Thousands of foreign workers living outside of the U.S. mistakenly received $1,200 coronavirus stimulus checks, NPR reports.
The workers, who entered the country on temporary work visas, are spending the money in their home nations, according to NPR.
A tax preparation firm told NPR that it has clients from 129 different countries who received the checks in error. They have clients from Brazil, Canada, China, India, Nigeria and South Korea who reported they were sent the money.
It is unclear how much money was sent to foreign workers living abroad.
Government officials and tax experts told NPR the workers likely received the checks because they filed incorrect tax returns that make them appear to be U.S. residents. The experts say it is not something that was likely done intentionally.
Now, NPR reports the workers are trying to amend their returns because they worry the error will jeopardize their visa status, green card application or ability to return to the U.S.
Sprintax, which does U.S. tax preparation for nonresidents, told NPR it filed about 400 amended returns last year for people who mistakenly filed as U.S. residents.
This year, it has completed about 5,000 amendments, which is almost 5% of the total federal tax returns it filed last year, according to the company. In calculating the difference, if all the people filing an amended form this year received a $1,200 check, the amount would total $43 million.
"We saw a huge number of people contacting us after the first stimulus payment because they said, 'Hey, I got this check. I never asked for it, I didn't think I was entitled to it, and how can I correct it?'" Sprintax's vice president Enda Kelleher told NPR.
Some foreign workers did not realize they had filed incorrect tax forms until they received the money. Now, they are trying to fix the problem.
"It's a serious issue," he said.
Only U.S. citizens and U.S. "resident aliens" are eligible to receive the stimulus money. A "resident alien" is a federal tax classification. People with green cards or who have been in the U.S. for a certain period of time can meet the qualification.
The U.S. government knows some foreign workers received the money and told NPR the Treasury Department is "exploring possible options" to prevent that from happening again, especially if another round of checks are issued in the next relief package.
NPR reports that checks were mailed to worker's former U.S. addresses and forwarded to their native country address, some checks were mailed overseas directly and some obtained the money in their bank accounts on file with the IRS.
The IRS says non-U.S. residents who received stimulus money in error should return it.
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