Introduction: The Purpose and Limited Scope Of This Post
This post focuses on Green Card holders who are filing the 1040 tax return. The 1040 is the return that is filed by all individuals unless you are a “nonresident aliens”. Non-resident aliens file the 1040-NR. This post does NOT discuss (1) when it could be advantageous for a Green Card holder to file a 1040-NR (using a tax treaty tie breaker provision) and (2) what the (DANGEROUS) consequences of filing a 1040-NR (from both a tax and immigration perspective) could be. For a Green Card holder, there can be both disadvantages and also substantial advantages to using a tax treaty tiebreaker to file a 1040-NR. This post assumes that the Green Card holder is filing a 1040 and is specifically focused on the following question: Is it wise for a Green Card holder who is temporarily outside the United States to use the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion found in Section 911 of the Internal Revenue Code (as opposed to the Section 901 Foreign Tax credits) when filing the 1040?
(Most tax practitioners agree, that in general, it is better to use the Sec. 901 foreign tax credits and and not sue the S. 911 Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. Here is a post that explains why this is so. So, why would anybody ever use the FEIE? The answer is that some people live in countries where there is income tax and therefore no foreign tax credit to use against income that is taxable from a U.S. perspective.) Continue reading →
The Internal Revenue Code of the United States imposes worldwide income taxation on ALL individuals who are U.S. citizens or who are otherwise defined as “residents” under the Internal Revenue Code. “Residents” includes those who have a visa for “permanent residence” (commonly referred to as a Green Card). A visa for “permanent residence” is a visa for immigration purposes. Once an individual receives a visa for “permanent residence” he will be considered to be a “resident” under the Internal Revenue Code. His status as a “resident” for tax purposes continues until he fulfills specific conditions to sever his “tax residency” with the United States. The conditions required to sever “tax residency” with the United States are found in S. 7701 of the Internal Revenue Code. (Basically a Green Card holder can’t simply move from the United States and sever tax residency.)
In the same way that U.S. citizens are subject to taxation on their worldwide income even if they don’t reside in the United States, “permanent residents” will continue to be subject to taxation on their worldwide income until they take specific steps to sever tax residency in the United States. In certain circumstances Green Card holders living outside the United States can avoid filing some of the “forms” that are required of U.S. citizens living abroad.
The steps to sever tax residency are found in S. 7701(b) of the Internal Revenue Code. Those wishing to explore this further are invited to read my earlier posts about Gerd Topsnik: Topsnik 1 and Topsnik 2. Those “permanent residents” who qualify as “long term residents” will be subject to the S. 877A Exit Tax rules if they try to sever tax residency with the United States. It’s probably easier to secure a “permanent residence visa” for immigration purposes, than it is to sever tax residency for income tax purposes.
On September 5, 2018 I had the opportunity to participate in a conversation with Mr. Gary Clueit who has been a permanent resident of the United States for 34 years. Interestingly Mr. Clueit is one more Green Card holder who never applied for U.S. citizenship. There are both advantages and disadvantages to a “Green Card” holder becoming a U.S. citizen. One often overlooked disadvantage to a Green Card holder becoming a U.S. citizen is discussed here. In general, “permanent residents” (Green Card holders) of the United States have certain “tax treaty benefits” that are denied to U.S. citizens. Because of the “savings clause” U.S. citizens are denied the benefits of tax treaties. Interestingly (at least until now) other countries have failed to understand that the inclusion of the “savings clause” in U.S. tax treaties means that the treaty partner is agreeing that the United States can impose worldwide taxation on the citizen/residents of the treaty partner country. The reason is simple:
— John Richardson – lawyer for "U.S. persons" abroad (@ExpatriationLaw) May 22, 2017
Introduction – Introducing Gerd Topsnik – The World According to Facebook
Discussion on Topsnik, tax treaties and the S. 877A Exit Tax. Can tax treaties be used to avoid paying tax anywhere? https://t.co/OowVORbJHq
— John Richardson – lawyer for "U.S. persons" abroad (@ExpatriationLaw) May 22, 2017
“This case will be seen as the first of an (eventual) series of cases that determine how the definition of “long term resident” applies to Green Card holders. The case makes clear that if one does NOT meet the treaty definition of “resident” in the second country, that one cannot use that treaty to defeat the “long term resident” test. A subsequent case is sure to expand on this issue. Otherwise, the case confirms that the S. 877A Exit Tax rules are “alive and well” and that the “5 year certification” test must be met to avoid “non-covered status”
Topsnik may or may not be a “bad guy”. But even “bad guys” are entitled to have the law properly applied to their facts. It would be very interesting to know how the court would have responded if Topsnik had been paying tax (a nice taxpayer) in Germany as a German resident.”
(b)Lawful permanent resident –
(1)Green card test. An alien is a resident alien with respect to a calendar year if the individual is a lawful permanent resident at any time during the calendar year. A lawful permanent resident is an individual who has been lawfully granted the privilege of residing permanently in the United States as an immigrant in accordance with the immigration laws. Resident status is deemed to continue unless it is rescinded or administratively or judicially determined to have been abandoned.
(2)Rescission of resident status. Resident status is considered to be rescinded if a final administrative or judicial order of exclusion or deportation is issued regarding the alien individual. For purposes of this paragraph, the term “final judicial order” means an order that is no longer subject to appeal to a higher court of competent jurisdiction.
(3)Administrative or judicial determination of abandonment of resident status. An administrative or judicial determination of abandonment of resident status may be initiated by the alien individual, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), or a consular officer. If the alien initiates this determination, resident status is considered to be abandoned when the individual’s application for abandonment (INS Form I-407) or a letter stating the alien’s intent to abandon his or her resident status, with the Alien Registration Receipt Card (INS Form I-151 or Form I-551) enclosed, is filed with the INS or a consular officer. If INS replaces any of the form numbers referred to in this paragraph or § 301.7701(b)-2(f), refer to the comparable INS replacement form number. For purposes of this paragraph, an alien individual shall be considered to have filed a letter stating the intent to abandon resident status with the INS or a consular office if such letter is sent by certified mail, return receipt requested (or a foreign country’s equivalent thereof). A copy of the letter, along with proof that the letter was mailed and received, should be retained by the alien individual. If the INS or a consular officer initiates this determination, resident status will be considered to be abandoned upon the issuance of a final administrative order of abandonment. If an individual is granted an appeal to a federal court of competent jurisdiction, a final judicial order is required.
Green Card holders must understand that they do NOT end their status as “U.S. tax residents” by leaving the United States and taking up residence in another country! Specific steps (related to notification) are required. 2. Could Mr. Topsnik use the “treaty tiebreaker” to argue that he was a “tax resident” of Germany and NOT a “tax resident” of the United States?
No. The use of a “treaty tiebreaker” requires that an individual be a “tax resident” of both countries. In this case the “treaty tie breaker” could be used ONLY if Mr. Topsnik was a “tax resident” of both Germany and the United States. The court held that Mr. Topsnik was NOT a “tax resident” of Germany but was a “tax resident” of the United States.
Note that the fact that Mr. Topsnik was NOT a “tax resident” of Germany meant that he was NOT eligible to use the “tax treaty tie breaker” rules. Eligibility to use the “tax treaty tie breaker” rules would NOT guarantee that Mr. Topsnik would be a “German tax resident”. Conclusion: Mr. Topsnik was ONLY a “U.S. tax resident” and was therefore taxable in the United States on his world income! Moral of the story: If a Green Card Holder ceases to reside in the United States he as NOT ended his status as a U.S. “tax resident”. Continue reading →