We Think the IRS Must Be Gaslighting Us

Gaslighting, according to Wikipedia, is a form of psychological abuse in which a victim is manipulated into doubting his own memory, perception, and sanity.

I’m only sort of joking, y’all. We’ve had lots of adventures on the immigration quest …

Immigration Woes (Part 1)
Our Immigration Attorney Laughed At Us
Immigration Woes (Part 2)
Like the La Brea Tar Pit
Slogging to Dublin
A Long Day at the Airport
An Early Christmas Present from Uncle Sam

… and this is just one more (frustrating) step.

My husband, until very recently, has lived his whole life in Ireland. He is an Irish citizen (with a US permanent resident card) and he pays taxes there.

But, hey, when you come to the US, you live here, you drive on the highways here, Uncle Sam wants you to contribute. And no prob—the US has a “tax treaty” with many countries, which means, in very simple terms, no double dipping. You only have to pay taxes to one Caesar. When you live in the US, no matter where your income derives from, you pay taxes here. To avoid paying twice, you invoke the treaty.

• • •

In Ireland, as here in the Home of the Brave, taxes are withheld from paychecks … to (ahem) make sure said taxes are paid. To stop that—to avoid paying twice, to invoke the treaty—now that Gerry is living here, he has to submit a particular form to the Irish Tax Office, called form IC-2. You can go to Revenue{dot}ie and print one off. And in most other countries with which the Republic of Ireland has a tax treaty, you take the IC-2 to your adopted country’s tax office and have it stamped. When you return the stamped (validated) form to Revenue{dot}ie, Ireland will stop withholding money for taxes.

From your pension, say. From your fixed income.

But that’s not how it works in the United States. America’s version of “stamping the IC-2” is to provide Form 6616. Form IC-2 must be accompanied by a Form 6616. (And, as a side note, it’s only good for three years at most; in some situations, only for one year. So we will be doing this for the rest of our lives.) In order to have a Form 6616 issued, Gerry has to submit a Form 8802, to request it.

Still with me?

• • •

So we download Form 8802 (it’s ten lines long, on two pages) and all eighteen pages of instructions. Since I have a little bit of experience with US government-speak, I think, Oh, no sweat. Ten lines. But no. I get stumped on line 4, so I start reading the instructions.

The instructions seem contradictory; I can’t make heads or tails of ’em. I start scribbling questions in the margins. We make an appointment to meet with our CPA, Jan, because, holy moly, this is way beyond us.

At the meeting, Jan and I spend two hours reading the instructions back and forth to each other, trying to figure it out, talking it out, and finally we do. I fill out the form. Jan says, “Don’t worry, if we’ve done something ‘wrong,’ they’re usually pretty good about telling you what it is, and you can correct it.”

As instructed, we make a copy of Gerry’s permanent resident card, a copy of the Form 8802, the worksheet, enclose an $85 check (because none of this is free, of course), and trip off to the post office to mail it. This was on 7 June.

Toward the end of June we get a letter from the IRS (dated 8 June, just one day after we mailed Form 8802!). “We received your application for a US Residency Certification [that’s Form 6616] and we need more information,” it says. “We need the following.” And there is the first Twilight Zone moment:

If you hold an F1, J1, M1, or Q1 visa and filed a Form 1040, you must provide us with a statement explaining why you filed a Form 1040 and provide a statement and documentation showing that you reported your worldwide income on Form 1040.

Didn’t anyone read the materials we sent in? On Form 8802 we checked the box that said Gerry did not file a Form 1040. He wasn’t required to. He didn’t live here in 2015; he was in Ireland.

Furthermore, the form lists four visas:

> F1 visa is a non-immigrant student visa.
> J1 visa is a non-immigrant visa issued by the United States to research scholars, professors and exchange visitors participating in programs that promote cultural exchange
> M1 visa is a temporary student visa that allows international students to attend an accredited vocational or non-academic school
> Q1 visa is a temporary work visa for adults (at least 18 years of age) to participate in a training, employment, and cultural exchange program.

But—again, was anyone reading? Gerry didn’t enter the country on any of those visas. They are all non-immgrant visas. Gerry entered on an immigrant visa—and the IRS has a copy of it—which triggered the Permanent Resident card, which he received two months later, exactly as promised. And the letter said if. IF you entered on one of these visas, we need more information.

So … what? What does the IRS want from us?

I call Jan. She says, “We see this type of thing all the time. They either don’t read what was submitted, or don’t know the correct answer, so we have to break everything down for them.”

Oh. That’s reassuring.

There’s more. Jan goes on:

Plus, their data-entry skill level has declined over the past 12–18 months.
We particularly have to point out when payments have actually been made, and cleared (often showing front and back of check).
The more I read the letter the more I think they are just asking for clarification. And that the reference to “F1” or “J1” etc. is just standard verbiage not even coming into play here. If it makes you feel any better, we help clients respond to notices like this almost every week.

I fasten on the word clarification. OK, we can do that. We compose a letter:

I am a US lawful permanent resident (green card holder). I officially retired from my Irish job in 2016 and now live with my wife (a US citizen). I began collecting my pension in 2016.
I would like to pay tax on this pension income in the United States, but until I can provide Form 6166 to Irish Revenue, they will continue to withhold tax.
In the attached letter I received from you, you ask for information, to wit, “If you hold an F1, J1, M1 or Q1 visa and filed a form 1040 …” but I do not hold a visa (I enclosed a copy of my permanent resident card with Form 8802) and did not file a form 1040 for 2015 (this was indicated on line 8 of Form 8802).
I am simply trying to get out in front of my tax situation so that I can properly file a 2016 tax return in the US. Currently taxes are being withheld in Ireland on income that will also be taxed in the United States.
Please help me understand what I can do to move this application forward.

And we mail it off. A month goes by. And two days ago, another letter. “We received your application for a US Residency Certification but we are unable to issue a certification.” Why? Because the IRS says we failed to respond in thirty days. Furthermore, they say our $85 is forfeit.

Honestly, it was hard not to cry, looking at this letter. I felt completely demoralized. We have done everything we know to do, but it feels like they are toying with us. We’ve spent at least $20 on postage (I note this because these things add up—as does the time spent).

We only want to do things the right way—by the book. We’re not trying to cheat. Just getting Gerry into the country legally was enormously expensive—more than $5,000—but we accounted for every jot and tittle of US immigration law. Now we are trying to prepare to pay our taxes, straight up. Neither of us objects to that, to paying our fair share. I am self-employed—which means I am both employer and employee: I pay both sets of taxes. And that’s OK.

So why can’t we satisfy the folks at the IRS when we are trying so hard to do so? I don’t know. It’s a mystery. We are two mature, intelligent human beings and English is our native language. I can only imagine how frustrating these things must be for people who do not have our advantages.

UPDATE: After consulting with Jan, we wrote another letter to the IRS, made copies of all the previous correspondence, and spent another $8 or so to mail it to Philadelphia, return receipt requested. Two days—two days!—after we mailed it, we received a new letter from the IRS. “Dear Taxpayer,” it began. “We have certified your request for relief from being taxed twice (double taxation).” Gerry’s Form 6166 was enclosed. To our minds, this confirms at least one thing we suspected: the person who opens the envelope automatically rejects it. It also makes us think that the final-notice-forfeited-fee letter was programmed to print and mail from the very beginning, and there’s no one clicking that “reject” button to the “off” position—even though we can now see they got our second letter and initiated proceedings to issue the form we needed well before the reject letter was issued. This is a sad reflection on the IRS.

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It’s a Dog’s Life

We got a dog.

Suzy.

Suzy. (Note: you can enlarge any photo by clicking on it, and clicking again.)

We’d known we were going to get a dog (that is, rescue one, of course): Gerry’d had to leave his dog, Cleo, behind in Dublin, and, as he has been telling my felines Laddie, Spot, and Bean for the last fourteen years, he’s “a dog man.” So it was always a plan. Gerry and I both grew up with dogs (in my case, dogs and cats); it had only been since I was divorced that my pet roster narrowed to cats only.

The cats ignored Gerry’s “I’m a dog man” line and climbed into his lap all the same. Bean, in particular, is quite fond of him, and his lap is the only one Spot will sit in. The cats weren’t concerned about our dogged plans.

But Gerry began to follow a dog rescue group based in Cookeville, and that’s how we found our Suzy in the last week of March. She’d been abandoned by her male owner (a backyard breeder, apparently) just two weeks before we adopted her. We don’t know much about her past, other than he’d bred her very young, twice (she’s about three). We think he may have been mean to her. She was frightened when we picked her up at a meet-and-greet at Petco in Cookeville—timid, resigned, and anxious. Before we left the store we bought food and a bowl, a collar and leash, a crate and nice pad for it.

In those first days, she retreated to her crate a lot.

Suzy, first week, in her crate.

Suzy, first week, in her crate. It’s her safe place, of course … but she looks so sad.

She was (and is) very well-behaved, but so, so sad. I used to tell people if you looked up the definition of hangdog in the dictionary, you’d see a picture of Suzy. It was heartbreaking. She was OK … but so sorrowful. We’ll probably never know why.

Gerry started taking her on a long nice walk every day. And she got to know the cats. Spot was the first to come around, within hours. He could tell she wasn’t a threat. It took Laddie four or five days; he swatted her the first time she got too close, and after that she averted her face every time she saw him. Bean—our frail, sometimes cranky female—was a little harder nut to crack, but now even she is fine with Suzy.

The ongoing familiarization process with Suzy and Bean. Gerry is so patient.

The ongoing familiarization process with Suzy and Bean. Gerry is so patient.

Gerry spent plenty of time with Suzy, telling her how much we appreciated her. They watched a lot of TV in the man cave.

Well, one of them watched.

Well, one of them watched.

She fell into the routine of our household … feeding, walks, the cats’ habits, hanging out with Gerry, going for rides in the car (she loves that). We saw that she was comfortable with visitors—any friend of ours is a friend of Suzy’s—but she doesn’t jump up on anyone or otherwise invade a human’s personal space. She is a Lab, obviously, and we learned that she is a “yellow Dudley” Lab (that brown nose, her pale eyes). It was clear that she was getting comfortable, less worried.

Gerry spent a lot of time bonding with her.

Gerry spent a lot of time bonding with her.

He plays with her, talks with her.

He played with her, talked with her.

She hangs pretty close to him. She likes me OK—but Gerry she loves.

She hangs pretty close to him. She likes me OK—but Gerry she loves.

She even hung out in the office when we were working. (Actually, when Gerry was working there. My presence was immaterial.) 🙂

Suzy in the office with Laddie and Bean.

Suzy in the office with Laddie and Bean. 

But I kept hoping she was happy, that she would quit worrying the other shoe was about to drop and relax into a home that was all hers. I kept hoping for a “smile” from Suzy. And finally … she did.

Yeah, we think she’s happy.

Yeah, we think she’s happy.

We’ve learned Labs are always hungry. Suzy scours the floors every day for crumbs that might have fallen. She doesn’t miss a trick: I dropped a raw egg once and it was gone in a second. I didn’t even know she was close by, but there she was, slurping it up before I could tear off a paper towel. She ate a big hunk of dropped watermelon not too long ago. That said, she seems to be trustworthy around food. We don’t give her too much temptation but she hasn’t shown any inclination to put her paws on the counter or table. She is well-mannered, though I fear it may be that those manners come at a price paid to someone else who wasn’t very nice about it.

She’s a very quiet dog, doesn’t vocalize much. But she does bark when she sees a stranger on the front porch or a dog walking by on the street with one of our neighbors (there are windows by the front door, and she enjoys looking out). She doesn’t play—doesn’t chase balls or Frisbees, doesn’t play tug-o-war. We can only imagine that she doesn’t know how, or that play was discouraged. Gerry tries, every so often. The tennis ball just sits forlornly where it landed until one of us picks it up and stores it in the garage until the next moment we get hopeful.

Suzy does chase squirrels, though, and patrols the backyard constantly on the lookout for them. She sees them from inside and goes right to the back door, on high alert.

Squirrels, beware! Suzy is determined!

Squirrels, beware! Suzy is determined!

Earlier this year—and early in her tenure with us—she got out of the house, loose without a leash … the gate left open once, slipped out the front door once. In both cases, she was easily corralled; she only was running around with glee, playing chase with us in the yard next door. I don’t think she wants to get too far away; she just likes to run, to blow it out. She runs every morning in the backyard too. She does her business, and then she just revs up her motor and runs back and forth across the yard a few times.

Suzy also loves riding in the car. Window open.

Car selfie with Suzy.

Car selfie with Suzy.

When the weather was cooler we took her with us all the time, because she could hang out in the car. Now it’s too hot for that but we do take her for a ride every Friday morning, before 7am, to the farmers market, which is on a nice piece of land with a pond. This started simply as a leashed walk in a different place, but then we wondered … could we let her off the leash?

Why, yes, yes, we can let her off the leash. She runs, yes, but she stays in our orbit. She has no interest in being separated from us.

Why, yes, yes, we can let her off the leash. She runs, yes, but she stays in our orbit. She has no interest in being separated from us.

She found the pond in no time, and when we took her back the next Friday, it was like she couldn’t believe her good fortune. What? The pond again? Her joy was palpable; she ran back and forth along the wet edge, getting faster and faster.

This is not a great photo but you can see her speed: those are splashes behind her, where she has just been.

This is not a great photo but you can see her speed: those are splashes behind her, where she has just been.

It was only later that she took a dip.

It was only later that she took a dip.

Now we travel with towels.

Getting dried off.

Getting dried off.

This dog. She delights us. And perhaps the sweetest thing is her friendship with Spot the cat. Spot was a feral rescue (yes, truly feral, not stray: there is a difference), and though he has tried, he has never truly integrated with our other two cats. His body language is all wrong; he doesn’t “speak” cat, at least not the dialect of cat that Laddie and Bean speak. But with Suzy—who we suspect may have never had an animal friend, either—he can just be himself. Remember, he accepted her the very first day.

Now they have each other, these outsiders. They are friends. They play. They walk around the yard together. Spot has figured out the time and duration of Gerry and Suzy’s morning walk, and when they return to the house, he is waiting (having been fed and allowed out about sixty minutes earlier) on the porch to greet them.

Sometimes he comes out to greet her, sometimes he waits for her to come to him.

Sometimes Spot comes out to greet her, sometimes he waits for her to come to him. Here she pulls Gerry in her haste to see her buddy.

They bump noses.

They bump noses.

It’s very sweet, this friendship. They often find each other in the backyard. Sometimes they play (Suzy on her elbows with her butt in the air).

This is the beginning of play action. It may not look like much, but …

This is the beginning of play action. It may not look like much, but …

… maybe this photo tells a little more of the story. :)

… maybe this photo tells a little more of the story. 🙂

More often, though, it’s just a quiet stroll around the yard. Spotty usually leads the way, with Suzy following alongside.

“Fancy meeting you here,” she says, her tail wagging.

“Fancy meeting you here,” she says, her tail wagging.

This was the last photo in a series in which they started under the tree and walk all the way around the yard.

This was the last photo in a series in which they started under the tree and walked all the way around the yard. Side by side.

We got Suzy on March 27th, so we haven’t quite had her four months. But you can see in the later photos how her facial expressions and demeanor have changed. She is more doglike, alert. Alive. We pray that she has forgotten her horrible beginning, that the peace and pleasure of her life now is all she thinks of, though we’ll never know for sure. We’re so glad she is ours. Our good dog.

Suzy watching television with Gerry. (You think she’s sleeping but look again at the tail.)

Suzy watching television with Gerry. (You think she’s sleeping but look again at the tail.)

 

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.

And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann (1872–1945), published in 1927