Social Security and Medicare Taxes (FICA)
Social Security and Medicare taxes, commonly referred to as "FICA", are imposed on payments for services such as wages. FICA requires that Social Security (12.4%) and Medicare (2.9%) "contributory" taxes be paid - one half (7.65%) by the employee and one half (7.65%) by the university - as a way of funding our governmental old age, survivors, disability and hospital insurance (OASDI) systems.
Nonresident alien students and scholars in F-1, J-1, M-1, or Q-1 status, who in accordance with U.S. immigration law, are complying with all of the terms of that status, are exempt from FICA, even at times when other students or scholars may not be exempt. Once a nonresident alien student becomes a resident alien, however, such student may then fall under the student exemption described below. Remember the GW Tax Department must receive all forms for residency determination before an exemption from FICA taxes based on immigration status will be allowed. Nonresident alien students and scholars on visa types other than F-1, J-1, M-1, or Q-1 are subject to the same rules as are U.S. citizens/residents.
International students and scholars who are required to pay FICA taxes may not always be paying into the U.S. system for naught. Some countries have agreements with the U.S. that will enable you, even if returning to your home country after graduation, to receive U.S. retirement benefits based on the "contributions" that you made while working in the U.S. To see if your country currently has such a social security agreement (called Totalization Agreements), visit or call a Social Security Administration (SSA) office.
Student FICA Exemption
An exception in the wage and employment laws permits the salaries of GW students working for GW and enrolled and regularly attending classes at the university to be exempted from such taxes. Current regulations further require that the student's primary activity be that of a student rather than that of an employee who is also taking classes. IRS administrative rulings have helped to set national standards that are currently followed by most universities.
In accordance with these accepted standards, in order to be eligible for exception from FICA tax, the university requires that:
- you must be a GW student;
- you must be taking a course load equal to at least one-half of a full-time workload for their respective school as defined by the Office of the Registrar; and
- you must be employed by GW.
A review of your status is performed at the beginning of each semester.
Additionally, students in their final semester of studies who have fallen below the full-time standard and Master's or Doctoral Students who have finished their coursework but who are still officially enrolled in their program and under supervision of a faculty advisor will need to send to the Payroll Services a signed request for continued FICA exemption. They will need to include documentation from the Office of the Registrar, from their department, or from their advisor indicating the reason why they are below the appropriate half time credit hour limits and/or certifying to half-time student status. Certain graduate students should find the Request for Certification for Half-Time/Full-time Student Status appropriate for this purpose.