Dear Tax Talk,
Can my children, who are neither citizens nor residents of the U.S., be listed on my income tax return as dependents? They live in Colombia, South America, and I support them 100 percent financially. Thank you.
— Luis

Dear Luis,
Unfortunately, in order to claim individuals, even children, as dependents, they have to be citizens or residents of the U.S. Children usually are citizens or residents of the country of their parents. If you were a U.S. citizen when your child was born, the child may be a U.S. citizen even if the other parent was a nonresident alien and the child was born in a foreign country. This means that for tax purposes, even if the child has not been presented for citizenship, he could qualify as your dependent.

A child can become a U.S. resident either by having a green card or by being substantially present in the U.S. Many illegal immigrants are considered residents for income tax purposes based on substantial presence even though they are in violation of their immigration status.

Substantial presence means that the individual has been present in the U.S. for more than 182 days in the current year.

Alternatively, you can be a resident under substantial presence if you are in the U.S. for more than 30 days in the current year and if the sum of the current year’s days plus one-third of the previous year’s days plus one-sixth of the second preceding year’s days exceed 182 days.

In order to claim a dependency exemption, the child needs a Social Security number. If the child is not eligible for an SSN then the child needs an Individual Tax Identification Number to be claimed as a dependent. Form W-7 is used to apply for an ITIN.

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