FICA (Social Security and Medicare Taxes)

F-1 and J-1 students are considered Non-Resident Alien (NRA) for tax purposes during the first 5 calendar years that they are present in the U.S.  NRA students are not subject to FICA tax withholding while working on campus or for off-campus employers under Optional Practical Training (OPT) or Curricular Practical Training (CPT). 

Section 3121(b)(19) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code (IRC) specifies criteria by which an international student may be exempt from FICA.  The individual must: 

1. be a NRA for tax purposes;
2. be present in the U.S. under F, J, M or Q visa; and 
3. perform services in accordance with the primary purpose of the visa's issuance.   

Occasionally off-campus employers of international students on OPT/CPT are unfamiliar with this IRC section and withhold FICA in error.  International students should follow this guide and work with their off-campus employer to have their portion of FICA tax refunded. 

If you are a Non-Resident Alien student in F, J, M or Q status and have had FICA tax withheld from compensation, you may follow the steps below to request a refund.  

Step 1: Request a Refund from your Employer

You must contact the employer who withheld the FICA tax from your compensation.  Inform your employer about the FICA exemption for NRA students working on OPT or CPT.  Ask the employer to issue a refund of your FICA tax. 

If the refund request is successful, you may stop here.  If the employer is unwilling to issue a refund, then proceed to Step 2.

Step 2: Request a Refund from the IRS  

  1. Complete IRS Form 843-Claim for Refund and Request for AbatementIRS Form 843 Instructions
  2. Attach the following items to Form 843
    1. A copy of your Form W-2 verifying the amount of FICA tax withheld.
    2. A copy of your visa.
    3. Form I-94 (or other documentation showing your dates of U.S. arrivals and departures).
    4. I-20 or DS-2019.  
    5. If you are engaged in OPT or employment due to severe economic hardship, Form I-766 or Form I-688B.
    6. A statement from your employer indicating the amount of the reimbursement they provided and the amount of the credit or refund your employer claimed or you authorized your employer to claim.  If you cannot obtain this statement from your employer, you must provide this information on your own statement and explain why you are not attaching a statement from your employer or on Form 8316 claiming your employer will not issue the refund. 
    7. If you were exempt from FICA for only part of the year, pay statements showing the tax paid during the period you were exempt.
  3. Make a copy of all above documents for your records. 
  4. Mail the completed Form 843 and Form 8316 with attached copies of the documents listed above to the service center where you would be required to file a current tax return for the tax to which your claim or request relates.  For Non-Resident Alien student who file 1040NR or 1040NR-EX, mail to:

Department of the Treasury
Internal Revenue Service Center
Austin, TX  73301-0215

The FICA refund application is not a quick process and may take several months.  Students should wait at least 60 days before attempting to contact the IRS to check the status of their refund request.  

Please note that the above instructions are provided for illustrative purposes.  Always consult the Form 843 instructions for the most up-to-date information.