Question: My son graduated from college and will be working for two years at a law firm in Washington D.C. before applying to law school. He has had permanent residency in California since he was 3 years old. He graduated from a California high school but attended a private university on the East Coast. He has a California driver's license, votes in local elections, and has served jury duty recently during his spring break. Does he lose his California residency working in D.C.? One of his top law school choices is U.C. Berkeley. Will he have to pay double income tax to maintain his residency in California?
This is a great question, even though it required me to wade knee-deep into the residency-requirement quagmire ... not my favorite place to wander. ;) Your son would face a residency problem at U.C. even if he headed to Cal law straight from his East Coast private university. One or two years of work in D.C. put an even bigger fly into the ointment.
So I forwarded your query to one who's helped me navigate this maze before, Diana Hume, a University of California Residency Analyst in the Office of the General Counsel. I'm pasting her response below. Don't panic when you read the gloom and doom at the start because the news does get somewhat better as you keep reading:
We can pretty well assume that your son will be determined to be a nonresident for purposes of tuition and fees for his first year back in CA because he attended an out-of-state university for four years and worked in another state for two more years after graduation, and because he will not be applying solely to California law schools. We don’t have enough information to assess whether he might qualify for temporary absence, which requires more than maintaining a CA driver’s license and voting in CA, but even if we did, we could not offer an opinion as his residence status will be determined by the campus residence deputy after he is accepted at UC and submits his Statement of Legal Residence. Paying California taxes on total income is one step a student can take to retain California residency, as is the continued use of a California permanent address on all records. He also must confirm that he did not form any significant ties to his past states of residence. If determined to be a nonresident, your son would have to reestablish 366 days of physical presence and intent in California after his return. I assume you are a California resident but, if not, and your son will be under the age of 24 prior to the residence determination date of the term he wishes to enter UC, he also will have to prove one full year of financial independence (i.e., total self-sufficiency).
Even though he is likely to be determined a nonresident, there is a provision within the residence regulations for which he may be eligible. If he attended a California high school for three full academic years and graduated from a California high school, he may qualify for an exemption from nonresident tuition under AB 540, for certain students (i.e., U.S. citizens, permanent residents, undocumented students) who fulfill these requirements. Although he still would be classified a nonresident for his first year, he would not have to pay nonresident tuition as long as AB 540 is in force in CA and the University still honors that exemption.
Diana also pointed out that, "The University’s regulations for California residence for purposes of tuition and fees are subject to change and this information may not cover all of the student’s circumstances. Each UC web site has a summary of the residence regulations that can be accessed by typing ‘residence for tuition purposes’ into the search box on the home page. If there are further questions after reading those regulations, the parent/student may contact this office through my email: firstname.lastname@example.org."
Hope this helps and that your son does prove that he's a true Golden Stater.