The Treasury Department and the IRS have provided tax relief to certain individuals and businesses affected by travel disruptions arising from the coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency. Under the guidance:
- up to 60 consecutive calendar days of U.S. presence that are presumed to arise from COVID-19 travel disruptions will not be counted for determining U.S. tax residency under Code Sec. 7701(b), or determining whether an individual qualifies for tax treaty benefits for income from personal services performed in the United States;
- for certain U.S. citizens and residents, qualification for gross income exclusion of foreign earned income under Code Sec. 911 will not be impacted by days spent away from a foreign country due to the COVID-19 emergency; and
- certain U.S. business activities by a nonresident alien or foreign corporation will not be counted for determining whether the individual or entity is engaged in a U.S. trade or business or has a U.S. permanent establishment.
COVID-19 Medical Condition Travel Exception
Travel and related disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 emergency may cause foreign individuals who did not anticipate meeting the “substantial presence test” under Code Sec. 7701(b)(3) to become U.S. residents for federal tax purposes during 2020, and may impact an individual’s qualifications for certain treaty benefits. To address this, Rev. Proc. 2020-20 allows certain foreign individuals to claim a COVID-19 Medical Condition Travel Exception to becoming U.S. residents, and provides similar relief for determining whether an individual (whether or not an eligible for the medical travel exception) qualifies for U.S. income tax treaty benefits for income from dependent personal services performed in the United States.
An individual can claim a COVID-19 Medical Condition Travel Exception if he or she:
- was not a U.S. resident at the close of the 2019 tax year;
- is not a lawful permanent resident at any point in 2020;
- is present in the United States on each day of his or her COVID-19 Emergency Period; and
- does not become a U.S. resident in 2020 due to days of presence in the United States outside of the individual’s COVID-19 Emergency Period.
The COVID-19 Emergency Period is a period of up to 60 consecutive calendar days selected by an individual, starting on or after February 1, 2020, and on or before April 1, 2020, during which he or she is physically present in the United States on each day.
An eligible individual who intended to leave the United States during his or her COVID-19 Emergency Period but could not leave due to COVID-19 emergency travel disruptions can exclude up to 60 calendar days of presence in the United States for the substantial presence test. The COVID-19 emergency will be considered a medical condition that kept the individual from leaving the United States on each day during his or her COVID-19 Emergency Period, and will not be treated as a pre-existing medical condition.
Further, any days of presence during an individual’s COVID-19 Emergency Period on which he or she was unable to leave the United States due to COVID-19 emergency travel disruptions will not be counted in determining his or her eligibility for treaty benefits for income from employment or performing other dependent personal services within the United States.
The guidance provides details on claiming a COVID-19 Medical Condition Travel Exception and an exemption from income withholding under a U.S. income tax treaty.
Foreign Earned Income Exclusion Relief
Rev. Proc. 2020-27 provides a waiver for certain individuals who failed to meet the eligibility requirements of Code Sec. 911(d)(1) for the foreign earned income exclusion because adverse conditions in a foreign country kept the individual from meeting the requirements during 2019 and 2020. The COVID-19 emergency is an adverse condition that precluded the normal conduct of business in:
- the People’s Republic of China (excluding the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau (China)) as of December 1, 2019; and
- any other foreign country, as of February 1, 2020.
The covered period ends on July 15, 2020, unless the Treasury Department and IRS announce an extension.
Under this relief, an individual who left the particular foreign country on or after the dates stated above, but on or before July 15, 2020, will be treated as a qualified individual under the foreign earned income exclusion rules for the period when he or she was present in, or was a bona fide resident of, that foreign country if the individual establishes a reasonable expectation that he or she would have met the requirements of Code Sec. 911(d)(1) but for the COVID-19 Emergency. An individual who was first physically present or established residency in China after December 1, 2020, or another foreign country after February 1, 2020, is not eligible.
Individuals seeking to qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion because they could reasonably have been expected to have been present in a foreign country for 330 days but for the COVID-19 Emergency, and have met the other requirements to qualify, may use any 12-month period to meet the qualified individual requirement.
Previously issued revenue procedures under Code Sec. 911(d)(4) remain in full force and effect. Rev. Proc. 2020-14, 2020-16 I.R.B. 661, is supplemented.
U.S. Business Activities
Nonresident aliens who perform services or other activities in the United States, and foreign corporations that employ individuals to perform services or other activities in the United States, and are engaged in a U.S. trade or business are subject to federal tax on their business income from that trade or business. If the individuals performing those services or activities are temporarily in the United States solely due to COVID-19 emergency travel disruptions, the nonresident alien or foreign corporation might be treated as engaged in a U.S. trade or business even though it would not be if the individuals performing the services were not present in the United States.
IRS frequently asked questions (FAQs)—at https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/information-for-nonresident-aliens-and-foreign-businesses-impacted-by-covid-19-travel-disruptions—provide that certain U.S. business activities conducted by a nonresident alien or foreign corporation will not be counted for up to 60 consecutive calendar days in determining whether the individual or entity is engaged in a U.S. trade or business or has a U.S. permanent establishment, if those activities would not have been conducted in the United States but for the COVID-19 travel disruptions.