Immigration Law Glossary

This Immigration glossary will help you understand the legal terms and phrases which are relevant to visas, citizenship, and other areas of Immigration law.

Immigration Law Glossary

This Immigration glossary will help you understand the legal terms and phrases which are relevant to visas, citizenship, and other areas of Immigration law.

Immigration Glossary - Letter A

Accompanying: A visa that allows a family member of a US visa holder to accompany the holder to the US. It is typically limited to spouse and children.

Acquired Citizenship: A type of citizenship granted to children who are born overseas to two US citizen parents.

Adjudicate: To make a decision on a legal issue or dispute — for example, to approve or deny a visa petition.

Adjustment of Status: The process of applying for permanent residence from inside the US, as opposed to applying for permanent residence through consular processing overseas. An applicant for adjustment of status must possess a certain legal immigration status (such as H-1B employment) in order to apply for adjustment to permanent resident status.

Admissibility: Eligibility to enter the US. If you are not among certain classes of people classified as “inadmissible”, you will be allowed to enter the US with the appropriate visa.

Alien Registration Number: Also known as an A-number. This is an identifying number that the USCIS assigns to anyone who applies for a visa or immigration status for the first time. This number is unique to the applicant and stays the same for life.

Admit-until Date: The date that your US immigration status will expire. This date appears on your I-94 arrival/departure record.

Adopted Child: For immigration purposes, an “adopted child” means an unmarried child under the age of 21, who was adopted before the age of 16, and who has lived with the adopting parent(s) for two years or more in legal custody.

Advance Parole: Advance parole in advance permission to re-enter the US after travelling abroad. Without advance parole, you would need to obtain a new US visa to re-enter the US. People with pending permanent residence petitions can use aForm 1-131 to apply for advance parole.

Affidavit: An affidavit is a sworn written statement that is often (but not always) signed and witnessed by a notary public. You can be prosecuted for knowingly making a false statement on an affidavit.

Affidavit of Support: An affidavit of support is a legal document in which one person guarantees the financial support of an immigrant while the immigrant is in the US. The guarantor may be required to reimburse the US government if the immigrant utilizes any public assistance while in the US.

Agricultural Worker: An alien holding an immigration status that allows him to perform agricultural labor in the US for a temporary period.

Alien: Anyone who is in the US but is not a US citizen. “Aliens” are divided into two classes — “resident aliens” and “nonresident aliens”. The term “resident alien” refers to lawful permanent residents and certain other aliens who spend large amounts of time in the US, while the term “nonresident alien” refers to all other aliens.

Amerasian (Vietnam): For immigration purposes, a Vietnamese Amerasian is someone who is eligible for an immigrant visa because they were born in Vietnam between January 1, 1962, and January 1, 1976, if their biological father was a US citizen. Certain family members of an Amerasian may immigrate as well.

Amerasian Act: The law that created an immigration category for certain Amerasian children who were born in Cambodia, Korea, Laos, Thailand, or Vietnam between certain dates whose biological fathers were US citizens.

Appeal: After an unfavorable official decision or ruling (such as the denial of a visa petition), an appeal is a request to a higher authority to overturn the decision. Examples of appeal authorities that can be used in certain circumstances include the USCIS Administrative Appeals Office and the Board of Immigration Appeals. Other decisions can’t be formally appealed, but can be referred back to the issuing office for reconsideration.

Applicant (for a visa): A citizen of a foreign country to applies for a US visa. Applicants for certain types of visas, such as an immigration visa based on marriage to a US citizen, are also referred to as “beneficiaries.”

Appointment Package: The appointment package is a letter with certain documentation that notifies an immigrant visa applicant of the date of their visa interview. The package includes certain form that the applicant must complete before the interview.

Approval Notice: Also known as Form I-797 Notice of Action. an approval notice is an official communication from the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) immigration form, notifying an alien that his application for a certain immigration benefit has been approved.

Arrival-Departure Card: Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record. A document that you will receive during your immigration inspection at your port of entry to the US. The arrival-departure card notifies you of your immigrant classification and your authorized period of stay. Keep it stapled to your passport.

Asylum: An immigration benefit granted to aliens who are in the US or at a port of entry (an international airport, for example) and who are afraid to return their home country for fear of persecution.

Asylee: Someone who has been granted asylum (see above). An asylee can apply for permanent residence after one year of p-resence in the US.

Automatic Visa Revalidation: An immigration benefit that allows an alien to leave the US for a short trip to Canada, Mexico or certain designated Carribean islands, and to re-enter the US even though their US visa has expired. This process saves the alien from having to apply for a new US visa in the country of travel.

Amnesty: A pardon that is offered under certain circumstances for certain immigration offenses, such as entering the US illegally.

Anchor Babies: A child who is born in the US but whose parents are not US citizens. Since the child was born in the US, he is automatically a US citizen, and his citizenship can provide a legal basis that might allow other family members to remain in the US or eventually become US citizens.

Immigration Glossary - Letter B

Beneficiary: An alien for whom an immigration benefit is requested. In some cases the alien has applied for benefits himself, while in other cases a sponsor, such as a family member or employer, has filed a petition on behalf of the alien. In many cases the immigration benefit will also apply to the alien’s immediate family, in which case they are considered secondary beneficiaries.

Biometrics: Physical attributes that are used to identify people, such as fingerprints. In many cases you must provide biometrics to be granted an immigration benefit.

Birthright Citizenship: The US Constitution provides that anyone born in the US is automatically a US citizen at the moment of birth. A person who holds this status is said to hold birthright citizenship.

Border Crosser: A lawful permanent resident of the US who returns to the US after less than six months in Canada or Mexico; a nonresident alien who re-enters the US after spending less than six months in Canada; or a nonresident alien who re-enters the US after spending no more than 72 hours in Mexico.

Brain Drain: Brain drain occurs when a country loses large portions of highly educated professionals due to immigration to other countries. Many developing countries face this problem.

Business Nonimmigrant: Someone who comes to the US temporarily for business purposes, but who does not compete in the US labor market or receive a salary from any US company. An example would be an alien who comes to the US to do business on behalf of a company established in his home country.

B-Visa: A visa that is issued for a short visit to the US for business (the B-1 visa) or tourism (the B-2 visa). A B-1/B-2 visa can be issued that allows the holder to come to the US for both business and pleasure.

Immigration Glossary - Letter C

Cancellation of Removal: “Removal” is another word for deportation, and cancellation of removal means you are taken out of removal proceedings and granted lawful permanent residence. This immigration benefit can be granted by an immigration judge..

Canceled Without Prejudice: Cancellation without prejudice is a stamp that a US embassy or consulate might place in your passport if there was a mistake in your visa or a duplicate visa was issued. It will not be held against you if you apply for another visa or seek to enter the US

Case Number: Also known as a receipt number. A unique number that is issued by the USCIS to identify your individual application. If you are applying for more than one immigration benefit, you will have more than one case number.

Certificate of Citizenship: A Certificate of Citizenship is issued to were born overseas but are US citizens nevertheless. This includes naturalized citizens (people who became citizens after they were born() and people who became US citizens at birth because both of their parents were US citizens.

Certification of Naturalization: An official document that serves as proof of the holder’s US citizenship status. It is issued to people who gained citizenship at some time after their birth (“naturalized” citizens).

Citizenship: The status of being a national of a particular country. In the US you can obtain citizenship by being born in the US, by being born abroad to two US citizen parents, and by naturalization.

Citizenship Test: A test that is administered to applicants for US citizenship. Although you must pass this test to be granted US citizenship, most people do not consider it to be particularly difficult to pass.You must prove that you can speak, read, and write basic English, and you must demonstrate rudimentary knowledge of US history and the US political system.

Civil Surgeon: A physician (doctor) practicing in the US who is licensed by the USCIS to perform medical exams that are required to obtain certain immigration benefits such as lawful permanent residence. The civil surgeon will report the results of these exams to the USCIS.

Conditional Residence: A probationary permanent resident status that is granted to certain applicants for lawful permanent residence. Conditional residence can be upgraded to unconditional residence after two years through an application and an immigration interview.

The most prominent example of applicants who are granted such an immigration status is someone who obtained permanent residence based on marriage to a US citizen, if the marriage was less than two years old at the time the application for permanent residence was approved.

Continuous Residence: The continuous period of US residence that a US permanent resident must accumulate in order to apply for US citizenship. Continuity is broken if you spend more than six months outside of the US. For most permanent residents, five years of continuous residence is required to apply for US citizenship, although in some cases the period is as low as three years.

Consular Electronic Application Center: An online tool that is used to file US visa applications from overseas. You can also use it to pay visa fees and to keep up to date on the status of your application.

Consular Processing: The process used to file for lawful permanent residence from outside the US. This is done at a US embassy or consulate overseas (typically. The facility nearest your home). The equivalent procedure if you are located inside the US is called adjustment of status.

Consulate: A diplomatic facility located abroad that is used for, among other purposes, to grant US immigration benefits to non-US citizens. Such a facility is known as an embassy if it is located in a country’s capital city, and a consulate otherwise.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP): The U.S. government agency that is responsible for enforcing customs and immigration laws. You have dealt with the CBP if, for example, you have ever presented your passport an a US immigration checkpoint (in an international airport, for example).

Immigration Glossary - Letter D

Date for Filing: A date, listed in the online visa bulletin, by which certain people who seek permanent residence can file their application even if their final action date has not yet arrived.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA): An immigration program, initiated in 2012, that allows certain people who entered the US illegally as children to live in the US without fear of being removed. The media refers to such people as “Dreamers”, and the Trump Administration’s efforts to phase out the DACA program has been very controversial.

Denial: An official rejection of an application for a particular immigration benefit.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS): The U.S. government department that is responsible for domestic security. The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for most immigration-related functions. The USCIS, for example, is a subdivision of the Department of Homeland Security.

Department of Justice (DOJ): The Department of Justice is the U.S. government agency that is responsible for law enforcement and criminal prosecutions under federal law. The Department of Justice, for example, administers the nation’s immigration courts.

Department of State (DOS): The Department of State is the U.S. government agency that is responsible for diplomacy and foreign affairs. Known colloquially as the State Department, it administers US embassies and consulates overseas.

Dependants: Immediate relatives of someone who has been granted certain types of US visas and immigration statuses. Dependants are typically granted visas with the same duration as that of the principal visa holder. An example would be the wife and children of someone who was granted a US employment visa.

Deportation: Also known as removal. Legally removing an alien from the US in response to an order issued by an immigration court. US immigration law specifies many grounds for deportation, all of which involve the violation of AUS immigration law.

Diplomats and Consular Personnel: People who work overseas for an embassy or consulate under a diplomatic permit or carrying diplomatic passports.

Derivative Immigration Status: A person hold derivative immigration status if their immigration status depend son the immigration status of their spouse or parent. The child of someone who comes to the US on an employment visa, for example, is eligible to live i the US as long as the employment visa holder. In this case, the child may be referred to as a “derivative beneficiary.”

Discretion: Discretion means the right to use one’s own judgment to make a decision. In law, this means that the decision maker is not bound by strict legal principles. Administrative law judges, for example, enjoy a certain degree of discretion when deciding a case, although there are certain legal limits that they are required to observe.

Diversity Visa Program: Also known as the visa lottery. Under the Diversity Visa Program (DV Program), the State Department issues up to 50,000 permanent resident visas per year are provided to a random selection of qualified applicants. The DV Program is available to people from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the US.

Domicile: “Domicile” refers to your address and country of residence, but not necessarily your country of citizenship. To be domiciled in a particular place, it must be your habitual place of residence that you do not intend to leave in the foreseeable future. A Mexican citizen who is a permanent residence of the US, for example, might be domiciled in Arizona.

Dual Intent: The status of holding a nonimmigrant visa while intending to adjust your status to permanent resident without leaving the US. This is permitted for some immigration statuses such as H-1B and L-1, but is not permitted for others such as B1/B2.

Duplicate: An exact copy (in most cases a photocopy is acceptable). Many immigration forms must be submitted in duplicate.

Duration of Status (D/S): A stamp on your I-94 record that allows for an indefinite stay in the US as long as you maintain your current immigration status. Those admitted on student visas, for example, are permitted to remain in the US until their studies are complete.

If you are admitted as a student on duration of status terms, for example, your status will expire if you fail to register for next semester’s classes. On the other hand, you can remain in the US for more than one degree (a bachelor’s degree followed by a master’s degree, for example) as long as your studies are uninterrupted.

Immigration Glossary - Letter E

Electronic System for Travel Authorization: An online tool under the the Visa Waiver Program that allows you to obtain advance permission to enter the USation to come to the United States for business or pleasure for up to 90 days.

Embassy: A diplomatic office located in the capital city of a foreign country. Embassies offer many immigration services. Equivalent offices located in other cities in the country are known as consulates.

Employer Sanctions: A provision of US immigration law that forbids employees to hire, recruit or refer aliens who they know lack work authorization in the US. Both civil and criminal penalties are possible.

Employment Authorization: The right to work as an employee in the US. Lawful permanent residents do not need special employment authorization because the right to work is inherent in their immigration status, but many other aliens do need special work authorization. If you receive work authorization you might be allowed to work for only one employer or you might be allowed to work for any employer.

Employment-based immigration: Admission to the US for permanent residence on the basis of a job offer from a US employer, superior occupational skills and talents, or investment in a US business.

Employment Green Card: Permanent residence that is gained through employment-based immigration to the US.

Exclusion: Denial of an alien’s entry to the US because the alien is inadmissible under US immigration law. Excluding an alien means that the alien will be removed (deported) from the US.

Expedite: To speed up a process. If your visa processing is expedited, for example, you will receive an approval or denial faster than you otherwise would have.

Expedited Removal: To speed up removal (deportation) proceedings against an alien without allowing access to an immigration judge. Although expedited removal occurs most frequently when someone enters the US illegally, it can occur during other circumstances as well, such as in response to presenting a counterfeit passport to an immigration official at a port of entry.

Expire: To become invalid or to end. Most visas include a definite expiration date. Note that the expiration date for your visa and the expiration of your immigration status are two different matters. Think of your visa is a key that allows you entry into the US — when it expires you can no longer enter the US on that visa.

The expiration of your immigration status, however, might continue for long after your visa has expired. If your period of stay has not expired, you are still in legal immigration status but cannot leave the US and return without making special arrangements.

Immigration Glossary - Letter F

Family-based immigration: An immigration category in which a US citizen can sponsor a family member for imigration to the US. A US citizen, for example, can sponsor his or her spouse, children or siblings for immigration. Permanent residents can also sponsor certain family members. Some of these relatives must wait until their visa becomes current before they can immigrate, but the spouse of a US citizen does not have to wait.

Family Preference Immigrant: Certain aliens who are eligible for lawful permanent residence because of a family relationship with a US citizen or lawful permanent resident. This category excludes the spouse, parent or unmarried minor child of a U.S. citizen, who receive greater preference that family preference immigrants (they don’t have to wait as long to immigrate).

Field Office: A regional office of the USCIS office with jurisdiction over a certain district. Over 200 such offices exist in the US.

Fiance(e) Visa: A visa that allows an alien to enter the US to marry a US citizen fiancé(e). Once inside the US, the alien has 90 days to either marry the US citizen or leave the US. If a marriage takes place, the alien can adjust status to lawful permanent resident.

Filing Fee: The fee that you must pay to submit certain immigraton petitions. Some of these petitions can be filed free of charge, while the most expensive petitions require a filing fee of over $1,000. In some cases certain fees can be waived due to financial hardship.

Final Action Date: Also known as the cut-off date. For some permanent residence petitions, you will be assigned a priority date and you must wait until your priority date is prior to the final action date before you will be allowed to file your immigration. This system is designed to deal with large backlogs.

Foreign National: Also known as an “alien.” Anyone who is not a U.S. citizen. (also called an “alien”).

Foreign-born: Someone who lives in the US but was born abroad. Some of these people are US citizens and some are not.

Foreign Students: Students who are not US citizens, normally admitted under a student visa (F-visa).

F-Visa: The F-1 visa is a visa that allows you to study in the US and to remain until you complete your course of study, as long as you do not skip any semesters. The F-2 visa allows your dependents to accompany you to the US, and the F-3 visa allows Canadians and Mexicoan to commute to the US to study. On an F-1 visa, you are probably eligible for Optional Practical Training, which could allow you to remain in the US for a certain time after you complete your studies as long as you are working in a related field.

Immigration Glossary - Letter G

Green Card: Also known as a Permanent Residence Card, the green card is a card that is issued to people who have been granted lawful permanent residence of the US. This card proves your permanent residence status.

Immigration Glossary - Letter H

H-1B Visa: This visa is granted to people who have been sponsored by a US employer to work in the US for a temporary period, typically three years. AIt is a dual intent visa, meaning that if you qualify, you can adjust your status to lawful permanent resident without leaving the US.

Home Residence Requirement (HRR): The requirement, applied to J visa holders, that they return to their home country for two years after their J status expires before they can re-enter the US.

Immigration Glossary - Letter I

I-130 Petition for Alien Relative: A USCIS immigration for that is filed by a US citizen petitioner on behalf of their alien relative. In combination with other documentation, it is used to eventually obtain lawful permanent residence for the alien relative.

I-485 Application for Adjustment of Status: The USCIS form that is used by an alien living in the US to adjust their status to lawful permanent residence.

I-797 Notice of Action: The I-797 Notice of Action is a document that the USCIS will send to you in response for an application for immigration benefits. It will notify you whether your application has been approved or denied, to confirm that the USCIS received your fee payment, to request supplementary evidence, to schedule or reschedule an interview, or to schedule or reschedule an appointment.

I-94 Arrival/Departure Record: A document issued by US immigration authorities that keeps track of your arrivals and departures from the US. It can be used to prove that you entered the US legally and that your current immigration status is valid. It is best to keep this document with your passport, because its loss could cause you difficulty. You can check your I-94 travel history online on the US Customs and Border Protection website.

Illegal Alien: Also known as an undocumented immigrant. An alien who entered the US illegally or who has violated the terms of his immigration status (by overstaying his visa, for example).

Immediate Relative: A close relative of a US citizen, including spouse, unmarried children who are under 21, and parents of adult US citizens. Being an immediate relative of a US citizen confers certain immigration benefits.

Immigrate: To relocate permanently to another country. A tourist, for example, does not immigrate by entering the country for a temporary period.

Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments of 1986: Amendments to a US immigration statute that limits aliens who immigrate due to marriage to conditional permanent residence if they had been married less than two years at the time that their application to immigrate was approved. After two years they may have the condition removed by proving that the marriage is valid.

Immigrant: The term “immigrant” can refer to lawful permanent residents of the US or naturalized US citizens, or it can refer to any alien currently in the US, depending on the context. The first definition is more commonly used.

Immigrant Visa: A visa for an alien with the intention to live permanently in the US. The visa simply allows the alien to enter the US; it does not in itself permit the alien to remain indefinitely (although immigrant visas are typically accompanied by an immigration status that allows for permanent residence).

Immigration: The process of immigrating to the US (moving permanently to the US from another country).

Immigration Benefit: Any benefit granted to an alien that is related to immigration — a visa, a right to remain in the US for a definite or indefinite period, employment authorization, etc.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): The U.S. government agency with the responsibility to enforce US immigration laws. Like the USCIS, it is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS): The INS is no longer in existence. Roughly speaking, it could be referred to as the predecessor to the USCIS, although its responsibilities were considerably broader.

Immigration Categories: US immigration law creates six major immigration categories — immediate relatives, family preference, employment, green card lottery, asylum-based and refugees. Which category you are in is relevant to the rules for entering and remaining in the US and becoming a lawful permanent resident.

Immigration Law: The entire body of US law that is related to immigration, This includes statues, regulations, policies and court decisions.. Immigration law is an important area of legal practice.

Immigration and Nationality Act (INA): An immigraton statute that went into effect in 1965. It is most noted for its abolition of race and national origin as important criteria for immigration. This law established a preference for family members of US citizens and aliens with employment skills that are likely to benefit the US.

Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986: An immigration statute that is designed to prevent illegal immigration to the US and to legalize certain long-term residents of the US whose presence was illegal. It established penalties against employers who knowingly hired illegal aliens and provided for greater enforcement of immigration laws at US borders.

Immigration Act of 1990: A US immigration statute that went into effect in 1990. This statute increased certain numerical quotas that limited legal immigration to the US, changed the rules for naturalization, and reformed the grounds for removal and exclusion.

Immigration Judge: An in immigration judge is a licensed attorney who is appointed as a judge for the Executive Office for Immigration Review., a government department that hears immigration appeals and conducts deportation proceedings.

Immigration Status: Immigration status refers to the legal classification justifying your entry and presence in the US — student,k immediate relative of a US citizen, etc. Each status has its own rules. Your immigration status is different from your visa. Your visa is the legal “key” that you use to enter the US, while your immigration status is the justification for remaining in the US for a certain length of time.

Inadmissible: An alien is inadmissible if he fails to meet the legal conditions for admission to the US. Aliens who are found inadmissible may be denied entry to the US and placed in removal proceedings. In some cases the alien may be immediately deported. If an inadmissible alien applies for a US visa abroad, the visa will be denied.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS): The U.S. government agency that is responsible for tax collection. If you have been living in the US, you may be required to submit IRS tax returns in applications for certain types of immigration benefits.

Intracompany Transferee: An immigration status that allows you to work in the US if you have been working for an international company for a specified length of time and you have been transferred to the US office of that company or its subsidiary or affiliate. This immigration status is generally available only to managers and professionals.

Immigration Glossary - Letter J

J-Visa: A non-immigrant visa that can be granted to academics, student and people participating in cultural exchanges. Many J visas require you to return home for at least two years after your immigration status expires.Certain dependant family members can travel to the US on this visa as well.

Joint Sponsor: Immigration for permanent residence is generally permitted only for people who prove that they will not need to depend on government benefits to survive. To prove this, it is often necessary for the prospective immigrant to have a sponsor who will guarantee their financial support while they are in the US. In some cases it is possible to have another sponsor as well, and this person is known as a joint sponsor.

Jurisdiction: The are over which a particular government subdivision, including a court, has authority. This shere might be geographic (the state of Pennsylvania, for example) or conceptual (permanent residence applications, for example).

Immigration Glossary - Letter K

K-1 Visa: A fiancé(e) visa. This visa allows an alien who is engaged to marry a US citizen to enter the US. After entry they have 90 days to either marry their fiancé(e) or leave the US. If they marry they can apply for permanent residence and potentially gain this status without ever having to leave the US. A K-2 visa is available for the alien fiancé(e)’s dependants.

K-3 Visa: A K-3 visa allows the spouse of a US citizen to enter the US and adjust their status to permanent residence based on marriage to a US citizen. In most cases it is easier to simply apply for an immigrant visa from overseas rather than enter the US on a K-3 visa.

Immigration Glossary - Letter L

Labor Certification: A certification that acts as a precondition to allowing an alien to enter the US to work. Labor certification is designed to establish that the alien will not be taking any job away from a US worker and that his employment will not contribute to the lowering of wages in the US employment market. The prospective worker must obtain labor certification before a visa application can be submitted on his behalf.

Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR): A lawful permanent resident is someone who is not a US citizen but who has been granted the legal right to reside permanently in the US. Lawful permanent residents are issued “green cards.”

Legalized Aliens: Someone who accumulated unlawful presence in the US, either by coming across the border illegally or by overstaying their visa or otherwise violating the terms of their iimmigration status, whose presence was legalized under amnesty granted by the the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. provided amnesty to certain illegal immigrants. Qualifying for the amnesty requires that you have unlawfully resided in the US continuously since January 1, 1982, along with certain other requirements.

Lottery Admissions: Also known as the Diversity Visa Program. The admission of an alien to the US for lawful permanent residence based on a visa lottery. 55,000 people every year are admitted on this basis, and eligibility is restricted to people from countries whose nationals are underrepresented among immigrants to the US.

L-1 Visa: The L-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa by which international companies transfer personnel to the US from overseas. The L-1 visa is a dual intent visa, meaning that an alien who otherwise qualifies can apply for lawful permanent residence and can obtain this status without having to leave the US first.

Lockbox: A centralized filing address that the USCIS uses for applications for certain types of immigration benefits. At the lockbox your fees will be processed, and your application will be sorted and forwarded to the appropriate regional USCIS Service Center for processing. Lockboxes are located on Chicago, Dallas and Phoenix.

Immigration Glossary - Letter M

Maiden Name: Since women traditionally change their last name to their husband’s last name after marriage, a woman’s maiden name is her last name prior to her marriage. Many immigration applications will ask for your maiden name if you are a married female.

Marriage-Based Green Card: Lawful permanent residence based on marriage to a US citizen or permanent resident. Strictly speaking a “green card” is the physical card the proves this status, not the status itself.

Medical Waiver: The US classifies certain aliens as inadmissible to the US based on their suffering from certain medical conditions (a contagious disease, for example). A medical waiver is sometimes available to allow such people to enter the US despite their medical condition.

Migrant: The term “migrantA” can refer to someone who permanently or semi-permanently moves to (i) another place within his own country or (ii) another country. Immigration law is concerned with international migrants.

Migrant worker: A migrant who leaves his place of residence to seek employment somewhere else. In an immigration context, a migrant worker is someone who moves to another country to seek employment.

Motion to Reopen or Reconsider: A request to an immigration authority to reconsider an adverse decision on an application for immigration benefits. Even if there is no process for appealing the decision to a higher authority, it is sometimes possible to ask the same authority who rejected the application to reconsider it. Such motions are often sent to the USCIS.

M-1 Visa: A student visa that is used primarily for training at a technical school or vocational school, rather than a university. Not to be confused with the F-1 visa, which is for university students.

Immigration Glossary - Letter N

National Qualified Representative Program: The National Qualified Representative Program provides Qualified Representatives to aliens in immigration proceedings who do not have lawyers, who are in detention and who are designated as mentally incompetent by an Immigration Judge.

The purpose of a Qualified Representative is to provide legal representation to aliens who are in detention, in immigraiton proceedings, and are not capable of representing themselves due to mental incompetence (as determined by an immigration judge).

Qualified Representatives are not lawyers, but they must possess some knowledge of immigration law (law students are often selected, for example).

National Visa Center: An institution under the authority of the State Department, that processes visa applications filed from overseas, and then sends permanent resident application packages to US embassies and consulates throughout the world, depending on the location of the applicant.

Nationality: Your country of citizenship, regardless of whether you obtained your citizenship through birth or by naturalization at some later time. You might see the term “nationality” used on an immigration form.

Native: A native is someone living in the US who is a US citizen and who (i) was born in a US state, in the District of Columbia or in US Insular Areas (Guam or Puerto Rico, for example) or (ii) was born overseas to at least one parent who was a US citizen at the time of his birth.

Naturalized citizen: A US citizen who was not born a US citizen but who became a US citizen at some later time by meeting certain requirements and by being sworn in as a U.S. citizen.

Naturalization: Naturalization refers to the process of granting US citizenship to someone at any time after their birth, regardless of the basis upon which this citizenship was obtained. People who were US citizens at birth (by being born in the US, for example, or by being born overseas to two US citizen parents) are not considered to be naturalized citizens.

Naturalization requires a certain length of residency, as well as a basic knowledge of the English language and US history and politics. It also requires you to file a form and take the Oath of Allegiance.

Naturalization Application: An application filed y a lawful permanent resident to become a citizen of the US. (Form N-400). This application must be filed with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Naturalized Citizen: A US citizen who was not a citizen at birth, but who obtained citizenship later through the naturalization process. There are many different paths to naturalization.

Nonimmigrant: An alien who comes to the US for a temporary period. Tourists, for example, are considered nonimmigrants, as are aliens who come to the US on an H-1B visa to work for a limited period. Some immigration status, such as H-1B, allow for “dual intent”, which means that the alien can come to the US on a nonimmigrant visa with the ultimate intention of obtaining permanent residence without returning to their home country.

Nonresident Alien: An alien who is not a US citizen or lawful permanent resident, and who has not accumulated “substantial presence” in the US. The term nonresident alien is most often used by the Internal Revenue Service to classify people for tax purposes (nonresident aliens are not taxed on their worldwide income, only on US-source income. It is possible to adjust status from nonresident alien to resident alien.

North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA): An international treaty that created a special economic zone encompassing the US, Canada and Mexico. As a consequence of this treaty, the TN visa was created to allow certain professionals who are citizens of NAFTA countries to enter the US temporarily to conduct business activities.

A document that is notarized has been stamped by a licensed notary public, whose job is to confirm the identity of the person who signs the document. Affidavits, for example, must typically be notarized. In the US, a notary does not ordinarily confirm the truth of the statements contained in the document, only the identity of the person who signed it.

Nuclear family: The term ‘nuclear family’ refers to spouses and children only. When other relatives such as grandparents and grandchildren are included, the appropriate term is “extended family.”

Immigration Glossary - Letter O

Oath of Allegiance: When a person becomes a naturalized US citizen they must attend t ceremony in which they swear loyalty to the US and to the Constitution. This is known as the Oath of Allegiance. Although you must also renounces your allegiance to any other country, in practice, the US frequently allows a person to hold dual citizenship.

O-Visa: A nonimmigrant visa that is granted to people with unusual talent in science, art, education, business or athletics.

Optional Practical Training (OPT): Students holding F-1 visas are allowed to obtain US employment in their fields either during or after their duration of study. If the student opts to complete OPT after they graduate, the duration of OPT is typically one year, and no new visa is required. Students from STEM fields can sometimes extend beyond one year and may even move on to H-1B or some other nonimmigrant visa status and eventiually obtain permanent residence without leaving the US.

Overstay: Remaining in the US after your immigration status expires and thereby accumulating unlawful presence in the US. The date of expiration of your immigration status appears on your I-94 Arrival/Departure Record. Remember — the expiration date of your immigration status and the expiration date of your visa are two different matters — it is possible to remain in the US after your visa expires and still be in legal immigration status. Overstaying can result in serious immigration consequences, including exclusion from the US for up to 10 years.

Immigration Glossary - Letter P

Parole: Permission to enter or remain in the US. for a temporary period despite amn immigration problem that would otherwise exclude this possibility This is useful in two ways: first, it can permit someone who is inadmissible to the US to remain temporarily despite their inadmissibility (for medical treatment, for example)and (ii) it can permit someone to go abroad and return even on an expired visa (which would ordinarily prevent them from returning without a new visa).

Panel Physician: A panel physician is the equivalent of a civil surgeon in the US. He or she is a doctor who is appointed and trained by a US embassy or consulate to administer medical exams incident to the issuance of immigration visas. The doctor will likely be a citizen of the country where the embassy or consulate is located.

Parole in Place: Parole in place allows family members of a US military personnel to remain in the US even though they entered the US illegally. It is even possible for such people to eventually obtain lawful permanent residence without leaving the US first.

Per Country Limit: A limit on the number of family-based and employment-based immigration visas that can be issued each year, based on the country of citizenship of the beneficiary. The USCIS cannot award more than seven percent of all visas to any one country in any single year.

Permanent Resident: Also known as “lawful permanent resident.” A permanent resident is anyone who is not a US citizen who nevertheless lives in the US permanently and has the right to remain indefinitely.

Petition: For immigration purposes, a petition is an application that requests an immigration benefit in favor of the applicant or a related beneficiary of te petition (the applicant’s spouse or prospective employee, for example).

Petitioner: For immigration purposes, a petitioner is someone who files a petition for immigrtion benefits, either on their own behalf or on behalf of a beneficiary.

Physical Presence: Your physical presence is the length of time that you were actually present in the US. If you were absent from the US, even on a vacation and in valid US immigration status, you are not considered physically present. To become a naturalized US citizen, a lawful permanent resident must reside in the US for three or five years (depending on which immigration status permanent residence is based on), and you must be physically present in the US for at least 50 percent of that time.

Physical Address: The place where you actually live (it cannot be a P.O. box, for example).

Province: A politically defined region within a country. In Canada, for example, Quebec is a province. In the US the term “state” is used on the same way that many countries use the term “province.”

Port of Entry: A location through which people can legally enter the US. Although any [lace can theoretically be designated a port of entry, in actual practice ports of entry are limited. An international airport is an example of a port of entry. You can recognize a port of entry by the fact that you must present a passport or other travel document to pass through it.

Poverty Guidelines: The poverty guidelines are a set of annual dollar income values values that are correlated with household size and state of residence. If your income falls below the relevant standard, you are considered to live in poverty. The poverty guidelines become relevant to immigration, for example, when a prospective immigrant seeks a sponsor to guarantee that he will not need to rely on government benefits to meet his financial needs while he is in the US.
If the prospective sponsor’s annual income falls below a certain level defined by the poverty guidelines, he is ineligible to sponsor you. Poverty guidelines are also used to determine whether someone is eligible to have their fee waived when they apply for certain immigration benefits.

Priority Date: The date that USCIS receives your I-130 Petition for Alien Relative. If your grounds for permanent resident are based on an immigration category that includes an annual numerical quota, the priority date sets your place in line and determines how long you will have to wait before permanent residence is granted. Some people wait a decade or more.

Processing Time: The time it takes immigration authorities to process your application for immigration benefits. Depending on what types of benefit you are applying for and how many people have applied for you, processing time could range from a few days to 10 years or more. In some cases you can check approximate processing time online.

Public Assistance: Any form of lifestyle financial benefit granted by the state or federal government, whether cash or non-cash. This might include welfare payments, food stamps, subsidies and similar benefits. In some cases you can be denied immigration benefits if you are use these benefits and are therefore considered a “public charge” or are considered likely to become a public charge.

Public Charge Rule: The US immigration rule that an alien will not be admitted for lawful permanent residence if he is likely to become a “public charge” — in other words, he is likely to rely on government benefits such as food stamps to meet his financial needs. One of the ways that the public charge barrier can be overcome is by finding a sponsor who will guarantee financial support.

Immigration Glossary - Letter R

Receipt Number: Also called a case number. A designation that the USCIS assigns to a particular request for immigration benefits. It is designed to help the USCIS keep track of a large volume of cases. A receipt number starts off with three letters followed by a series of numbers.

Record of Proceedings: An official file that includes information and documentation concerning an alien’s case.

Reentry Permit: Lawful permanent residents should notify the Department of Homeland Security if they plan to leave the US for a continuous period of more than one year., so that they can issue a re-entry permit A re-entry permit allows a lawful permanent resident to re-enter the US after an absence of more than one year but less than two years. Attempting to rte-enter the US without a re-entry permit after more than one year of absence could result in denial of entry and revocation of lawful permanent resident status.

Refugee: For US immigrastion law purposes, a refugee is someone who jas left his home country and who is unable or unwilling to return because of a credible fear of persecution in his home country.

Refugee Authorized Admissions: The maximum number of refugees that the US government allows entry to the US in any given year. In 2019 this number was 30,000.

Regulation: A rule, with the binding force of law, that is imposed by a government bureau (such as the USCIS) with authority over the subject matter that the rule concerns. Compare this with a statute, which is a law that must be passed by a legislature. Regulations often clarify the application of a statute by providing further detail.

Reject: To refuse to accept an application for immigraiton benefits because the application is incomplete. This does not necessarily mean the application will be denied, because the applicant will typically be given an opportunity to complete the application by a certain deadline.

Remand: An order by an appeals court or tribunal to send a case back down to the lower court or tribunal that originally decided the case, to take an action determined by the appeals court or tribunal.

Removal: Also called deportation. Removal occurs when an alien who is found inadmissible t the US is forcibly removed from the country. It might mean, for example, putting that person on a plane headed back to his home country.

Resettlement: The permanent relocation of a refugee in the US. This means that the refugee has been granted lawful permanent residence in the US.

Residence: Your residence is where you live at any given time.Note that your residence may or may not be the same as your domicile. For your residence to also be your domicile, you must intend to remain at your residence for the foreseeable future.

Resident Alien: Also known as permanent resident or lawful permanent resident. An alien who has been granted lawful permanent residence in the US.

Some immigration benefits require a waiting time due to long backlogs (many people have applied before you) and annual quotas. “Retrogression” occurs when your place in line for an immigration benefit goes backwards, causing you to have to wait longer. This happens occasionally.

Returning Resident Visa (SB-1): A visa that is sometimes granted to lawful permanent residents who seek to re-enter the US without having obtained a re-entry permit prior to their departure, or whose green card or re-entry permit has expired. It is generally granted only to aliens who remained abroad past the relevant deadline for reasons outside their control.

Request for Evidence (RFE): A document sent by the USCIS to an applicant for immigration benefits, requesting additional evidence to accompany the application. It includes a deadline, and if the evidence is not provided by the deadline, the application will be considered abandoned. It is not at all unusual to receive at least one RFE.

Revoke: To withdraw an immigration benefit after it has already been granted. The citizenship of a naturalized citizen might be revoked, for example, if they are discovered to have lied on their citizenship application.

Immigration Glossary - Letter S

Safe Haven: Safe haven is a temporary right to reside in the US that is granted to refugees or other aliens who cannot return safely to their country of origin.

SB-1 Visa: Lawful permanent resident status can be revoked if the resident remains abroad after too long of a time. In some cases a lawful permanent resident will seek to return to the US after more than a year overseas, for example. If they neglected to apply for a re-entry permit before leaving the US, they will ordinarily be denied re-entry to the US.

The same rule applies if they obtain a reentry permit but attempt to re-enter after its expiration date. A lawful permanent resident may also be denied re-entry if their green card has expired. Applying for and receiving an SB-1 visa while overseas is a way of re-entering the US despite these restrictions.

Service Center: A local office of the USCIS; over 200 are scattered throughout the US. USCIS Service Centers handle a wide variety of services, including processing applications for immigration benefits.

Special Agricultural Workers: Special Agricultural Workers were qualified agricultural workers who were able to adjust their status to lawful permanent resident.under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Over 350,000 people were able to become lawful permanent resident this way.

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status: An immigration status that allows certain children whose presence in the US is illegal to apply for lawful permanent residence. This program is humanitarian in nature, and it is designed to benefit children who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by one or both parents.

Specialty Occupation: An occupation that requires at least a bachelor’s or its equivalent in a particular specialized field. H-1B visas are generally limited to aliens who are in specialty occupations, and the definition of “specialty” has been growing narrower every year.

Sponsor: A person who assumes responsibility for an alien while they are in the US. An employer might sponsor an alien employee, for example, or a US citizen or permanent resident might sponsor his alien spouse.

Spousal Visa: A visa that allows the spouse of a US citizen or permanent resident to enter the US for the purpose of becoming a lawful permanent residence based on the marriage. Same-sex marriages were recently included within the scope of this visa.

Stamp: A mark placed on your passport indicating your receipt of a particular immigration benefit, typically a visa.

Stateless: The status of having no citizenship in any nation.

Stowaway: Someone who sneaks onto a vessel (typically a plane or a ship) headed for the US without the right to enter the US. A stowaway is typically not entitled to an immigration hearing and may be immediately deported to the vessel’s point of origin by the transportation carrier.

STEM: STEM refers to a broad category of academic fields of study — specifically, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. People with expertise in STEM subjects sometimes find it easier than others to immigrate to the US.

Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS): SEVIS is an online system used by the Department of Homeland Security to monitor and keep track of foreign students as well as international academic and exchange programs administered by US educational institutions.

Student Visa: A US visa that allows an alien student to study in the US. The F-1 visa is the most prominent type of student visa. Students are typically allowed to remain in the US until they graduate from their last course of study, and sometimes longer if they work in their field of study after they graduate.

Supporting Documents: Applications for immigration benefits typically require an application form as well as certain supporting documents such as (depending on the type of immigration benefit sought) a birth certificate, a marriage certificate, a personal statement, etc. Failure to supply all requested supporting documents will trigger the mailing of a Request for Evidence (RFE) to the applicant.

Immigration Glossary - Letter T

Temporary Protected Status (TPS): An immigration status, created under the Immigration Act of 1990, that allows citizens of particular countries refuge in the US due to war or environmental disaster affecting that country. The Attorney General decides which nations’ citizens are eligible for TPS.

Temporary Worker: An alien who comes to the US for temporary employment on a nonimmigrant visa.

Termination of a Case: Termination of a case can occur when an alien located abroad applies for a US immigration visa at a US embassy or consulate, US immigration authorities contact the applicant to provide further information, and the alien fails to reply to the request. At this point the termination process begins, but the alien has up to two years to notify the embassy or consulate that he does not wish the application to be terminated.

Third Country National: You are considered a third country national if you apply for a US visa at a US embassy abroad, but you are not a citizen of the country where the embassy or consulate is located. Third country national status might affect your ability to apply for a US visa.

Third Preference: An immigration category for the married children of US citizens, along with their spouses and children. Third preference immigrants may face significant delays in immigration due to a large backlog of cases.

Tourist: Someone who comes to the US for pleasure (sightseeing, etc.), typically on a B-2 visa.

Trafficking: Moving a migrant or an illegal substance (such as drugs) from one country or state to another, in and illegal manner and typically for profit.

T Visa: A nonimmigrant visa that allows a victim of trafficking to enter and remain in the US if they help US law enforcement authorities investigate trafficking cases.status provides immigration protection to victims of trafficking. The T visa allows victims to remain in the United States and help law enforcement authorities in the investigation or prosecution of human trafficking cases.

TN Visa: The TN visa allows certain professionals who are citizens of Canada and Mexico to enter the US temporarily to conduct business activities. This visa was created by the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Transit without visa: The ability of certain travellers to pass through the US without a visa if there is no interruption in their travel. This would allow, for example, someone flying from London to Mexico City via New York to enter the airport in New York for a 4-hour layover.

Immigration Glossary - Letter U

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS): A subdivision of the Department of Homeland Security that is responsible for legal immigration to the US. Its responsibilities are domestic — if you are located in the US, for example, you can apply for many different typ[es of immigration statuses through the USCIS, while if you are overseas you must apply through a US embassy or consulate overseas.

USCIS Number: Colloquial. The same number as an alien registration number.

Upgrade a Petition: If you are a lawful permanent resident, petition for the immigration of one of your family members based on your permanent resident status, and later become a citizen while the petition is still pending, you can upgrade your petition to the petition of a US citizen petition for your relative. This could help your relative get into the US sooner.

Immigration Glossary - Letter V

Visa: Permission to enter the US. A visa is typically stamped onto your passport after a visa application is approved. You can think of it as a key that allows you to unlock the door to the US. A visa is not the same as immigraiton status — if you have already entered the US, you can stay even if your visa has expired, as long as your immigration status has not expired.

Visa Bulletin: The visa bulletin, which is available online, tells you which immigrant numbers are available and provides information on when various applicants for immigration benefits should submit their applications to the National Visa Center. The Visa Bulletin is useful for people who have applied for immigration under programs that have applied annual numerical quotas.

Visa Number: The visa number is a combination oof letters and numbers (typically one letter followed by a string of numbers) that is printed in red on your visa. Its purpose is to identify your particular visa to distinguish it from all others.

Visa Status: The status of your visa application (approved, denied or pending, for example). In most cases you can check your visa status on the website of the US embassy or consulate where you applied for it.

Visa Validity: The period during which your visa is valid. Typically a US visa is valid on the day it is issued and it extends until the expiration date shown on the visa. The validity of a single entry visa ends on the date that you enter the US, however, and it is also possible for immigraiton authorities to cancel your visa even after it is issued (if you lied during your visa interview, for example).

Visa Waiver Program: A program that allows citizens of particular countries to enter the US without a visa, for purposes of business or pleasure. You can stay in the US up to 90 days this way, but you cannot earn money from a US source or extend your stay.

Voluntary Departure: A voluntary departure occurs when an alien who is subject to removal (deportation) departs the US voluntarily. The fact that they departed with no order of removal against them will make it easier to obtain permission to visit the US in the future. An immigration judge may allow a removable alien to depart the US voluntarily by a certain deadline. Failure to depart by this deadline could result in the alien being barred from re-entering the US for up to 10 years, while compliance with the deadline will mean no bar at all.

Voluntary Service Program: A project that is organized by a charitable or religious nonprofit that is dedicated to helping the poor or furthering a charitable cause. If you are invited to participate in such a program, you could be eligible for a B visa.

Immigration Glossary - Letter W

Waive: To refrain from insisting on compliance with a requirement. The USCIS, for example, might waive an application fee if the applicant can prove that he is suffering from financial hardship. If the fee is waived, the alien can file the application without paying the fee.

Waiver of Ineligibility: Certain aliens are normally ineligible to enter the US, because they fall within a certain class that US immigration law has deemed inadmissible to the US. Applying for and receiving a waiver of ineligibility will allow you to enter the US despite your initial ineligibility.

Willful Misrepresentation: Making a claim or a statement that you know is untrue. Willful misrepresentation can carry serious consequences if you commit one on an application for immigration benefits or during an interview with a US immigration officer. In fact, willful representation of an important matter on a citizenship application could result in your citizenship being revoked years later.

Work Permit: Authorization for an alien to work in the US. A work permit is typically obtained by filing Form I-765 with the USCIS.

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