In situations where a person was not classified as a resident alien at any time in the preceding calendar year and he became a resident alien at some point during current year, a question often arises concerning the tax residency starting date of such a person. This article seeks to provide a succinct overview of this question in three different contexts: US permanent residence, substantial presence test and election to be treated as a tax resident.
Tax Residency Starting Date: General Rule for Green Card Holders
Pursuant to IRC (Internal Revenue Code) §7701(b)(2)(A)(iii), the starting tax residency date for green card holders is the first day in the calendar year in which he or she is physically present in the United States while holding a permanent residence visa. However, if the green card holder also satisfies the Substantial Presence Test prior to obtaining his green card, the tax residency is the earliest of either the green card test described in the previous sentence or the substantial presence test (see below).
Tax Residency Starting Date: General Rule for the Substantial Presence Test
Generally, under the substantial presence test, the tax residence of an alien starts on the first day of his physical presence in the United States in the year he met the substantial presence test. See IRC §7701(b)(2)(A)(iii). For example, if an alien meets the requirements of the Substantial presence test in 2022 and his first day of physical presence in the United States was March 1, 2022, then his US tax residency started on March 1, 2022.
Tax Residency Starting Date: Nominal Presence Exception & the Substantial Presence Test
A reader may ask: how does the rule described above work in case of a “nominal presence” in the United States. IRC §7701(b)(2)(C) provides that, for the purposes of determining the residency starting date only, up to ten (10) days of presence in the United States may be disregarded, but only if the alien is able to establish that he had a “closer connection” to a foreign country rather than to the United States on each of those particular ten days (i.e., all continuous days during a visit to the United States may be excluded or none of them). There is some doubt about the validity of this rule, but it has never been contested in court as of the time of this writing.
This rule may lead to a paradoxical result. For example, if X visits the United States between March 1 and March 10 and leaves on March 10; then later comes back to the United States on May 1 of the same year and meets the substantial presence test, then he may exclude the first ten days in March and his US tax residency will start on May 1. If, however, X prolongs his visit and leaves on March 12, then none of the days will be excluded (since March 11 and 12 cannot be excluded under the rules) and his US tax residency will commence on March 1.
I want to emphasize that the nominal presence exception only applies in determining an alien’s residency starting date. It is completely irrelevant to the determination of whether a taxpayer met the Substantial Presence Test; i.e. the days excluded under the nominal presence exception are still counted toward the Substantial Presence Test calculation.
Tax Residency Starting Date: Additional Requirements for Nominal Presence Exception & Penalty for Noncompliance
The IRS has imposed two additional requirements concerning claiming “nominal presence” exclusion (again, both of them have questionable validity as there is nothing in the statutory language about them). First, the alien must show that he had a “tax home” in the same foreign country with which he has a closer connection.
Second, Treas. Regs. §301.7701(b)-8(b)(3) requires that an alien who claims the nominal presence exception must file a statement with the IRS as well as attach such statement to his federal tax return for the year in which the termination is requested. The statement must be dated, signed, include a penalty of perjury clause and contain: (a) the first day and last day the alien was present in the United States and the days for which the exemption is being claimed; and (b) sufficient facts to establish that the alien has maintained his/her tax home in and a closer connection to a foreign country during the claimed period. Id.
A failure to file this statement may result in an imposition of a substantial penalty: a complete disallowance of the nominal presence exclusion claim. Since IRC §7701(b)(8) does not contain the requirement to file any statements with the IRS to claim the nominal presence exception, the penalty stands on shaky legal grounds. However, as of the time of this writing, there is no case law directly on point.
Additionally, as almost always in US international tax law, there are exceptions to this rule. First, if the alien shows by clear and convincing evidence that he took: (a) “reasonable actions” to educate himself about the requirement to properly file the statement and (b) “significant affirmative actions” to comply with this requirement, then the IRS may still allow the nominal presence exclusion claim to proceed. Treas. Regs. 301.7701(b)-8(d).
Second, under Treas. Regs. §301.7701(b)-8(e), the IRS has the discretion to ignore the taxpayer’s failure to file the required nominal presence statement if it is in the best interest of the United States to do so.
Tax Residency Starting Date: Election to Be Treated as a US Tax Resident
In situations where a resident alien elects to be treated as a US tax resident (for example, by filing a joint resident US tax return with his spouse), the tax residency date starts on the first day of the year for which election is made. See Treas. Regs. §7701(b)(2)(A)(iv).
Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with US International Tax Law, Including the Determination of the Tax Residency Starting Date
If you have foreign assets or foreign income or if you are trying to determine your tax residency status in the United States, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. Our law firm is a leader in US international tax compliance; we have helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world and we can help you!
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