Social Security and Medicare (FICA) Guidelines—Nonresident Foreign Nationals

Students and scholars temporarily in the U.S. on F-1, J-1, M-1, and Q-1 visas are usually exempt from FICA taxes, as long as they are nonresidents for income tax purposes (see Claiming U.S. Residency for Tax Purposes—Substantial Presence). This exemption applies to wages paid to them for services performed in the U.S. as long as such services are allowed by immigration regulations and are "performed to carry out the purposes for which such visas were issued to them," according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

This exemption applies to:

  • F-1 and J-1 student visa holders for the first five calendar years
  • J-1 scholars (including teachers, professors, researchers, and physicians) for the first two calendar years

This exemption does not apply to:

  • Spouse and children on F-2, J-2, M-2, and Q-2 visas
  • Nonresident foreign nationals who have become resident foreign nationals for tax purposes (Internal Revenue Code section 7701(b))
  • Nonresident aliens who have changed to any visa status other than F-1, J-1, M-1, or Q-1 status.

Definition of Calendar Year

For IRS exemption rules, the IRS uses the period from January 1 to December 31, not 12 consecutive months. No matter what part of the year the F-1 or J-1 visa holder originally entered the country, it is counted as a full calendar year when determining the exemption for FICA withholding.