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I was a J1 visa holder (post-doc) in the US for 18 months and contributed to Social Security. Since I am not going back to the U.S. again, am I eligible to get the money back?

Thanks and regards
JMV

1 Answer 1

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From your description, the taxes may have been withheld incorrectly.

You were most likely a nonresident alien during your entire stay. "Teachers and trainees", which include anyone on J status who is not a student, are "exempt individuals" (exempt from the Substantial Presence Test) unless they have already been an exempt individual during any part of 2 of the prior 6 calendar years.

So if you haven't been in the U.S. as an F-1, J-1, etc. for at least 6-7 years before you came on J-1 this time, the first two calendar years of your time on J-1 this time does not count towards the Substantial Presence Test. You said you were there for 18 months. That stretches over either 2 or 3 calendar years. The first two calendar years of it would be exempt from the SPT; even if it stretched into a third calendar year, an 18-month period could not stretch for more than 6 months into a 3rd calendar year; so even in that case you would still not meet the Substantial Presence Test for the 3rd year. Since you do not meet the Subtantial Presence Test during any of those years, you were a nonresident alien for all of those years (unless you decided to file jointly with a resident spouse or something).

Nonresident aliens on J-1 are exempt from FICA taxes (Social Security tax and Medicare tax) for employment as a researcher that you were authorized to do on your J-1. They should not have withheld FICA taxes from you. You should have informed them at the beginning when you initially noticed that they did, because it is a huge pain to get it back afterwards. For FICA taxes withheld in error, you can first ask the employer to refund them; and, if that fails, get a written statement of their refusal and then file Form 843 and Form 8316 with the IRS. However, given that IRS is very underfunded these days, expect it to take a long time to hear back if you ever hear back.

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  • Is "post-doc" a trainee or a student? To the best of my knowledge, no.
    – littleadv
    May 5, 2015 at 2:28
  • @littleadv: The definition of "teacher or trainee" for the purposes of exempt individuals is anyone in J or Q status who is not a student.
    – user102008
    May 5, 2015 at 5:16

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