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A married couple has to file a US federal return as nonresidents aliens (they are not US-persons). They have a US joint bank account, one of them has a high-income job and the other is unemployed and has no income. When they were residents, they could file a single joint return as "married filing jointly", which was favorable to them tax-wise.

Now, since they are nonresidents, they can only file as "married filing separately". Then, the spouse with the high income has to pay much higher taxes than before, and the unemployed spouse does not pay anything and does not get anything in return.

Is this right, or is there any benefit that I am not considering?

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    Are they in the US? If so, why do you think they are nonresident aliens? If not, why do they have to pay US taxes?
    – user102008
    Apr 13, 2023 at 16:43
  • They are not in the US now but they got wages and interests from a US company and banks. Apr 13, 2023 at 20:21
  • Did they have any withholdings? Why?
    – littleadv
    Apr 13, 2023 at 22:19
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    @ChronoTrigger: Wage income is sourced where the services were performed. If they were not in the US when they performed the work, it generally should not be subject to US tax for nonresident aliens. Interest from deposits in US banks are generally not taxable for nonresident aliens if it is not effectively connected to a US trade or business.
    – user102008
    Apr 13, 2023 at 22:34

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There is no benefit. It's possible that filing MFS is more advantageous to a married couple than MFJ, but that usually isn't the case (especially when it comes to the limitation of certain tax credits).

Nonresident aliens generally can't file MFJ or take the standard deduction, have limited itemized deductions available to them, and can't claim dependents. There are special exceptions, either for situations where the spouse is a US resident/citizen or when a specific tax treaty is involved.

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