As the petitioner, what filing status do I use for my tax returns?
You have three options: married filing separately (MFS), married filing jointly (MFJ), or head of household (HOH).
For HOH, there's some criteria you need to meet to be able to use this. Please see the IRS website for more information. For most people though, it's either between MFS or MFJ.
Before I continue, I will say this once and only once: YOU CANNOT FILE SINGLE. If you are married, you are married. Doesn't matter where in the universe your spouse is, YOU ARE STILL MARRIED. You will be lying to the IRS if you file as single, and if caught, could cause serious issues. If you have already filed taxes, either this year or last, and were married, yet filed as single, amend your tax return ASAP. If at the time of the interview, there are tax return transcripts in the case file showing the petitioner filed as single, this can be a HUGE red flag. The CO will have to wonder why the petitioner filed as single when they're trying to get a spousal visa. In their eyes, your relationship can be seen as a fraud and could be reason for denial.
For both MFS and MFJ, the petitioner will have to file a paper tax return. Electronic submissions won't be possible the first year.
Filing MFS will probably be the easiest for most people as it doesn't require any extra documents from the foreign spouse, nor does it require their signature. On the tax return, where it asks for the spouse's SSN, you would put 'NRA' for Non-Resident Alien. Continue filling out the rest of the return as normal. That is all you have to do. (And if desired, once the spouse has immigrated to the US and has obtained a SSN, the petitioner can then amend their tax return to MFJ, to possibly get a bigger refund, but this isn't required.)
Filing MFJ will typically mean a bigger refund up front, with no need to amend. This route takes a little more work though as the beneficiary will have to fill out a W7 (available on the IRS site), which requires a signature, and include document(s), so they can obtain a ITIN (it's like a SSN, but for the sole purpose of filing taxes, and is available for those not currently living in the US). This would then be included with the tax return, and sent to a special address for ITIN generation. For most countries, it may be hard to get the needed documents. (For Canada, it was uber easy, and this is how my husband did his taxes while I was still in Canada, waiting for my interview). Please view the instructions for the W7 form on the IRS website to see what documents will be needed.
For more information, please read this page on IRS's website here .