The nationwide lockdown since March 25 and cancellation of international flights to contain the spread of COVID-19 has forced non-resident Indians (NRI) and foreign nationals to prolong their stay in India.
There were apprehensions that this extended stay could lead to these individuals becoming Indian residents as per Section 6 of the Income Tax Act.
“Considering various representations received from people who had to prolong their stay in India due to lockdown and suspension of international flights, expressing concerns that they will be required to file tax returns as Indian residents, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman today allowed discounting of prolonged stay period in India for the purpose of determining residency status,” an official statement said.
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The ministry further stated that as the lockdown continues during the financial year 2020-21 and it is not yet clear as to when international flight operations would resume, a circular excluding the period of stay of these individuals up to the date of normalisation of international flight operations, for determination of the residential status for the financial year 2020-21 shall be issued after flights are resumed.
In a circular, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) said in order to avoid genuine hardship in such cases, for the purposes of determining the residential status for 2019-20 of an individual who has come to India on a visit before March 22, 2020, and has been unable to leave India on or before March 31, 2020, his period of stay in India from March 22 to March 31, 2020, shall not be taken into account.
In cases where such individuals have been quarantined in India due to COVID-19 on or after March 1, 2020 and has departed on an evacuation flight on or before March 31, 2020 or has been unable to leave India on or before March 31, 2020, his period of stay from the beginning of his quarantine to his date of departure or March 31, 2020, as the case may be, shall not be taken into account for determining residency status.
Where the individual has departed on an evacuation flight on or before March 31, 2020, his period of stay in India from March 22, 2020 to his date of departure shall not be taken into account.
The status of an individual whether he is resident in India or a non-resident or not ordinarily resident, is dependent, inter-alia, on the period for which the person is in India during a year.
As per I-T laws, for 2019-20 fiscal, individuals staying in India for 182 days or more in a fiscal or 60 days or more in a fiscal and at least 365 days in the past 4 fiscals will be considered as resident of India for taxation purpose and accordingly his/her global income becomes taxable.
“This is a much welcome and awaited circular, which takes cognizance of concerns of NRIs and other foreigners who arrived in India before March 22, 2020, but could not return on account of imposition of lockdown and suspension of international flights,” Nangia Andersen Consulting Director Shailesh Kumar said.
“Presently, this circular takes care of residential status only for FY 2019-20 and thus excluded period till March 31, 2020 only. One may expect a similar circular for FY 2020-21, providing exclusion of lockdown period for FY 2020-21 as well for determining the residential status,” he added.