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Will Bankruptcy Affect My Citizenship Application?

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In a Nutshell

You can still file for bankruptcy without being a United States citizen, but your immigration and citizenship applications may be affected.

Written by Attorney Tina Tran.  
Updated July 22, 2020

The path to becoming a U.S. citizen can be confusing and costly. Filing for bankruptcy could be a good option to discharge the debts you’ve incurred in the process of applying for citizenship. Having said that, the relationship between bankruptcy and citizenship is not cut and dry. If you’re concerned, you should consult with an immigration attorney familiar with the implications of bankruptcy law on citizenship applications.

Can I file for Bankruptcy if I’m NOT a United States Citizen?

Yes. It’s possible to file for bankruptcy if you’re not a U.S. citizen or don’t have a visa or a green card. However, what you DO need to have is an ITIN or a social security number.

What is an ITIN, you ask? It stands for: Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. It’s a number issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for tax purposes.

People without social security numbers get issued an ITIN. Getting issued an ITIN does not indicate immigration status. For example, you can be an undocumented immigrant and get issued an ITIN to comply with U.S. tax laws.

Can I file for Bankruptcy if I am an “Undocumented Immigrant”?

Yes. There’s no requirement saying that you must be a U.S. citizen to be eligible for bankruptcy relief. You can file if you have been issued an ITIN and reside, have a domicile, or own a business or other property in the United States. You must prove residency.

Will Bankruptcy Affect My Immigration Status?

Filing for bankruptcy does not automatically threaten your immigration status. That said, much of immigration law, and how immigration benefits are determined, is discretionary. While having a flawless financial record is not a requirement, your “assets, resources, and financial status” are considered by the Department of Homeland Security and could be one area where bankruptcy and immigration laws intersect.

What do I have to prove?

How financially self-sufficient you are can be factored into determining whether your application for citizenship or other government benefits is approved. Filing for bankruptcy does not automatically mean that you aren’t financially self-sufficient.

In addition to showing that you are in one way or another self-sufficient, you must also show that you have “good moral character” to be eligible for citizenship or other government benefits. Financial circumstances alone do not determine moral character, and the act of filing for bankruptcy does not automatically disqualify you from being able to prove good moral character.

What, specifically, could put my immigration status at risk?

In making a finding of good moral character, immigration agents will look at the “totality of the circumstances.” There’s no law that fully defines what it means to have good moral character, but there is guidance for what it means to have “bad moral character. ” Your individual circumstances will matter in making this determination.

While there is no determining factor or checklist for a finding of good moral character, there are various bars set forth by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), including the commission of certain crimes or failure to pay taxes. A bankruptcy filing does not constitute evidence of bad moral character without more.

In other words, your application for citizenship cannot be denied solely on the basis that you’ve filed for bankruptcy, or because you have incurred “too much” debt. Filing for bankruptcy only becomes evidence of bad moral character when it’s accompanied by other evidence of bad moral character, like the commission of a crime, fraud, or avoidance of paying domestic support obligations or tax obligations, etc.


Bankruptcy Usually Does Not Affect Your Immigration Status

Written By:

Attorney Tina Tran


Tina Tran is the managing bankruptcy attorney for Upsolve, the largest consumer bankruptcy non-profit in the United States. She received her Juris Doctorate degree and Certificate in Advocacy from Loyola University Chicago School of Law. She is licensed to practice law in Illinoi... read more about Attorney Tina Tran

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