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I am a non-resident for tax purposes for 2020. I had 1 allowance set in my W4 throughout the year. I got married before 31st December of 2020. My spouse accompanied me to the US in the following year(not present in the US during the tax year, 2020).

Because I am a non-resident for tax purposes, I will be filing a 1040-NR. Questions:

  • Can I file jointly with my wife?
  • As I was married before the end of the year, can I get a (significant) refund because I had only 1 allowance instead of 2 for the full year? (Keeping in mind that my spouse was not present in the US during the tax year.
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  • So you are a non-citizen and you verified that you did not pass the Substantial Presence Test for 2020? – user102008 Mar 5 at 17:09
  • Yes. I was in the US only for 15 days in 2020. – Viraj Mar 5 at 17:45
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Assuming you did not pass the Substantial Presence Test for 2020, you are by default a nonresident alien for all of 2020. A nonresident alien cannot file jointly (unless treated as a resident). The only married option on the 1040-NR is Married Filing Separately.

However, if you were present in the US for the last month of 2020 and those days counted in your Substantial Presence Test, and you will pass the Substantial Presence Test for 2021, there is a way to make both you and your spouse resident aliens for all of 2020 and file jointly.

You first use the First-Year Choice, which would turn you into resident for the part of 2020 after you were present in the US for the purposes of the Substantial Presence Test. (In order to use this, you would have to wait until you pass the Substantial Presence Test for 2021. The exact date when you will pass depends on how many days of presence you have from 2020. You may have to request an extension of 2020 taxes in order to wait for this to happen.) This makes you a dual-status alien (nonresident at the beginning of the year and resident at the end). A dual status alien also cannot file jointly and cannot use the standard deduction.

Then, you would use the Nonresident Spouse Treated as Resident option, which would make both of you resident aliens for all of 2020, and force you guys to file jointly. You qualify to use this because you are married and (after using the First-Year Choice) one of you was a resident at the end of the year and the other was nonresident. (Note that as resident aliens, all of you guys's worldwide income for the whole year would be subject to US tax, although you may be able to use the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion and/or Foreign Tax Credit to reduce US tax on foreign income.)

If you are treated as resident and file jointly, you guys will have a $24,800 standard deduction (whereas as a nonresident alien you do not have any standard deduction).

Update: I see that in the comments you said you were only in the US for 15 days in 2020. So you would not qualify to use the First-Year Choice, and I think Married Filing Separately is your only option.

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  • Is there any difference with filing Single vs Married Filing Separately? Also, can I apply for ITIN for my wife with married filing separately? – Viraj Mar 11 at 7:56
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    @Viraj: If you were married as of December 31 of the year, you cannot file as Single. If you were not married as of December 31 of the year, you cannot file as MFJ/MFS. If you are filing as MFS, she cannot apply for an ITIN unless she is filing her own separate MFS return. – user102008 Mar 11 at 17:17
  • Thank you for all your responses. Appreciate it! – Viraj Mar 12 at 18:24

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