Immigrants can file for bankruptcy relief. Bankruptcy laws do not require people to be legal residents or U.S. citizens to file for bankruptcy in the United States. In most cases, filing for bankruptcy does not threaten a person’s immigration status.
Filing for Bankruptcy as an Immigrant
The bankruptcy court system does not lay emphasis on citizenship status. Typically, one can file for bankruptcy as long as he or she lives or has a domicile or owns a business or other type of property in the United States. Any debtor has to prove his or her identity to the court — normally with valid identification issued by the government and proof of his or her social security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
Undocumented immigrants who are not eligible to receive social security numbers can obtain ITINs from the IRS before filing their case. ITINs are tax-processing numbers issued to help people comply with the country’s tax laws. They are available to permanent residents and nonresident immigrants, including those who are undocumented.
The Effect of Bankruptcy on Immigration Status
Federal law acknowledges that occasionally people fall into difficult periods and may sometimes require a second chance. Consequently, it permits filing for bankruptcy. As a result, for most immigrants, a bankruptcy filing does not impact their immigration status, application for a green card, or prospects of applying for U.S. citizenship.
Bad moral character affects a person’s immigration case and citizenship application. Immigration laws do not consider filing for bankruptcy on its own to indicate bad moral character. Bankruptcy helps someone with more debt than he or she can repay to discharge several types of debt. Most bankruptcies do not result from deliberate overspending and so cannot be considered a sign of bad moral character.
Typical bankruptcy filers are honest, hardworking individuals who are facing difficulties due to various reasons, such as inability to pay debts after a job loss or death of a spouse, an injury accident resulting in an emergency room visit, or a high mortgage whose principal balance exceeds the home value. Bankruptcy can be a good option for discharging the debts that an immigrant has incurred during the citizenship application process.
People who file for bankruptcy for mundane reasons do not adversely affect their immigration status. Therefore, visa, green card, or citizenship applications should continue even after a person files for bankruptcy.
When Filing for Bankruptcy Could Affect One’s Immigration Status
Bankruptcy can serve as evidence of bad moral character and hurt a person’s immigration status is if it is accompanied by bankruptcy crime. Simply filing for bankruptcy due to having excessive debt is not considered a bankruptcy crime. Bankruptcy crime includes:
- Lying on the bankruptcy petition under oath
- Providing false statements
- Omitting assets or essential information from bankruptcy papers
People are rarely charged with bankruptcy crimes. Good lawyers help people avoid bankruptcy crimes altogether.
The Bottom Line
An immigrant can safely file for bankruptcy without having any negative effect on his or her immigration status. What he or she needs to do is be honest about his or her financial situation and stay crime-free.
Bankruptcy filings are public records accessible to anyone. Therefore, an immigrant who suspects his or her bankruptcy filing may have negative consequences on his or her immigration status can carefully consult with both an experienced immigration attorney and bankruptcy attorney before filing to avoid making costly mistakes.