In response to the economic disaster caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Congress has passed a $2.2 trillion aid package. Part of that package includes direct payments to individuals. Most U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents will receive a payment, but what about asylum seekers and asylees?

First, for all potential beneficiaries, the payment is dependent on your income. From the Washington Post--
Individuals with adjusted gross incomes up to $75,000 a year will be eligible for the full $1,200 check. Reduced checks will go out to individuals making up to $99,000 a year (the payment amount falls by $5 for every $100 in income above $75,000).

Married couples are eligible for a $2,400 check as long as their adjusted gross income is under $150,000 a year. Reduced checks, on a sliding scale, will go out to married couples who earn up to $198,000. Married couples also will receive an additional $500 for every child under 17.

People who file as a “head of household” (typically single parents with children) are eligible for a $1,200 check if they have an adjusted gross income up to $112,500 a year. Reduced checks on a sliding scale are available for heads of household earning up to $136,500 annually. Heads of household will also receive an additional $500 per child under 17.

You can calculate how much you and your family will receive here.

Second, assuming you qualify for the payment based on your income, you must also have a valid Social Security number. For married couples, it seems that both spouses must have SSNs. According to the Tax Policy Center, "If one spouse has an SSN, but the other does not, the couple is ineligible for the payment (there is an exception for military families)."

Third, you would have had to file taxes for 2018 or 2019. If you did not file, you are ineligible for the payment. However, if you were not required to file taxes in those years, you can now file a "simple tax return" in order to establish your eligibility for the payment (presumably, this means filing the IRS form 1040 or the 1040-SR if you are over 65 years old). For those who should have filed taxes in 2018 or 2019, but failed to file, you can file now and still qualify for the payment. The IRS urges people who file to include direct deposit banking information on their tax return, in order to facilitate the payment.

Also, if you need help with issues related to back taxes and filing, you may be able to get assistance from your local Low Income Tax Clinic (many of which are apparently still operating in some capacity through the pandemic).

Fourth, to qualify for the payment, you must be a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident (i.e., a Green Card holder) (though some LPRs who have spent significant time outside the U.S. might not qualify for the payment). Others who reside lawfully in the U.S., such as asylees and asylum seekers, may also be eligible for the payment, as long as they are not "nonresident aliens," as defined (in a very confusing manner) by the IRS. According to the Internal Revenue Service--
An alien is any individual who is not a U.S. citizen or U.S. national. A nonresident alien is an alien who has not passed the green card test or the substantial presence test.

The Green Card Test states that an LPR is considered a resident of the United States for tax purposes (and is thus eligible for the stimulus payment) as long as he or she spent at least one day in the U.S. during the relevant tax year.

The Substantial Presence Test is a little trickier. For that, you need to have at least 31 days in the United States during the current year and 183 days in the U.S. during the three-year period that includes the current year and the two years immediately before that. However, when counting towards the 183 days, days in prior years count for less, according to the following formula--

A. Current year days in United States x 1 =_____days

B. First preceding year days in United States x 1/3 =_____days

C. Second preceding year days in United States x 1/6 =_____days

D. Total Days in United States =_____days (add lines A, B, and C)

If line D equals or exceeds 183 days, you have passed the183-day test.

So for example, let's say you were physically present in the U.S. for 120 days in each of the years 2017, 2018, and 2019. To determine if you meet the substantial presence test for 2019, count the full 120 days of presence in 2019, 40 days in 2018 (1/3 of 120), and 20 days in 2017 (1/6 of 120). Since the total for the three-year period is 180 days, you are not considered a resident under the substantial presence test for 2019, and would likely not qualify for the stimulus payment. A word of caution here: I am not a tax lawyer (thankfully) and so there may be arguments to make here in order to qualify for the payment. If you do not receive the payment and feel you should have, you may want to seek help from a tax professional.

My sense from all this is that asylees and asylum seekers who have been here and paid taxes in 2018 and/or 2019 will likely qualify for the payment (unless they have spent substantial time outside the U.S., which is rare for such people). Asylum seekers and asylees who have been in the U.S. for a shorter period of time, or who did not have a work permit until recently (or who did not yet get a work permit) will likely not qualify for the payment.

If you do qualify, you should not have to do anything to receive the payment--it should be credited to your account or mailed directly to you. Some people--such as those who did not pay taxes in 2018 or 2019--may need to take action, as discussed above. Also, the IRS has created a webpage to provide updates and information about the stimulus payments. At present, the webpage is pretty sparse, but the IRS says it will be updated with additional information soon.

One final point, asylees and asylum seekers are not subject to the "public charge" rules that went into effect in February. Therefore, receiving this payment (or any other type of assistance, including unemployment benefits or means-tested aid) will have no effect on an asylum case, or on an asylee's application for a Green Card. For non-asylees, it seems pretty clear that the stimulus payment and unemployment benefits would not impact the public charge analysis. Other types of benefits could create a public charge issue (again, this is for people who are not asylees or asylum seekers). Talk to a lawyer if you are not sure or need help with this.

To say the least, these are difficult times for everyone. But the situation is particularly hard on those who are most vulnerable, including many immigrants and asylum seekers. I hope that the stimulus program will provide help to those most in need, and that we will see better days ahead soon.