Most everyone knows that hiding parts of your income from the IRS is illegal. Some do it guiltily, others feel justified, while a select number don’t do it at all. Non-citizens, however, along with anyone who hopes to bring a non-citizen into this country, would do well to think about how their creative bookkeeping might affect their immigration-related endeavors.
Understating income can make it hard to bring people into the country in the future.
The U.S. government wants to be assured that anyone immigrating to the country will not become a “public charge” (drain) on society. This requires a showing of a certain amount of income from the petitioning party (which can sometimes be supplemented by a showing of substantial assets). If the petitioner doesn’t make enough money, a friend or relative with legal status can sign an “Affidavit of Support,” promising to step in and reimburse the government if the new immigrant should ever resort to certain forms of public assistance. The possible problem is that the government really has only one way to verify the income of these would-be sponsors, and that is the income tax return. Many an unscrupulous penny-pincher who has taken great pains to downplay his income in the eyes of the IRS has come to regret their position when they suddenly find themselves in need to convince the government that in fact they make much more money. A letter pleading the immigration authorities to take into account all the money one has concealed from the U.S. Treasury is unlikely to have the desired effect.
Marta was an undocumented alien who had the good fortune to be married to a U.S. Citizen, and because she had been the subject of a family petition prior to 2001, she qualified to apply for her green card through marriage without having to leave the United States. But her husband hid the vast part of his cash-based income from the IRS, showing himself on paper to be significant below the poverty line. This made it impossible for him to qualify as a sponsor for his own wife, and his closest friends were similarly dishonest on their taxes as well. Marta urged him to come clean and declare his rightful income, so that they could complete her immigration. Her husband put it off year after year, effectively holding his wife as a kind of hostage until she finally left him in bitterness and frustration.