Below, you'll find information about your rights in the U.S. as an Exchange Visitor, taxes, and SEVIS regulations.
In addition to the information below, please also review our separate Social Security page.
All InterExchange Work & Travel USA students are covered by basic minimum wage laws and overtime as it applies from state to state. As of July 24, 2009 the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) minimum wage was set at $7.25 per hour. Where state law requires a higher minimum wage, the higher standard applies. If housing or food is included in a job offer, then the cost of room and board is considered part of the minimum wage. Employers try to keep costs for housing and/or food as low as possible. Paying a student for the season or a set wage for a week is permitted as long as they adhere to minimum wage laws.
If you work over 40 hours per week you may sometimes be paid extra wages. Some states have overtime wages and some do not. Please ask your employer if you have any questions regarding overtime pay. If you have a problem with an employer because of underpaid or unpaid wages, or unfair termination of employment, please call InterExchange and we will help put you in contact with the Department of Labor for the state you are living in. The Department of Labor in your state will instruct you how to file a claim against your employer. InterExchange will provide you with assistance and/or any letters you may need for completing a claim form.
Important Pamphlet: For Certain Employment or Education-Based Nonimmigrants (Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Act). This pamphlet informs you of your rights as a nonimmigrant visa holder. The U.S. government created this pamphlet at the prompting of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (Public Law 110-457), which reaffirms and strengthens the U.S. government's commitment to fight human trafficking and labor abuses in all their forms.
Among other protections, you have the right to:
- Be treated and paid fairly
- Not be held in a job against your will
- Keep your passport and other identification documents in your possession
- Report abuse without retaliation
- Request help from unions, immigrant, and labor rights groups and other groups
- Seek justice in U.S. courts
Taxes for Work & Travel USA Participants
U.S. law requires that you pay federal, state, and local taxes. Generally, your employer will deduct money from your paycheck every pay period. As an income-earning individual, you will be taxed on income from salaries, wages, and tips. Your employer will submit the amount withheld directly to the federal government. Deductions for state and local taxes will vary. Some states do not have a personal income tax; others may tax income as much as 8%. Similarly, local taxes will vary but will be significantly less. If no taxes are withheld from your pay, please contact InterExchange.
You do pay:
- Federal income tax
- State income tax
- Local or city income tax
You do not pay:
- Social Security (S.S.)
- Medicare tax (FICA)
- Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA)
If you see deductions that say FICA, FUTA, S.S. or Social Security, please notify your employer promptly. If your employer is unable to issue a refund, contact the Internal Revenue Service Center and request IRS Form 843 Claim for Refund and Request for Abatement. You will need to submit the completed IRS forms to the Internal Revenue Service Center. Please note: some states may deduct state unemployment taxes, which you are required to pay.
Form W-4 and what you should pay
For tax purposes, you are required to fill out a W-4 Employee Withholding Allowance Certificate as soon as you start working. Your employer will give you a W-4 Form. It is your responsibility to complete and submit the W-4 Form to your employer. Based on the information you provide on the W-4 Form, your employer will calculate the amount of federal, state, and local taxes to be withheld from your paycheck.
Note: You will only be paying income taxes. You are not required to pay Social Security taxes, Medicare, or unemployment tax. If your employer has withheld these taxes from your paycheck, please advise him or her of the mistake and request a refund. To verify that the proper taxes are being withheld from your paycheck, you should review your pay stub (the wage details that come with your check).
How to fill out your W-4 Form:
Your employer may tell you to follow the instructions printed on the form, but this is not correct. The instructions on the W-4 Form are for U.S. residents; they are not for you. Please follow the instructions below.
- Mark or check Single on line 3, even if you are married.
- Claim "1" on line 5. If you are a resident of Canada, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, or a U.S. national, please visit the IRS website for instructions.
- Write "NRA" or Non-Resident Alien on line 6
- Do not claim Exempt on line 7. Line 7 should be left blank.
You are not exempt just because you are a student in your home country or because you make less than a certain amount of money. Please do not claim exempt.
As an Exchange Visitor on a J-1 Visa, you are considered a non-resident alien for tax purposes. Depending on how long you work and how much money you earn, you may be eligible for a refund of much of the taxes you paid. You should give your employer a self-addressed envelope with your home country address so that he or she can mail you your tax forms later. Be sure to file a tax return to get your money back! InterExchange staff are not tax professionals. If you have tax questions, please consult a tax professional.
W-2 Information Update
At the beginning of the year, your employer will send you a W-2 Form (your employer is required by law to mail your W-2 to you by February 15). Please give your employer your home country address. If you don't, your employer will not be able to send you the necessary forms to file for your tax return. You will need the W-2 form to file your tax return and receive any refunds due.
Before leaving your job, give your employer a self-addressed envelope so that he or she can mail you your W-2. This form summarizes your earnings and taxes withheld from you the previous year. A W-2 usually has four copies: federal copy, state copy, local/city copy, and employee copy.
Note: Students who participate in the winter program will receive two W-2 Forms: one in February while you are working in the U.S. (for your work from the end of the previous year), and one in February the following year (for your work at the beginning of the current year). You will need to file taxes for each year during which you worked in the United States.
How to File Your Taxes and 1040NR-EZ
Upon receiving your W-2 Form, you will fill out a 1040NR-EZ (Non-Resident Aliens with No Dependents) tax form. You can obtain this form at the United States Embassy in your home country or on the IRS website. Once you have completed the form, you can find the correct mailing address on the 1040NR-EZ instructions.
When you request the 1040NR-EZ Form, make sure to ask for the instructions pamphlet. To avoid any mistakes, follow the instructions carefully. If you overpaid the government, they will issue you a check. However, if you did not pay enough taxes, you must pay the government the amount you still owe. Your tax paperwork must be received by the IRS on or before April 15 of the year following the wage-earning year. Please look at the sample 1040NR-EZ Form. There are separate forms for state and local taxes. You must request these state and local forms from your employer. They are not available at the embassy. The U.S. government agency that collects taxes is the Internal Revenue Service. You can get forms, instructions and information from their website.
SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) keeps track of all InterExchange Work & Travel USA students while they are in the U.S. It tells the government where you live, where you work, and your legal status on the Work & Travel USA program. All students must register within 10 days of arriving in the U.S. and every 30 days thereafter. You must notify InterExchange if you change your housing address or your job within 10 days of any change.
To enter or update your address/or job information in SEVIS, go to www.InterExchange.org/sevis. If you do not have access to the Internet, please call our free number, 1.800.621.1202, or email us at email@example.com.
Your U.S. address must be different from your employment address. If you live on your job site, then you must differentiate your U.S. address with a room/suite number or employee housing.
Home/Physical Address in the USA
Street Address (no P.O. Boxes): 123 Main St.
Hotel/Dorm Room Number: Employee Housing
Site of Activity (Employment Address)
Street Address (no P.O. Boxes): 123 Main St.
Example for registering a U.S. address at a hotel/motel/hostel:
Home/Physical Address in the USA
Street Address (no P.O. Boxes): Hotel Pennsylvania
Hotel/Dorm Room Number: 701 W. 34th St., Room 123
Note: Changes in home or work address must be approved by InterExchange. All job changes must be approved by InterExchange prior to starting work at a new job.
If you do not register in SEVIS immediately upon arrival at your job site, it may delay your Social Security application and/or prevent you from receiving a Social Security card.