Can an undocumented immigrant file for bankruptcy?

If you are an undocumented immigrant, you can file for bankruptcy if you have a valid Social Security Number or ITIN.

By , J.D., California Western School of Law

If you are an undocumented immigrant, you can still file for bankruptcy relief. But in most cases you will need to have a social security number or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) before filing your case. In addition, because your bankruptcy filing is a public record, it's in your best interest to speak with an immigration attorney to learn about how filing for bankruptcy might affect your immigration status.

To learn more about other bankruptcy rules and filing considerations, see our topic area on Bankruptcy Basics.

Unauthorized Immigrants Are Allowed to File for Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy laws don't require debtors to be U.S. citizens or legal residents to file for bankruptcy relief. Typically, as long as you live (or have a domicile), have a business, or own property in the United States (or a municipality), you are eligible to file for bankruptcy.

While an undocumented immigrant can file for bankruptcy, keep in mind that all debtors must prove their identity to the court – usually with valid government-issued identification and proof of their social security numbers or ITINs. This means that if you don't have a Social Security number, you will typically need to obtain an ITIN from the IRS prior to filing your case.

What is an ITIN? An ITIN is a tax-processing number issued by the IRS. It's generally used for people who are not eligible to receive a social security number. ITINs are issued without regard to immigration status.

How would an illegal alien have a social security number? If an immigrant legally enters the country with a tourist, student, or some other type of visa, the immigrant can get a social security number. If the immigrant then overstays the visa term, he or she becomes an unauthorized immigrant, but will still have a social security card with a social security number.

Caution: Talk to an Immigration Attorney

A bankruptcy filing is a public record that anyone can access. If you are an undocumented immigrant, filing for bankruptcy can potentially have negative consequences because of your immigration status. For this reason, it is very important that you talk to a knowledgeable immigration attorney in your area prior to filing your case.

To learn about other eligibility criteria to file for bankruptcy, see Eligibility for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and Are You Eligible for Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

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