I am trying to determine if it is possible to claim an undocumented alien as a dependent for tax purposes during 2017 in the United States (form 1040 line 6c) as well as a credit for money spent for their care (form 2441).

Background details: The person submitting the tax return is a natural born US citizen. The dependent is their grandmother whom has been residing without documentation in the United States for approximately 70 years. The dependent has no income and is unable to care for themselves. The dependent lives full time with the filing individual and is cared for full-time during the day by a medical professional, paid for by the filing individual. The dependent does not have an ITIN and is currently in the final steps of naturalization and will have their US citizenship at some point in early 2018 but they are currently considered "illegal" and do not have a green card / visa / other documentation from the US and also do not have any relationship / passport / other documentation from their home country.

I believe that they qualify as a dependent based upon step 4 in the instructions for line 6c, due to their status under question 2 and the application of the substantial presence test for US Resident Aliens outlines in Pub 519. It then follows that once they are eligible to be claimed on 6c, form 2441 is naturally appropriate. Is this a reasonable interpretation of the guidelines? I notice that the description of dependents always uses the term 'person' rather than 'citizen' or 'lawful alien' so I believe I'm in line with the requirements as stated. Additionally, should (can) the dependent be listed without a SSN (as they do not have one) or should form W-7 be filed to request an ITIN?

1 Answer 1


Yes, an undocumented immigrant is (assuming they have been here for a long time and didn't just arrive) a resident alien for tax purposes and can be claimed as a dependent just like any other resident, provided that the filer meets the conditions to claim them as a dependent, e.g. they provided more than half their support during the year.

An SSN or ITIN must be provided for everyone on the tax return, including dependents. If the person never had an SSN and isn't eligible to get an SSN now, they must apply for an ITIN (with form W-7) together with the tax return. Note that the process for applying for an ITIN is a pain, because the person must either mail their original passport with the application, or stand in line at certain IRS service centers that accept certifying the passport in person. An alternative if the person will soon gain a status that allows them to work, is to not claim the person as a dependent now, and if the person later gains status and becomes eligible for an SSN, get an SSN then and then amend the taxes from this year to add them as a dependent using the SSN.

Your description is somewhat confusing as you said that the grandmother is in the process of naturalizing, but yet is illegal. This is generally impossible as virtually all the paths to naturalization I know require that the person first be a lawful permanent resident or a US national. Note that not having a card now doesn't mean she isn't a permanent resident -- the card could have been lost or it expired, but she still has permanent resident status if she had it. If she is a permanent resident, she is eligible for an SSN and must get an SSN to file taxes if she never had one; she cannot apply for an ITIN if she is eligible for an SSN. The only cases I can think of where a person can naturalize without being a permanent resident or US national is if they honorably performed active-duty military service during wartime and they enlisted while in the US; or otherwise if they get a private bill granting them citizenship passed by Congress.

  • 1
    Thank you for the response - I didn't even think to go back and amend the return next year once an SSN has been established. I'm an arms length away from the naturalization process but I know that the dependent is 100% undocumented but is receiving some sort of expeditious process due to advanced age (96), medical requirements, and compassionate care. The information I've received, which is admittedly two degrees separated from the lawyer managing the case, is that we're looking at full naturalization, but you've prompted me to confirm that this is the case.
    – Brian R
    Dec 5, 2017 at 20:15

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