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How Does a Foreign National Qualify for a Recovery Rebate under the CARES Act?

April 17, 2020

Many foreign nationals living in the U.S. may be wondering whether they will receive recovery rebates, also known as stimulus checks, from the government in their bank account or in their mailbox through the CARES Act. In order to determine if you qualify for a recovery rebate as a foreign national, you must (A) have a social security number filed with your applicable tax return and (B) be considered a nonresident alien by the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”).

  1. Social Security Number

The foreign national must have used a social security number on their filed tax return for 2018 or, if already filed, 2019. A foreign national who is authorized to work may apply for a social security number through the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) by showing his/her work-authorized immigration status. The SSA also issues non-work-related numbers to foreign nationals who do not have work authorization but require a number to obtain benefits or services. Under the CARES Act, however, these number to not qualify. The social security number must have been obtained as a result of possession of U.S. citizenship, U.S. green card, or another work-authorized status in the U.S.

  1. Nonresident Alien for Tax Purposes

Under the CARES Act, nonresident aliens, using the definition given by the IRS, are not eligible for recovery rebates. According to the IRS, a “nonresident alien” is a foreign national who does not meet either of the following:

  1. The foreign national is a green card holder (also known as a lawful permanent resident)


  1. The foreign national satisfies the “substantial presence” test

The substantial presence test is defined by the IRS as:

“To meet th[e] [substantial presence] test, you must be physically present in the United States (U.S.) on at least:

  1. 31 days during the current year, and
  2. 183 days during the 3-year period that includes the current year and the 2 years immediately before that, counting:
  • All the days you were present in the current year, and
  • 1/3 of the days you were present in the first year before the current year, and
  • 1/6 of the days you were present in the second year before the current year.”

Therefore, if a foreign national cannot satisfy either of the above criteria, then he/she is classified as a nonresident alien. If he/she does satisfy at least one of the above criteria, then he/she is classified as a resident alien under the IRS’ definition and, therefore, may be eligible for a recovery rebate.