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Owing Back Taxes Does Not Prevent You From Applying for Citizenship (Naturalization)

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Those applying for naturalization must establish various eligibility requirements. Among the most important requirements is establishing that the applicant is of "good moral character" ("GMC"). Owing back taxes to a city, state, or federal government is NOT an automatic bar or barrier to establishing GMC in most circumstances. The USCIS has created a list of explicit barriers to establishing GMC. See the list here. Examples include:

  • Conviction of crimes involving moral turpitude
  • Engaging in prostitution
  • Giving false testimony to obtain any immigration benefit
  • Human or child trafficking or smuggling
  • Polygamy (the custom of having more than one spouse at the same time)
  • Being a habitual drunkard or a drug addict
  • Drug offenses

However, as noted, owing back taxes is NOT on the list of reasons that would result in an AUTOMATIC determination that an applicant lacks GMC. Thus, it is possible to successfully file Form N-400 ("Application for Naturalization") even if you owe back taxes. That being said, the amount of back taxes and the reasons matter greatly. Under some circumstances, if the amount owed in back taxes is sufficiently large -- exceeding $10,000 -- then the applicant could be deemed guilty of tax evasion. Tax evasion WILL make it impossible for an applicant to establish GMC.

Factors Considered by the Naturalization Officials

While owing back taxes is not an automatic barrier to showing GMC, the back taxes WILL be considered by the naturalization officials. Generally, the totality of the circumstances will be considered including the following specifics:

  • What types of taxes are due? -- there are many different types of taxes; if, for example, the applicant owned a business, had employees, and failed to pay over to the government payroll withholding taxes, then the naturalization officials/judge will not be lenient
  • How much back taxes are due -- the higher the amount, the less leniency
  • Were proper tax returns filed and filed on time?
  • Were there circumstances beyond the applicant's control that led to the tax deficiency?
  • Is the applicant making payments?
  • Were efforts made to negotiate a settlement and compromise of the back taxes?

What Should be Done?

If you owe back taxes and are applying for naturalization, the first task is to try and fix the problem. Make sure that all tax returns have been filed. Failure to file tax returns is often deemed a sign of a lack of GMC. Also begin taking whatever steps are needed to begin paying the taxes and, if possible, get a settlement and a payment plan. Finally, be prepared to document and explain the problem.

Contact Yekrangi & Associates Today

For more information, contact the Orange County Immigration Attorneys at Yekrangi & Associates today. You are not alone and we will fight for you. Yekrangi & Associates works to meet a higher standard. Our first goal is your satisfaction. Contact us at (949) 478-4963 to schedule a consultation or complete our convenient “Get Your Consultation” form here. We are located in Irvine, California.

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