In general, services performed by nonresident aliens temporarily in the U.S. as non-immigrants are not covered under the social security program if they are performed to carry out the purpose for which the alien was admitted to the U.S. Generally, social security or Medicare taxes are not withheld from the pay that foreign students receive for these services. However, these types of services are limited, usually including only:

  • On-campus work
  • Practical training
  • Economic hardship employment

Social security and Medicare taxes will be withheld from foreign students’ pay if they are considered resident aliens, even if their nonimmigrant classification remains the same.

Can Nonresident Students Work in the United States?

Generally, nonresidents admitted to the U.S. as students may not work for a wage or salary or otherwise engage in business while in the country. However, there are exceptions through which a student may be granted permission to work. Depending on your status, you may be able to work:

  • F-1 Status – The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services allows students in F-1 status to perform on-campus work. This may include:
    • Work performed on school premises
    • Work performed at off-campus location educationally affiliated with the school
    • Work done under the terms of a scholarship, fellowship, or assistantship
  • F-1 Status with severe economic necessity or optional practical training – Employment due to severe economic necessity and for optional practical training may be permitted for F-1 students.
  • M-1 Status – Students in M-1 status who have completed a course of study can accept employment or practical training up to 6 months.
  • Other cases – Any services performed by a nonresident alien student are not considered to be performed to carry out the purpose for which he was admitted to the US. Thus, social security and Medicare taxes will be withheld.

What about Exchange Visitors?

Nonimmigrant exchange visitors are admitted through the sponsorship of approved organizations and institutions that are responsible for establishing a program for the visitor. With the permission of their sponsor, nonimmigrant exchange visitors can work for the same reasons as other foreign students. Social security and Medicare taxes are not withheld if the exchange visitor has been given permission to work and possesses a letter of authorization from the sponsor.

Do I Need a Tax Lawyer If I Have Tax Issues?

Consulting a lawyer who has experience with these issues may help you understand the various laws surrounding these issues. A tax lawyer would be able to tell you which category you fall under, and inform you of your tax responsibilities.