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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