File tax on time(Coral Lu/ Medill)

By Coral Lu

Writing down the name, date of birth and amount of income, 27-year-old foreign student Trevor Tao carefully filled in the blanks of his tax form step by step.

“The number, like how much I gotta pay and how much I gotta pay for the tax,” Tao said. “The thing I would be aware of is that there are a lot of blanks. I don’t want to mess up like putting the wrong numbers.”

Tao was a teacher assistant at DePaul University. That was his first official job in the United States and also his first time filing a tax form. Tao said he thinks for most foreign workers filling out the tax form might be complicated in the beginning, but he said that the process is just time-consuming.

But Tao still missed his deadline. An envelope containing a late tax penalty notification arrived, causing him to worry that the news would have a negative effect on immigration record.

According to the Illinois Department of Revenue, U.S. citizens will be assessed a late-payment penalty for unpaid taxes if they did not pay the total taxes they own by the original due date, which was April 15. But for non-U.S. citizens, they might face more risks of filing their tax forms late, said Dhenu Savla, a local immigration attorney.

“One of the things that USCIS does care about is the tax history,” Savla said. “If they have any past old taxes, or if they have not-paid and there’s lien against them for any reason, that can definitely cause a denial or pretty major delay in their green card citizenship or change status or any visa changes in the future.”

Savla also encouraged nonimmigrants to pay their outstanding taxes even though they are planning to leave the U.S. because their poor tax history could stop them from coming to the U.S. as visitors in future.

Experts suggest several ways for immigrants to minimize risks.

Wen Qin, tax associate at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, said normally clients could request a tax-filing extension after the deadline, so they just need to pay the late payment penalty, but that’s a one-time offer.

“Usually we will complete the late tax forms for our clients and ask them to file the tax forms by a certain date,” Qin said. “But if they pass the due date; let’s say he pays the penalty and then file the tax form to the Internal Revenue Service, but that’s already past the filing date.”

Qin said the Internal Revenue Service would calculate the new penalties and interests to the taxpayers, meaning they have to pay extra money, and their tax history will be updated.

And Savla emphasized that there’s no way to remove nonimmigrants’ delinquent records during their stays in the U.S., but she offers a tip.

“Late is definitely better than never,” Savla said.

Photo at top: For immigrants, it’s important to file taxes on time. (Coral Lu/Medill)