Claiming your social security and medicare tax refund for international students

International students who file as non-resident alien taxpayers are typically exempt from paying FICA taxes. But if you did not know about this before earning your paycheck, then you might have had these taxes withdrawn anyway. Luckily, you have up to three years to claim your social security and medicare tax refund for international students.

This article will help you determine if you were eligible and explain how to claim your FICA refund.

What is FICA?

The term FICA and payroll taxes are used interchangeably. They refer to two taxes taken out of most employees’ paycheck in the U.S.: social security and medicare. These taxes fund the country’s largest two entitlement programs.

The combined FICA tax rate paid by employees is 7.65%. This is comprised of 6.20% for Social Security taxes and 1.45% for Medicare.

This can result in a meaningful amount of money. For instance, someone making an annual salary of $125,000 will pay over $9,500 in payroll taxes. Even a summer intern making $15,000 will end up contributing $1,150 in FICA taxes.

The bottom line: FICA taxes add up to what we in the accounting industry call “real” money 😉

Who is exempt from payroll taxes?

The good news for some international students? You’re likely exempt from FICA taxes!

There are two key requirements to being exempt:

  1. You must meet the qualifications to file as a non-resident alien taxpayer. You can read more about the qualifications here. Most international students, unless on a green card, usually file as non-resident aliens.
  2. You must be working on an exempt visa type. The exempt visa types are: F,” “J,” “M,” or “Q”.

In our experience, most international students meet both requirements to be exempt from FICA.

How do international students claim their FICA tax refund?

If your employer withheld payroll taxes anyway, either because you filled out Form W-4 incorrectly or your employer was simply misinformed, it’s likely not too late to reclaim your FICA tax refund.

First, check how much social security and medicare payroll taxes were withheld by looking at your Form W-2. This form should have been sent to you by your employer shortly after the end of the year (in January or February). Box 4 lists the amount of “social security tax withheld” and Box 6 lists the amount of “medicare tax withheld”. Add those up to see how much you might be able to recover by claiming your FICA tax refund.

Once you’ve confirmed that you had FICA taxes incorrectly withheld, here is what you will need to do:

  1. Send a letter to your employer. Your employer will tell you that they already passed the money onto the IRS. But it’s a required step to get in writing.
  2. Fill out and compile the following forms: Form 843, Form 8316, Form W-2, Form I-94, your visa documentation, and the employer letter.
  3. Mail in the combined packet to the IRS.

Visor makes claiming your FICA tax refund simple

If the above sounds like a big hassle (and it probably does), you might want to let Visor help you out. It’s never fun dealing with the IRS alone, especially given that they’re not fans of refunding payroll taxes. We can help streamline the process of claiming your social security and medicare tax refund.

What are the benefits of working with Visor?

  1. We’ll provide a templated letter to send to your employer and make sure the letter they return to you will qualify.
  2. We’ll fill out Form 843 and Form 8316 for you then put together the rest of your documents into a nice refund request packet.
  3. We’ll send it into the IRS and help make sure they refund your FICA taxes.

We charge just $149 to reclaim each year’s FICA taxes. If you’re an existing client and we filed that year’s tax return, we only charge a reduced rate of $99.

Next Steps

If you have FICA taxes to reclaim, don’t delay any longer. Get the process started by contacting us at Visor. We’re a year-round tax service, so we’re ready to help you out today.

Visor is one of the leading tax providers for non-US citizens, particularly for international graduate students and other young professionals. Sign up and take comfort knowing all your tax needs are in expert hands.

 

Done filing taxes alone? Lock in discounted 2019 pricing!

55 Comments

  1. Hello,
    Just wanted to know if some similar refund of social security and Medicare is available for H1 visa holders who returned to their countries for good.
    If you could point to relevant part of SSA documents that would be great!
    Thanks

    1. Hi Ratnadeep – Great question! Unfortunately, we are only able to go back three years when amending tax returns. That means that you can still claim a refund for 2015 FICA withholdings, but it would be too late for 2014. Reach out to a Visor tax advisor though so we can review your eligibility and help reclaim your taxes if eligible!

    1. Hi! Unfortunately there’s no set timeframe but can take a while, certainly more than 2 months. Did Visor help you file for the FICA refund? If so, log into your account and send a message to your tax advisor and we’ll see if we can help. Thanks!

  2. Hi, I am a f-1 student and I have a son,he is a US citizen,obviously he has a social security number and I don’t! but I pay taxes anyway,so how do I do to claim for his tax refund since I cannot claim for mine??

    1. Hi Ilda – I might not understand your question correctly, but your son likely won’t pay any taxes himself assuming he’s too young to be earning any income. As a non-US citizen on a F-1 visa, you’ll likely be filing as a ‘non-resident’ using Form 1040NR. Non-residents, same as residents, get to claim children on their tax return as a dependent, which might lead to tax savings like the child tax credit. If you have specific questions, feel free to create an account for free at http://www.visor.com and send us a question through the online platform. We have lots of experience filing tax returns for international students so more than happy to work with you this upcoming tax season to make sure you get the most tax savings!

  3. I was on F1 until september 30 2018 and my status got changed to H1B on october 1 2018. My employer deducted FICA taxes on wages received from October 1st 2018 to December 31st 2018. However I do not qualify for substantial presence test, since I was in H1b only for 3 months in 2018, can I reclaim my FICA taxes.?

    1. After you switch to H1b visa, you are liable to pay FICA tax for those 3 months, therefore you would not be able to claim refund for this tax. If your employer withheld FICA while you were on F1 visa (as long as you were on F1 for less than 5 years), you would potentially be able to reclaim that tax.

  4. I was on F1 until September 30 2018 and my status got changed to H1B on October 1 2018. My employer deducted FICA taxes on wages received from October 1st 2018 to December 31st 2018. However I do not qualify for substantial presence test, since I was in H1B only for 3 months in 2018, can I reclaim my FICA taxes.?

    1. Hi Santosh, your employer was correct to withhold FICA taxes when you became a resident for tax purposes (aka on the date your visa changed to H1b). Even though you did not pass the substantial presence test for income tax purposes, Social Security and Medicare tax rules do not follow the same rules.

  5. I’m a F-1 student, and working as STEM OPT now. I studied in USA since 2011, can I still claim the social security and Medicare wage back? Since they considered me as a resident allian.

    1. Hi Jin – If you were an F1 student starting in 2011, you would be considered a tax nonresident for 5 years (until 2015). While you are a tax nonresident you should not have paid Social Security and Medicare tax (collectively known as FICA) during those years. If you did, you have 3 years from the date of the filed tax return to request a refund of FICA. After 5 years on F1 visa, you are considered to be a resident alien and required to pay FICA and not eligible to receive a refund even though prior years may have had FICA applied in error.

  6. I have been in US since 2012, therefore considered a resident alien. My wife has been in US since 2015, therefore considered a non-resident alien. However, we file tax jointly. For tax purposes my wife is considered a resident alien. Is my wife still eligible for the FICA tax exemption in this situation? Thanks!

    1. You and your spouse are treated as residents for federal income tax purposes if you file a joint return. Social Security and Medicare tax withholding may still be treated as for a nonresident alien depending on the type of Visa and whether you have elected to both be treated as residents for tax purposes. Here is an IRS summary of Visa types, whether a spouse would be exempt from FICA withholding and limitations of the exemption: IRS – aliens employed in the U.S.

  7. Hi!

    I have two questions: I was an F1 student in 2010 and in 2013 I took a break and left the country. Came back in 2014, graduated in 2015 and started working on my OPT at the end of 2015 until end of 2016. Was I considered to be on F1 for 5 years or less and therefore eligible (since I took a break)? Is it too late to file a refund?

    1. Hi there, 5 year rule for students in the U.S. applies to a full or partial year that you are in the U.S. on an F1 visa and the 5 years do not have to be consecutive but instead are counted cumulatively. Generally, you have 3 years to file for FICA refund from the date your tax return was filed.

    1. You generally have 3 years from the year FICA was withheld in error to request a refund. You are considered to be a tax nonresident during for 5 years while of F1 student visa and therefore during those years eligible for the refund of FICA tax withheld as long as you are within the 3 year time frame of requesting the refund. Considering your 5 year rule is applicable for years of 2011-2015, the 3 years from 2015 have already lapsed. After 5 years on F1 visa, you are considered to be a resident for tax purposes and required to pay FICA tax.

  8. Hi,
    I’m a F1 student currently working full time in my field of study under opt & stem opt work authorization since Sep 2016. My employer has deducted Both Medicare and social security taxes since I started working. Could I file for FICA tax refund for all past three years with you guys?

    Thanks

    1. Thanks for reaching out, generally you have 3 years to file for a refund of FICA taxes withheld in error. When you sign up for Visor, our team can take a closer look at your tax situation and help file the appropriate documents for a requested refund.

    1. Not illegal to ignore the process and depending on the amount, it may not be worth asking for a refund as the process can take up several months depending on processing time by employer or IRS.

    1. Thanks for the question, Visor can help look into your situation and file for FICA refund. Please sign up at Visor.com and send up a message with the details of your tax situation and upload W2 in question. We would be happy to help!

  9. Hello, I am currently on my STEM-OPT. I informed my employer about not being liable for FICA, took a while for them to look into the issue and stop deducting it. They advised I file a claim for the FICA taxes already deducted because they have already submitted it to the IRS. Please, can you help me?

    1. Hi Reyna, if your employer declined your request for FICA refund, you will most likely need to file form 843 and include the necessary attachments. If you would like one of our Visor professionals to review your filing with you and assist in filing it, you can sign up at visor.com and upload your documentation/reach out over messages on next steps that will need to be taken. Thanks!

  10. Hello,
    I am a full time student at California Statue University. I worked during my internship. The employer has given W2 reflecting tax deductions under State, Federal, Social Security and Medicare. I am getting a return for State and Federal buy I am looking to file for Social Security and Medicare under FICA exemption for international students. Can I get all the tax return filed together. Please suggest.

    1. Hi Sapna, FICA refund request is a separate filing from your tax return. First, you can reach out to your employer and request that they refund the amount. If your employer isn’t willing or declines your request, you can file a request with the IRS by filling out form 843 and including the necessary attached information per form’s instructions.

    1. Hi Sam, thanks for the questions. If you are eligible to claim FICA refund, according to the IRS you have 3 years from April 15 of the year following the year for which the return was due or 3 years after the date the return was actually filed, whichever is later. So for example, if you filed your 2016 return on April 15th of 2017, you can file a refund claim 3 years from that date to file.

  11. Hi,

    I have been on the F1 visa since August 2013. I completed my undergraduate studies and then began working on the OPT since July 2017. I am currently on the STEM extension. Technically, my 5 years of non-resident for tax purposes ended in 2017, and as of 2018 I would be considered a resident. However, I see on the IRS website that even after 5 years a student can be considered a non-resident for tax purposes. Can you please help me understand if I fall into this category?

    Thanks

    1. Hi Shaurya, thank you for the question! For the most part, it does not sound like you would fall into the category of being considered an exempt individual since you have been in the U.S. for the 5 years on F1/OPT visa. However, you could potentially establish a “closer connection to a foreign country” by showing that you do not intend to reside in the US permanently. This would require that you make this election on form 8840 and timely file it with your return. Form 8840 requires that you show closer connection by providing information about your country of residence, and related documents, location of your permanent home, family, etc. More information about this election can be found in IRS Publication 519.

  12. Hi,

    I am an F1 student currently working on my STEMOPT. My employer had withheld SSN and Medicare until March 2018. I realized it when I filed my taxes last year and I applied for a refund directly with the IRS since my employer was unable to pay me back. I still have not received my refund for 2017. What is the typical processing time and would you recommend filing a refund again?

    Also, since the change was only done in April last year, I was also deducted SSN and Medicare for the first three months of 2018. I have not filed it yet but I would like to talk to my employer again. Is this something you can help with if my employer refuses again?

    1. Hi Sriharish, great question. IRS does not have a set response time for FICA refund processing. Assuming that your claim is accepted, it can take several months to receive a refund and with government shutdown earlier this year, processing times have been generally slower. If your employer refuses to refund Social Security and Medicare tax withheld in error, you will need to file a similar request with the IRS for 2018 tax year.

  13. Hello,

    I was on F1-OPT from October-2017 to October-2018. During this time, my company refunded me the deducted FICA amount from my paycheck.
    This year when i am filing my taxes, somehow it is showing that i need to pay a lot of money (close to 6.5k). I feel this is somehow incorrect. Should i ask my company for a corrected W-2 as i received the FICA refund from them separately?

    Thanks

    1. Hi Suvidhi, thanks for the question. It is difficult to tell why your tax liability is high in 2018 without reviewing your tax documents in detail. In short, FICA refund does not impact your 2018 tax return. You should still request a corrected W2 from your employer for your records showing that you did not pay FICA tax in 2018 based on your visa status. However, if you are filing form 1040NR as a nonresident of tax purposes, Social Security and Medicare taxes refunded to you would not impact your calculated tax amount but rather you may need to adjust your federal tax withholding if you have underpaid during the year or believe that your situation will be similar in 2019. You can do so by adjusting W4 your employer has on file for you.

  14. Hello, I have done all the process for the refund. But neither of the forms(843 or 8316) contains the way the IRS would refund the amount to me. Can you please let me know how will they refund? like will they mail me a cheque or something?, if yes will they mail to my personal address or to my company address?

    1. Hi Sarath, if your refund request is approved, your refund would most likely be mailed to you in form of a paper check to the address you have provided on the original application for FICA refund.

  15. Hello:

    I am on OPT and my Employer deducted SSN and Medicare taxes on my income in 2018. My wife is a US Citizen and we are filing our Federal and State income tax returns jointly through TurboTAX which is not considering my FICA refunds. Can I claim my FICA refund seperately? And How?

    1. If you are filing a resident return as you are married to a US citizen and filing form 1040, you would most likely not be able to claim a FICA refund. However, Visor can review your situation in detail when you sign up.

  16. Hey i have been working under F1 OPT staus from July 2018. When I apply for the refunds, can I apply for the refunds from July all the way till March 2019 or do I have to break it up for each financial year?

    1. Hi, it depends the type of refund you are referring to. FICA refund (social security tax and medicare tax) can be refunded if you are considered to be a nonresident – generally if you have been in the US on F1 visa for 5 years or less. You can apply for a refund from your employer first or by filing appropriate forms with the IRS for up to 3 years after the withholding was inappropriately withheld from your paychecks for each of the years in question.

    1. You have up to 3 years to file FICA refund if you are eligible, so current tax deadline does not necessarily have an impact on your FICA request for reimbursement.

  17. Hi,

    I am an F-1 visa status student and apparently shouldn’t be paying medicare and SSN tax. But while I was a graduate student, I worked on campus and paid both these taxes for around 18 months. I graduated last June (2018). How can I claim this tax refund?

    1. Hi Radhika, if you were considered to be a nonresident for tax purposes in 2018 but paid FICA tax and you are unable to get a full refund from your employer, you can fill out from 843, Claim for refund and request of abatement, with the IRS. If you choose to file form 843, make sure to review the rules and include all of the required documents with your claim.

  18. Hi, Right now I am on F-1 Visa. Calendar year 2017-2018, SOCIAL SECURITY TAX and MEDICARE TAX both are withheld in Error. I tried to contact my employer regarding this. But got no response.
    So, i claimed via Form-843 & Form-8316 in March, 2018. But i got rejection that i don’t know why. Again i send them (September,2018) all supporting documents and explanation of rejection because i used software that time for filling Tax online and they used 1040-EZ instead of 1040-NR. Because of them i got denial(Assumed). So, can you help me with that , how can i contact them again or any help to get refund ?

    Thank you

    1. Hi Dhruva, it is difficult to determine or recommend next steps without a detailed review of your situation and replies you have so far received. If your FICA refund requests are denied due to incorrect prior year return filed, you could potentially amend your prior year return so that return IRS would have form 1040NR on file. It is recommended that you get in touch with the IRS prior to going through this process. If IRS has sent correspondence to you in the past, you may be able to locate a phone number to call in the original letter and call them to discuss the denial and whether an amendment to prior year would be beneficial.

    1. You can usually track the progress of your refund processing using “where is my refund” tool provided by the IRS and most states online. If you filed your returns electronically, IRS turn around time for direct deposit is around 21 days and if you mailed in your return, a refund request can take 6 weeks or longer to process according to their website.

  19. How long it takes to get back the refund? I applied it for 3 months now and still have no update. Some of my friends have already received the refund. all of us filed through Sprint Tax.

    1. Hi Prakash, IRS and most states have an online tool “where is my refund” available for tracking. If you google either “IRS” and/or the state refund you are looking for with “where is my refund” in the search, you should be able to find the tracking. Usually, you will need to have basic information and the refund amount you are looking for handy but the tracking will be able to tell you whether your return/refund has been processed, sent to you or deposited in your account, and timeline.

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