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Thousands of ineligible foreign workers — some no longer in the US — have gotten coronavirus stimulus checks


IRS error

A letter bearing the signature of U.S. President Donald Trump was sent to people who received a coronavirus economic stimulus payment as part of the Cares Act April 29, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Thousands of foreign workers, many of whom don't even live in the United States anymore, received the coronavirus economic stimulus payments from the federal government this month even though they were not technically eligible, Politico reported.

Temporary foreign workers, such as students on F-1 or J-1 visas, may have received the payments due to an error in how they filed their taxes — an error the Internal Revenue Service apparently did not catch in its rush to get stimulus payments out to American individuals and families.

The incorrect payments were likely distributed to thousands of foreigners in April, said Donna Kepley, president of the tax firm Arctic International who has spoken with dozens of clients over the past two weeks. The error stems from a common tax-filing blunder, particularly for those on F-1 student and J-1 exchange visas. These workers, studying at universities and working summer jobs, often turn to TurboTax and other e-filing systems without knowing that the systems are designed only for U.S. residents.

As a result, many temporary foreign workers each year file the wrong tax forms. The IRS rarely catches the error because nonimmigrant workers' Social Security numbers have the same number of digits as those of U.S. citizens, and therefore appear to be identical, accountants say.

Some who received mistaken payments have tried without success to contact the IRS about what to do, because they don't want to face consequences down the road for accepting money they should not have. Some fear they could be banned from getting a visa or deported if they don't return the money.

This isn't the first error involving the stimulus payments. There have been reports of numerous dead people getting stimulus checks, because they are sent out based on 2018 tax filings if a person or family hasn't yet filed for 2019. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has urged relatives to return payments sent to deceased loved ones.

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