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Forms to file a federal tax return

Green Card Application Tax Return: Is It Needed? 

When you want to become a U.S. resident through marriage, you’ll have to have a sponsor that proves you won’t be a financial burden to public resources. They will have to submit their tax return documents to the USCIS to show that they will be a dependable financial resource for you. The sponsor has to show that they earn at least 125% of the federal poverty guideline for their household size.

This sponsor is by default the petitioner in your case, which is most often your spouse. Whoever your sponsor is, they will have to show the U.S. government that they meet certain financial requirements.  We’ll discuss all of your tax return questions about how your tax documents relate to your green card application.

The Marriage-Based Green Card & Tax Returns

Filing taxes is already a time-consuming, confusing process, but it becomes even more so when you plan to apply for a green card based on your marriage to a U.S. citizen.

Although many people don’t think of it, your spouse’s taxes are crucial to the outcome of your green card application. 

Follow the guidelines we talk about below to ensure you don’t miss any steps when sending tax return transcripts to the USCIS when applying for a marriage-based green card.

Who Must Provide Tax Returns for Green Cards?

When your green card sponsor files Form I-864, they’ll also have to submit evidence of filing their U.S. federal tax returns for the past three years. U.S. immigration law requires this proof in cases of family-based green cards to ensure that the applicant won’t be a burden on the country’s public resources (i.e. likely to become dependent on public benefits).

If the sponsor does not meet the income requirements to support you, you can look for a joint sponsor to accept responsibility for your financial support. This joint sponsor will also have to submit their tax return information. 

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Which Tax Documents Must Be Included with Your Application?

Your sponsoring spouse (and joint sponsor, if applicable) will have to include one of the following U.S. tax documents with your application for a green card:

  • 1040
  • 1040A
  • 1040EZ

They will also have to include all supporting documents, including:

  • Their W-2
  • Their 1099-MISC
  • Any foreign income statements

Finally, the sponsor can also provide a federal tax return transcript from the IRS if they don’t have their personal record of taxes (Form 1040 for example). These can be accessed by creating an account on the IRS website.

A federal tax withholding form

These tax documents show that your spouse and joint sponsor can support you financially if you become a U.S. permanent resident. Neither your spouse or joint sponsor have to submit their state tax returns — Form I-864 only requires their federal tax information.

How Many Years of Returns Are Required?

The sponsoring spouse and your joint sponsor will have to provide tax information for the last three years on the Form I-864 to prove they meet the income requirements for green card sponsors. The sponsor also must include a copy of the most recent year’s tax return or tax transcript with the Form I-864.

However, providing copies of their federal income tax return beyond the most recent year is optional. 

How to Get a Transcript of Your IRS Returns

If you need your federal tax return transcript — an official document summarizing your tax returns to prove a sponsor’s ability to support a green card applicant financially — you can request it from the IRS.

You’ll need the following information to access your tax return transcripts:

  • Your Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) or Social Security (SS) number
  • Your tax filing status
  • The mailing address used on your latest tax return
  • An email address and phone number linked to your name
  • Your bank account number

What to Do If You Filed Jointly?

Many couples file jointly for tax purposes. In these cases, the sponsoring spouse and applicant must provide their joint tax return transcript and the supporting documents we discussed above on Form I-864.

However, this presents a challenge — if you file with your sponsor, they must include some additional information on Form I-864, including an explanation of the percentage of income that is theirs and why any numbers don’t line up with previous returns.

What to Do If Your Sponsor Didn’t File Federal Taxes

This can be an issue or no big deal — it depends on why your sponsor failed to file their federal tax return. If they have a legitimate reason, they can send a letter along with Form I-864 to tell the USCIS why they did not file.

For example, if their income was below the minimum required to pay taxes, they would be exempt. Or if your joint sponsor pays taxes in a foreign country, they’ll also have to provide an exemption letter that explains their circumstances.

However, if one of them broke a tax law and didn’t pay their income taxes without a genuine exemption from their tax obligations, they cannot be a sponsor for your green card application.

If your sponsor did not file taxes and has a legitimate reason, they will still need to demonstrate that they earn enough to support you by showing proof of current employment and what their pay rate is. Assets can also be used. 

Your Green Card and Your Tax Returns

The statue of liberty surrounded by fog

Obtaining a green card opens up many opportunities for immigrants, like allowing you to live and work in the U.S. for the rest of your life. As a green card holder, the IRS considers you a tax resident. You can also likely convert your permanent resident status into citizenship through the process of naturalization.

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