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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Federal Taxation of Aliens Working in the United States

Erika K. Lunder
Legislative Attorney

A question that often arises is whether unauthorized aliens and other foreign nationals working in the United States are subject to U.S. taxes. The federal tax consequences for these individuals are dependent on (a) whether an individual is classified as a resident or nonresident alien and (b) whether a tax treaty or totalization agreement exists between the United States and the individual’s home country.

In general, an individual is a resident alien if he or she is a lawful permanent U.S. resident or is in the United States for a substantial period of time during the current and past two years (the “substantial presence” test). Otherwise, he or she will typically be classified as a nonresident alien. Resident aliens are generally taxed in the same manner as U.S. citizens. Nonresident aliens are subject to different treatment, such as generally being taxed only on income from U.S. sources. Exceptions exist for aliens with specific types of visas or employment.

An individual who is in the country unlawfully is, like any other alien, classified as either a resident or nonresident alien. This classification is for tax purposes only, and it does not affect the individual’s immigration status. These individuals’ eligibility to claim the earned income tax credit is restricted because the tax code requires that taxpayers claiming the credit provide their Social Security number (SSN), as well as those of their spouse and dependents. Unauthorized aliens are ineligible for SSNs, and therefore file their tax returns using an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN). In the 112th Congress, legislation has been introduced that would, with some differences, impose an SSN requirement for claiming the additional child tax credit (e.g., H.R. 3630, H.R. 5652, H.R. 3275, and H.R. 1956), for claiming any part of the child tax credit (H.R. 344 and S. 577), or for claiming any credit or refund (e.g., H.R. 1196). Two of these bills—H.R. 3630 and H.R. 5652—have been passed by the House; however, H.R. 3630 was enacted into law (P.L. 112-96) without the provision.

Finally, the provisions of an income tax treaty or totalization agreement may reduce or eliminate taxes owed to the United States. An income tax treaty is a bilateral agreement between the United States and another country that addresses the income tax treatment of each country’s residents while in the other country, primarily with the intent of reducing the incidence of double taxation. Totalization agreements are bilateral treaties that address social security taxes. In 2004, the United States signed a totalization agreement with Mexico, but it has not yet been transmitted to Congress for review. In the 112th Congress, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012 prohibits the Social Security Commissioner or Social Security Administration (SSA) from using any of the funds appropriated by the act to pay compensation to SSA employees to administer Social Security benefit payments under any U.S.-Mexico totalization agreement that would not otherwise be payable. Other legislation has been introduced that would state it is the sense of the House that the U.S.-Mexico totalization agreement “is inappropriate public policy and should not take effect” (H.R. 1196), or address a constitutional issue with the manner in which totalization agreements are disapproved by Congress (S. 181).

Date of Report: May 18, 2012
Number of Pages: 9
Order Number: RS21732
Price: $19.95

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