Whether you’re a U.S. citizen or not, you’re allowed to file bankruptcy if you reside in the U.S. Bankruptcy law doesn’t require filers to be U.S. citizens. If you aren’t a citizen, you may worry that filing bankruptcy can lead to deportation or having your immigration application denied. Luckily, that’s not the case. Neither the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) nor the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) consider bankruptcy cases when reviewing residency applications.
Having financial struggles can be stressful enough as is. If you’re not a U.S. citizen, you may think you simply don’t have any options to deal with overwhelming debt. But the truth is that bankruptcy is available to anyone residing in the United States, whether they’re a citizen or not.
The credit systems and credit bureaus in the United States affect citizens and non-citizens alike. If you aren’t a citizen, you may fear that filing bankruptcy will lead to deportation or mean that the U.S. government will deny your immigration application. But this isn’t so. Filing bankruptcy won’t lead to having your visa or green card denied. It also won't affect your resident status.
Neither the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) nor the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) consider bankruptcy cases when reviewing residency. This article will explain some of the important considerations for immigrants considering bankruptcy.
You Don’t Have To Be a U.S. Citizen To File Bankruptcy
Filing a bankruptcy case won’t affect your immigration status. Under federal law, you aren’t required to have citizenship to file bankruptcy. Being an immigrant makes not difference. But you do need a Social Security number or ITIN (Individual Tax Identification Number) to file bankruptcy.
Social Security numbers (SSN) may be issued to U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and temporary residents. You can use an SSN to file bankruptcy but it’s not required. What is minimally required is a personal identification number like an ITIN. While many immigrants don’t have a Social Security number, many do have an ITIN, which is routinely issued to non-citizens.
Personal Identification Numbers
The federal government uses several different personal identification numbers. Besides the ITIN, which is used for individuals, there are numbers used for businesses such as the TIN (Tax Identification Number) and the EIN (Employer Identification Number).
The following is a quick summary of identification numbers used by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for tax purposes:
SSN (Social Security number): This is used for citizens, natural-born, foreign-born, and naturalized.
ITIN (Individual Tax Identification Number): This is a nine-digit number used to identify individuals by the IRS for tax purposes. The IRS assigns ITINs to individuals who need a taxpayer identification number but aren’t eligible for SSNs.
EIN (Employer Identification Number): This is a nine-digit number used by the IRS to identify business organizations like a corporation or an LLC.
TIN (Tax Identification Number) This is also used by the IRS for businesses. The only significant difference between an EIN and a TIN is that the IRS only assigns TINs to companies with employees.
To summarize, to file bankruptcy you can use your Social Security number or ITIN to identify yourself individually, and your EIN or TIN to identify your business.
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Will a Bankruptcy Filing Affect My Immigration Status?
In most cases, filing bankruptcy won’t affect your ability to remain in the United States. It also won’t affect your application for U.S. citizenship or even your application for a visa or green card. No section or part of the required bankruptcy forms inquires about a filer’s immigration status.
If you’ve recently moved, filing bankruptcy can get a little more complicated. You may have to prove residency in the state where you currently reside. Generally, you must’ve lived in your new state for the majority of the past 180 days, which is 91 days. But you don’t have to submit formal USCIS documentation to meet this requirement. You may have to postpone filing until you reach the 91-day threshold.
What Does ‘Good Moral Character’ Mean?
For any foreign national to become a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States, the individual must show “good moral character.” In no way is a bankruptcy filing an example or demonstration of bad moral character. If applicable, any USCIS officer is more interested in whether you pay taxes than your financial status.
Federal immigration law doesn’t consider any person who files bankruptcy a public charge. This is meaningful since the USCIS has the authority to deny a visa to any applicant who may become a public charge. This is usually a person who receives some public benefit like food stamps.
When you file bankruptcy, you have to sign every document under penalty of perjury. You attest to the truth and accuracy of every piece of information contained in your bankruptcy schedules and statements. Perjury is a federal crime subject to fines, imprisonment, or both. Intentionally leaving out assets on your bankruptcy petition and schedules is a violation of federal law and demonstrates bad moral character, which may compromise your present and future citizenship status.
If you do file bankruptcy before you receive citizenship status, a visa, or a green card, you must make sure that you file bankruptcy in good faith. Committing bankruptcy fraud by incurring a large amount of debt just before filing or using bankruptcy to avoid paying alimony and child support may demonstrate a bad faith filing. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would likely deem this as evidence of bad moral character.
Won’t It Look Bad if I File Bankruptcy?
You have a legal right to file bankruptcy. Bankruptcy laws were created to help those whose debt has become difficult or impossible to repay. Though banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions may want you to believe that filing bankruptcy is immoral, having debt isn’t a moral failing in the U.S.
As mentioned above, one of the factors that the USCIS considers when determining whether to grant an application for U.S. citizenship is the applicant’s moral character. Although there is a stigma surrounding bankruptcy, the USCIS doesn’t consider having debt or filing bankruptcy to be negative character traits.
That said, keep in mind that while bankruptcy offers many benefits, it’s not right for everyone. Chapter 7 has advantages and disadvantages, and you’ll need to assess your own financial situation and goals to see if it’s the right choice for you.
Can I File Bankruptcy if I’m an Undocumented Immigrant?
The first step of a bankruptcy case consists of filing a bankruptcy petition that requires you to provide specific personal information. The petition is the only form you’ll file in your bankruptcy case that requires you to list your citizenship status. So generally speaking, yes, you can file bankruptcy even if you’re an undocumented immigrant.
That said, if you’re using a wrongfully obtained Social Security number or ITIN, there may be some issues because bankruptcy is a federal court proceeding. Filing bankruptcy with a wrongfully obtained ID number is basically admitting to the court that you’re using a fake SSN or ITIN. There may also be problems when the trustee assigned to your case reviews your tax returns. You should consider speaking to an immigration attorney and/or consulting a bankruptcy lawyer if this is a potential issue. Most attorneys offer free consultations and can provide legal advice about bankruptcy and the alternatives.
You can also consider other debt relief alternatives before filing a bankruptcy case. Depending on your situation, another form of debt relief might be your best solution. For example, you can negotiate with your creditors or use a credit counseling agency to negotiate on your behalf. Many nonprofit credit counseling agencies provide free advice.
Debt relief tools like a debt settlement, a debt consolidation, and a debt management plan can help you find solutions for some or all of your debts. A creditor or debt collector may be willing to accept partial payment instead of the full balance for settling the debt.
Filing bankruptcy won’t affect your application for U.S. citizenship, as long as you don’t do it in bad faith. The USCIS is more concerned with moral character than indebtedness when considering anyone for citizenship, a green card, or a visa. You don’t have to be a citizen to file bankruptcy, you just need some legal, government-issued personal identification number like an SSN or ITIN.