The Immigration Glossary below explains how certain words are used in the US immigration and US visa processes, since these terms tend to be specialized terms of art, and may not have the same meanings as they do in every day language.
Select the first letter of the word you want to find.
Accompanying: A type of visa in which family members travel with a principal visa applicant (in immigrant visa cases, within 6 months of issuance of an immigrant visa to the principal applicant).
Adjust Status or Adjustment of Status: (1) To change from a nonimmigrant visa status (temporary status) or other status; or (2) To adjust the status of a permanent resident (green card holder). This is a USCIS process.
Administrative processing: Some visa applications require further administrative processing. This takes additional time after a visa applicant’s interview by a Consular Officer. Applicants will be advised of this requirement when they apply.
Admission: Entry into the US is authorized by a DHS Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer. When you come from abroad and first arrive in the US, a visa allows you to travel to the port-of entry and request permission to enter the US. A CBP officer at the port-of-entry must authorize a non-US citizen to enter the US. This CBP officer determines whether you can enter and how long you can stay in the US on any particular visit. If you are allowed to enter, the length of your stay will be shown as either a recorded date (known as “Date Certain”) or Duration of Status (D/S) on Form I-94, Arrival Departure Record, or Form I-94W, if arriving on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). For more information, go to the CBP website. Your immigration classification will also appear on Form I-94 (white card) or I-94W (green colored card). If you want to stay in the US longer than the date authorized, you must request permission from USCIS.
Adopted Child: An unmarried child under age 21 who was adopted while under the age of 16, and who has been in legal custody and lived with the adopting parent(s) for at least 2 years. These rules do not apply to orphans adopted by American Citizens. The adoption decree must give the child all the rights of a natural born child. For more adoption information visit DOS’s adoption.state.gov.
Advance Parole: Permission from USCIS to return to the US after travel abroad; this is granted prior to your leaving the US. The following categories of people may need advance parole: people on a K-1 visa, asylum applicants, parolees, people with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and some people trying to adjust status to permanent residence (apply for the final stage of the Green Card, the I-485), while in the US. If these people do not apply for advance parole before they leave the US, they may be unable to return.
Advisory Opinion: An opinion regarding a point of law from the Office of Visa Services in the Department of State, Washington, DC. This opinion would be in answer to a question from a US Embassy or US Consulate about interpretation of immigration law, or in response to a request of review of the legal correctness of a visa refusal of an applicant or his/her representative.
Advisory Opinion J-1 Waiver of Foreign Residence Requirement, INA 212(e): A J-1 Visa / DS-2019 or IAP-66 form will have a statement in the bottom left hand corner of the form, as follows: “Bearer is or is not subject to section 212(e). Two year rule (does or does not) apply (name of country)” This is a preliminary endorsement by a Consular Officer or Immigration Officer regarding Section 212(e) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which subjects certain J-1 visa holders to a 2 year home residency requirement. When a J-1 visa holder or his/her attorney inquires about whether the INA Section 212(e) Foreign Residence Requirement applies to a particular J-1 visa holder, a request for an Advisory Opinion request is sent to the Waiver Review Division at the Department of State. See also J-1 Waivers.
Affidavit of Support: A document promising that the person who completes it will financially support an applicant while that applicant is in the US. Family and certain employment immigration cases require the I-864 Affidavit of Support, which is legally binding. All other cases use the I-134 Affidavit of Support.
Affiliated: Associated or controlled by the same owner or authority.
Age Out: A child must be unmarried and under the age of 21, as defined in US immigration law (children older than 21 are legally considered “sons or daughters” rather than “children”). Therefore, a child beneficiary of an immigrant petition who will apply for an immigrant visa (IV) or adjustment of status is considered to have “aged out” when that beneficiary reaches age 21 and no longer qualifies for an immigrant visa (IV) or adjustment of status. The Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) changed enabled many beneficiaries to still qualify as children for immigrant visa purposes even after reaching age 21.
Agent: In immigrant visa (IV) processing an applicant selects a person to receives all correspondence regarding the case and who pays the immigrant visa (IV) application processing fee. An agent can be the applicant, the petitioner or another person selected by the applicant and listed on Form DS-3032, Agent of Choice and Address.
Alien: A foreign national who is not a US citizen.
Allotment: The allocation of an immigrant number to a consular office or to USCIS. This number may be used for immigrant visa issuance or adjustment of status as described in the Operation of the Immigrant Numerical Control System.
AOS: Affidavit of Support, Form I-864. A document promising that the person who completes it will support an applicant financially while that applicant is in the US. Family and certain employment immigration cases require the I-864 Affidavit of Support, which is legally binding. All other cases use the I-134 Affidavit of Support. Go to our I-864 information to learn more. All other cases use the I-134 Affidavit of Support.
Applicant (Visa): A foreign citizen who is applying for a nonimmigrant visa (temporary) or immigrant visa (permanent). For petition based visas, a visa applicant may also be referred as a beneficiary
Appointment Package: The letter and documents that tell an applicant the date of an immigrant visa (IV) interview. This package includes forms that the applicant must complete before the IV interview and instructions for how to get everything ready for the IV interview.
Approval Notice: A USCIS immigration form, Notice of Action, Form I-797, that says USCIS has approved a petition, or a request for extension of stay or change of status.
Asylee: A person who cannot return to his/her home country because of a well-founded fear of persecution. An application for asylum is made in the US to the DHS.
Arrival-Departure Card: Also known as Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record. The DHS / CBP official at the US port-of-entry gives foreign visitors (all non-US citizens) an I-94 Arrival-Departure Record (a small white card) when they enter the US. The immigrant classification and the authorized period of stay in the US are recorded on the I-94. The authorized period of stay is either recorded as a date (also known as a “date certain”) or as D/S, which means “duration of status.” It is important to keep this card safe because it shows the length of time you are permitted and authorized by DHS to stay in the US. It is best kept stapled with your passport and kept in a safe place. A visitor returns the I-94 card when they leave the US. The I-94W, Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival-Departure Record (green card) is for travelers on the Visa Waiver Program.
Beneficiary: An applicant for a US visa as named in a petition filed with USCIS.
Biometrics: Biologically unique information used to identify an individual. This information can be used to verify identity or check against other entries in the database. The best known biometric is the fingerprint, but others include facial recognition and iris scans. See DOS biometrics.
Cancelled Without Prejudice: A stamp a US Embassy or US Consulate puts on a US visa if there is a mistake in the visa, or if the visa is a duplicate visa (two of the same kind). This stamp “cancelled without prejudice” does not affect the validity of other visas in the passport. This stamp does not mean that the passport holder will not get another US visa.
Case Number: The National Visa Center (NVC) gives each immigrant petition a case number. This number has three letters followed by ten digits (numbers). The three letters are an abbreviation for the overseas US Embassy or US Consulate that will process an immigrant visa case (for example, GUZ for Guangzhou, CDJ for Ciudad Juarez, etc.).
The digits tell exactly when NVC created the case. For example, a case with the number MNL2001747003 would be assigned to the US Embassy Manila, and 2001 is the year NVC received the case from USCIS. The Julian date is 747 plus 500, so this case was created September 4, 2001, the 247th day of the year. The 003 shows that it was the third case created for Manila on that day. This case number is not the same as the USCIS receipt number, which is written on the Notice of Action Form I-797 from USCIS. A consular section abroad cannot find a case if all you have is a USCIS receipt number.
Certificate of Citizenship: A document issued by DHS as proof that a person is a US citizen by birth (when born abroad) or derivation (not from naturalization). The Child Citizenship Act of 2001 gives US citizenship automatically to certain foreign-born children of US citizens. These children can apply for certificates of citizenship.
Certificate of Naturalization: A document issued by DHS as proof that a person has become a US citizen (naturalized) after immigration to the US.
Change Status: Changing from one nonimmigrant visa (temporary visa) status to another nonimmigrant visa status while a person is in the US is permitted for some nonimmigrant visa holders, if approved by USCIS. A visa holder may file a request with USCIS before his or her authorized stay expires, which generally is the date on Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record (except for visa holders admitted to the US for duration of status, stamped D/S).
Charge/Chargeable: The US has numerical limits on the number of immigrant visas that can be granted to aliens from any one foreign country each year. This limit is the same for all countries (currently 7%). The country limit is based on a person’s place of birth (also known as “nativity”), not on their citizenship or nationality. The place where the immigrant is “charged” (“chargeability”) means that a person is counted towards a particular country’s numerical limit. For example, an immigrant born in Ethiopia would be “charged” to Ethiopia, and therefore counted towards reaching the numerical limit for that country. That person would be “charged” to Ethiopia even if she was born of Yemeni parents and has a passport from Yemen.
Although immigrants are normally “charged” to their country of birth, an immigrant is sometimes able to claim another country of chargeability (alternate chargeability) for the sake of immigration. You might do this if it helps in reaching the “cut-off date” date faster. For example, suppose you were born in India, but your spouse was born in Sudan. The “cut-off date” for someone born in India is earlier in the family fourth preference (FB-4) immigration category than the “cut-off date” for a person born in Sudan. We can “charge” you to Sudan, rather than India, and you can use the more favorable cut-off date for Sudan. Therefore, you would be able to immigrate years earlier if you had a chargeability to Sudan rather than only a chargeability to India.
Child: Unmarried child under the age of 21 years. A child may be natural born, step or adopted. If the child is a stepchild, the marriage between the parent and the US citizen must have occurred when the child was under the age of 18. If the child is adopted, he/she must have been adopted with a full and final adoption when the child was under the age of 16, and the child must have lived with and been in the legal custody of the parent for at least two years. An orphan may qualify as a child if he/she has been adopted abroad by an US citizen or if the US citizen parent has filed an immediate-relative (IR) visa petition for him/her to go to the US for adoption by the US citizen.
In certain visa cases a child continues to be classified as a child after he/she becomes 21, if the petition was filed for him/her when he/she was still under 21 years of age. For example, an IR-2 child of an US citizen remains a child after the age of 21 if a petition was filed for him/her on or after August 6, 2002, when he/she was still under 21 years old. The child must meet other requirements of a child as listed above.
Code of Federal Regulations: The Code of Federal Regulations contains useful information on the laws regulating US visa policy and US immigration.
Cohabit: To live together without a legal marriage ceremony.
Common-law marriage: An agreement between a man and woman to enter into marriage without a civil or religious ceremony. This may not be recognized as a marriage for US immigration purposes.
Conditional Residence (CR) Visa: If you have been married for less than two years when your husband or wife (spouse) gets lawful permanent resident status (gets a green card), then your spouse will get US residence on a conditional basis. After two years, you and your spouse must apply together to USCIS to remove the condition to the residence.
The investor visa (EB5 or T5/C5) is also a conditional residence. It requires an application procedure after two years to remove the condition on legal permanent residence.
Current/non-current: There are numerical limits on the number of immigrant visas that can be granted to aliens from any one foreign country. This limit is based on place of birth, not citizenship. In many cases, these annual limits create backlogs and a waiting time before an immigrant visa can be granted. The terms “current” and “non-current” refer to the priority date of a petition in preference immigrant visa cases in relationship to the immigrant cut-off date. If your priority date is before the cut-off date according to the monthly Visa Bulletin, your case is current. This means your immigrant visa case can now be processed. However, if your priority date is later than the cut-off date, you must wait until your priority date is reached (until it becomes current). To find out if a preference case is current, see the most recent Visa Bulletin.
Immediate relative immigrant visa (IV) cases do not have annual country numerical limits or waiting times as a result of the annual country limits. The terms “priority date,” “cut-off date” and “current/non-current” do not apply to immediate relative cases.
Cut-off Date: The date that determines whether a preference immigrant visa applicant can be scheduled for an immigrant visa (IV) interview in any given month. When “C” (meaning Current) is listed instead of a specific date, that means all priority dates are eligible for processing. The cut-off date is the priority date of the first applicant who could not be scheduled for a visa interview for a given month. Applicants with a priority date earlier than the cut-off date can be scheduled. However, if your priority date is on or later than the cut-off date, you will need to wait until your priority date is reached (becomes current). To find out if a preference case can be scheduled, see the most recent Visa Bulletin.
Denomination/Sect: A religious group or community.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS): DHS is comprised of three main organizations responsible for immigration policies, procedures, implementation and enforcement of US laws, and more. These DHS organizations include United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Together these agencies provide the basic governmental framework for regulating the flow of visitors, workers and immigrants to the US. USCIS is responsible for the approval of all immigrant and nonimmigrant petitions, the authorization of permission to work in the US, the issuance of extensions of stay, change or adjustment of an applicant’s status while the applicant is in the US, and more. CBP is responsible for admission of all travelers seeking entry into the US, and determining the length of authorized stay, if the traveler is admitted. Once in the US a traveler falls under the jurisdiction of DHS.
Department of Labor: A cabinet level unit/ministry of US Government that has responsibility for labor issues. It has responsibility for deciding whether certain foreign workers can work in the US.
Derivative Status: Getting a status (visa) through another applicant, as provided under US immigration law for certain visa categories. For example, the spouse and children of an exchange visitor (J-1 Visa holder), would be granted derivative status as a J-2 Visa holder. Derivative status is only possible if the principal applicant is issued a visa.
Diversity Visa Program: The Department of State has an annual lottery for immigration to the US. Up to 55,000 immigrants can enter the US each year from countries with low rates of immigration to the US. See DV Green Card Lottery.
Documentarily Qualified: The applicant has obtained all documents specified by a US consular officer as sufficient to meet the formal US visa application requirements, and all necessary processing procedures of the US consular office have been completed.
DOL: US Department of Labor. Hiring foreign workers for employment in the US normally requires approval from several government agencies. First, employers must seek PERM labor certification through the DOL. Once the PERM labor certification (Step 1) has been certified (approved), the employer must petition the USCIS for approval of the petition (I-140 petition, Step 2) before applying for an immigrant visa or adjustment of status to permanent residence (green card–step 3).
Domicile: Place where a person has his or her principal residence. The person must intend to keep that residence for the foreseeable future. The sponsor of an immigrant must have domicile in the US before the visa can be issued. This generally means that the sponsor must be living in the US. In certain circumstances, however, one can be considered to have a domicile while living temporarily living overseas.
Duration of Status: In certain visa categories such as diplomats, students and exchange visitors, a person may be admitted into the US for as long as the person is still doing the activity for which the visa was issued, rather than being admitted until a specific departure dates. This is called admission for “duration of status.” For students, the time during which a student is in a full course of study plus any authorized practical training, and following that, authorized time to depart the country, is duration of status. The length of time depends upon the course of study. For an undergraduate degree this is commonly four years (eight semesters). Normally the immigration officer gives a student permission to stay in the US for “duration of status.” Duration of Status (or D/S) is recorded on Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record. The DHS US immigration inspector at a US port-of-entry gives foreign visitors (all non-US citizens) an Arrival-Departure Record, (a small white card) when they enter the US. Recorded on this card is the visa classification and the authorized period of stay in the US. This is either recorded as a date or the entry or D/S, meaning duration of status. The I-94 is very important because it shows the length of time you are permitted and authorized by the DHS to stay in the US.
DV: See Diversity Visa, above, and DV Green Card Lottery.
Educational and Cultural Affairs: The US Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). The Department of State fosters mutual understanding between the people of the US and the people of other countries to promote friendly, sympathetic, and peaceful relations. ECA administers a variety of exchange programs for non-US secondary, undergraduate, graduate students and professionals, along with other duties.
ESTA: Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is a free, automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors (nationals from 35 participating countries) to travel to the US without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). A valid ESTA approval is required for all VWP travel to the US. ESTA applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel, though it is advisable that travelers apply as soon as they begin preparing travel plans.
Exchange Visitor: A foreign citizen coming to the US to participate in a particular program in education, training, research, or other authorized exchange visitor program. See Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
Extension of Stay: Extending the length of time a US visa holder is authorized to stay in the US, when approved by USCIS. The visa holder may file a request with USCIS before his/her authorized stay expires, which generally is the date on Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record (except for visa holders admitted to the US for duration of status, stamped D/S).
Family First Preference: A category of family immigration (F1) for unmarried sons and daughters of US citizens and their children.
Family Second Preference: A category of family immigration (F2) for spouses, children and unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents.
Family Third Preference: A category of family immigration (F3) for married sons and daughters of US citizens and their spouses and children. Before 1992 this was known as fourth preference (P-4).
Family Fourth Preference: A category of family immigration (F4) for brothers and sisters of US citizens and their spouses and children. The US citizen must be 21 years of age or older before he/she can file the petition. Before 1992 this was known as fifth preference (P-5).
Federal Poverty Guidelines: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) publishes a Poverty Guidelines list every year that provides the lowest income acceptable for a family of a particular size so that the family is not considered to live in poverty. Consular officers use Poverty Guidelines figures in immigrant visa (IV) cases to determine whether a sponsor’s income is sufficient to support a new immigrant, in accordance with US immigration laws. See also Poverty Guidelines, below.
Fiance(e): A person who plans to marry or is contracted to marry another person. The foreign fiance(e) of a US citizen may enter the US on a K-1 visa to marry a US citizen.
First Preference: A category of family immigration (F1) for unmarried sons and daughters of US citizens and their children, or a category of employment based US immigration (EB-1) for individuals with extraordinary ability in their field of expertise, outstanding professors or researchers or multinational executives or managers transferring to work in the US from a qualifying, related company overseas.
Fiscal Year: The budget year for the US Government. The Fiscal Year (FY) begins on October 1 of each year, and ends on September 30 of the following year.
Following to Join: A type of derivative visa status when the family member gets a visa after the principal applicant.
Foreign Affairs Manual (9 FAM): Foreign Affairs Manual Chapter 41 relates to nonimmigrant visas (temporary visas). Chapter 42 covers immigrant visas (permanent residence or green cards). 9 FAM Chapter 40 relates to visa ineligibilities and waivers.
Fourth Preference: A category of family immigration (F4) for brothers and sisters of US citizens and their spouses and children. The US citizen must be 21 years of age or older before he/she can file a petition sponsoring a family member. Before 1992 this was known as fifth preference (P-5).
Full and Final Adoption: A legal adoption in which a child receives all the rights of a natural born, legitimate child. For more information visit DOS Adoptions.
Green card: Permanent Resident Card, Form I-551 (formerly called Alien Registration Card, also known as green card), is a wallet-sized card showing that the person is a lawful permanent resident (immigrant) in the US.
Homeless: Individuals from countries that do not have a US Embassy or US Consulate where they can apply for immigrant visas are considered “homeless”. For example, the US Government does not have an Embassy in Iran. Residents of Iran are therefore considered “homeless” for US visa purposes.
Household Income: The income used to determine whether a sponsor meets the minimum income requirements under Section 213A of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) for some immigrant visa (IV) cases.
I-94(W): The I-94 Arrival/Departure Record (white card) for nonimmigrant travelers or I-94W (green colored card) for Visa Waiver Program travelers. When you are admitted to the US, a CBP officer at the US port of entry will stamp your passport and issue a completed Form I-94 or I-94W to you. The I-94 or I-94W shows how long you are legally authorized to stay within the US.
I-551 (Green Card): Permanent residence card or alien registration receipt card or “green card.” See Lawful Permanent Resident, below.
Immediate Relative: Spouse, widow(er) and unmarried children under the age of 21 of a US citizen. A parent is an immediate relative if the US citizen is 21 years of age or older. There are no numerical limits to immigration of immediate relatives.
Immigrant Visa: A visa for a person who plans to live indefinitely and permanently in the US.
Immigration and Nationality Act (INA): The US immigration law. The Immigration and Nationality Act, or INA, was created in 1952, Public Law No. 82-414. The INA has been amended many times over the years, but is still the basic body of US immigration law. See INA.
Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS): A former branch of the Department of Justice (DOJ) that was responsible for immigration and naturalization. INS was renamed and became part of DHS on March 1, 2003.
INA: See Immigration and Nationality Act, above.
Ineligible/Ineligibility: US immigration law says that certain conditions and actions prevent a person from entering the US. These conditions and activities are called ineligibilities, and the applicant is ineligible for (cannot get) a visa. Examples are selling drugs, active tuberculosis, being a terrorist, and using fraud to get a US visa.
In Status: It’s important to understand the concept of immigration status and the consequences of violating that status (being “out of status”). Being aware of the requirements and possible consequences will make it more likely that you can avoid problems with maintaining your immigration status. Every US visa is issued for a particular purpose and for a specific class of visitor. Each US visa classification has a set of requirements that the visa holder must follow and maintain. Those who follow the visa requirements maintain their status and ensure their ability to remain in the US. Those who do not follow the requirements violate their immigration status and are considered “out of status.” (See also “Out of Status,” below.)
“In Status” means you are in compliance with the requirements of your visa type under US immigration law. For example, you are a student who entered the US on a student visa. If you are a full time student and pursuing your course of study, and you are not engaged in unauthorized employment, you are “in status”. If you work full time in your uncle’s convenience store and do not study, you are “out of status”.
IV: Immigrant Visa, a US visa for a person who plans to live indefinitely and permanently in the US.
J-1 Skills List: The Exchange Visitor J-1 Skills List is a list of fields of specialized knowledge and skills that have been deemed necessary for the development of an exchange visitor’s home country. When you agree to participate in an Exchange Visitor J-1 Program, if your skill is on your country’s J-1 Skills List, you are subject to the two-year foreign residence (home-country physical presence) requirement (home-country physical presence), which requires you to return to your home country for two years at the end of your exchange visitor program under US law.
Joint Sponsor: A person who accepts legal responsibility for supporting an immigrant with an I-864 Affidavit of Support along with the sponsor. A joint sponsor must be at least 18 years of age, a US citizen or lawful permanent resident and have a domicile in the US. The joint sponsor, including in household size the person(s) being sponsored, must have income of 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for that household size.
Jurisdiction: Authority to apply the law in a given territory or region. For example, the USCIS district office in the area where a person lives has jurisdiction or authority to decide on a fiance(e) petition.
Kentucky Consular Center (KCC): A US Department of State facility located in Williamsburg, Kentucky. It gives domestic (US) support to the worldwide operations of the Bureau of Consular Affairs Visa Office. The KCC manages the Diversity Visa DV Green Card Lottery Program.
Labor Certification (now known as PERM Labor Certification): The initial stage of the process by which certain foreign workers may obtain US permanent residence (green card). The US employer is responsible for getting the PERM labor certification from the US Department of Labor. In general the PERM process was created to ensure that the work of foreign workers in the US will not negatively affect job opportunities, wages and working conditions for US workers.
Labor Condition Application (LCA): A request to the US Department of Labor for a foreign worker to work in the US. An LCA is filed on Form 9035, and is used in connection with certain temporary work visas, including the H-1B visa, the H-1B1 visa the E-3 visa
Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR): A person who has immigrated to the US legally, has been admitted to the US by DHS as a US permanent resident and has a Permanent Resident Card, Form I-551 (formerly called Alien Registration Card, also known as green card). This person may also be called a legal permanent resident, a green card holder, a permanent resident alien, a legal permanent resident alien (LPRA) and resident alien permit holder. Form I-551 (Green Card) is a wallet-sized card showing that a person is a lawful permanent resident (legal immigrant) in the US. Lawful permanent resident status (LPR status, or green card status) is not the same as being a US citizen. However, a lawful permanent resident has authority to live and work in the US permanently, as well a other rights and responsibilities.
Lawful Permanent Resident Alien (LPRA): Lawful permanent resident. See above.
Laws (Immigration and visa related laws): The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) has useful information on the laws regulating US visa policy. Relevant Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations are at 8 CFR, Department of State (DOS) regulations at 22 CFR, Department of Labor (DOL) regulations at 20 CFR, Department of Justice (DOJ) regulations at 28 CFR, and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulations at 42 CFR.
Lay Worker: A person who works in a religious organization but is not a member of the formal clergy.
LEA: See local educational agency.
Legitimation: The legal process which a natural father can use to acknowledge legally his children who were born out of wedlock (outside of marriage). A legitimated child can be a “child” under immigration law under these conditions:
LIFE Act: Legal Immigration Family Equity (LIFE) Act and amendments. This act of the US Congress allows foreign spouses of US citizens, the children of those foreign spouses, and spouses and children of certain lawful permanent residents (LPR) to come to the US to complete the processing for their permanent residence. This Act became effective on December 21, 2000.
Local Educational Agency: School or school district. Also called LEA. This term is used for deciding tuition charges for secondary school students in F-1 visa status.
Lose Status: To stay in the US longer than the period of time which DHS gave to a person when he/she entered the US, or to fail to meet the requirements or violate the terms of a US visa classification. The person becomes “out of status.” For example, you entered the US on a student visa to study at a US university. But you work at your uncle’s convenience store without work authorization, and you do not study. You have lost status. You are out of status.
Lottery: See diversity visa program, above, and DV Green Card Lottery.
LPR or LPRA: See lawful permanent resident (LPR), above.
Machine Readable Passport (MRP): A passport that has biographic information entered on the data page according to international specifications. A machine readable passport is required to travel with a visa on the Visa Waiver Program (WVP).
Machine Readable Visa (MRV): A visa that contains biometric information about the passport holder. A visa that immigration officers read with special machines when the applicants enter the US. It gives biographic information about the passport holder and tells the DHS information on the type of visa. It is also called MRV.
Maintain Status: To follow the requirements of a US visa status and comply with any limitations on duration of stay.
Means-tested Public Benefits: Assistance from a government unit. Benefits include food stamps, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and State Child Health Insurance Program.
Missionary Work: Work performed for a religious organization to spread a faith (religion) and advance the principles and doctrines of a religion. Such work may include religious instruction, help for the elderly and needy and proselytizing.
MRV: See Machine Readable Visa.
NAFTA: North American Free-Trade Agreement. See TN NAFTA.
National Interest Waiver (NIW): If they can demonstrate US National Interest, members of the professions holding an advanced degree or its equivalent, or those with Exceptional Ability in the Sciences, Arts or Business may be eligible for a waiver of the PERM labor certification requirement and/or a waiver of a job offer, and may apply in the National Interest Waiver (NIW) green card category. The NIW does not require an employer sponsor.
The National Interest Waiver (NIW) category may also be for physicians and doctors (Physician NIW) who work in an area without adequate health care workers (a designated shortage area) or who work in Veterans Affairs’ facilities. These physicians and doctors can file immigrant visa petitions for themselves without first applying for a PERM labor certification.
National Visa Center (NVC): A Department of State facility located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire that supports the worldwide operations of the Bureau of Consular Affairs Visa Office. The NVC processes immigrant visa petitions from the DHS for people who will apply for their immigrant visas at embassies and consulates abroad. It also collects fees associated with immigrant visa processing.
Native: A person born in a particular country is considered a native of that country under US immigration law. See also chargeability, above.
Naturalization: A citizen who acquires nationality of a country after birth. That is, the person did not become a citizen by birth, but by a legal procedure.
Nonimmigrant Visa (NIV): A US visa allows the bearer, a foreign citizen, to apply to enter the US temporarily for a specific purpose. Nonimmigrant visas (temporary visas) are primarily classified according to the principal purpose of travel. With few exceptions, while in the US, nonimmigrants are restricted to the activity or reason for which their visa was issued. Examples of persons who may receive nonimmigrant visas are tourists, student, diplomats and temporary workers.
Notice of Action: A USCIS immigration form, Notice of Action, Form I-797 that confirms that USCIS has received a petition you submitted, taken action, approved a petition or denied a petition.
NSEERS: Effective April 28, 2011, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) no longer requires registration of foreign citizens entering and exiting the US under the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), also known as Special Registration. More information is available in DHS’s Federal Register notice of April 28, 2011. See also NSEERS: Designated Countries Removed.
NVC: See National Visa Center, above.
Orphan: A child who has no parents because the parents have died, disappeared, or because they have deserted or abandoned the child. A child may also be considered an orphan if the child has an unwed mother, or has a single living parent who cannot care for the child and has released him/her irrevocably (permanently) for adoption and emigration. Adoptive parents must make sure that a child meets the legal definition of an “orphan” before adopting a child from another country. For more information visit our Adoptions website.
Orphan Petition: Form I-600.
Out of status: A US visa allows the bearer to apply for entry to the US in a certain classification, for a specific purpose. For example, student (F), visitor (B), temporary worker (H). Every visa is issued for a particular purpose and for a specific class of visitor. Each US visa classification has a set of requirements that the visa holder must follow and maintain. When you arrive in the US, a CBP inspector determines whether you will be admitted, length of stay and conditions of stay in, the US. When admitted you are given a Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record, which tells you when you must leave the US. The date granted on the I-94 card at the airport or other US port of entry governs how long you may stay in the US. If you do not follow the requirements, you stay longer than that date, or you engage in activities that are not permitted for your particular type of visa, you violate your status and are considered to be “out of status.” It is important to understand the concept of US immigration status and the consequences of violating that status. Failure to maintain status can result in arrest, and violators may be required to leave the US. Violation of status also can affect the possibility of readmission to the US for a period of time, by making you ineligible for a visa. Some people who violate the terms of their status can be barred from lawfully returning to the US for years.
Overstay: An “Overstay” occurs when a visitor stays longer than permitted as shown on his/her Arrival/Departure (I-94) card. A violation of the CBP defined length of admission may make you ineligible for a visa in the future. See also Out of Status, above.
Panel Physician: US Embassies and Consulates that issue immigrant visas (IVs) have selected certain doctors to do the required medical examinations for immigrant visa applicants. To view the medical documents connected to IV processing, please visit the DOS Medical Examination page to find your local Panel Physician. See also DOS Medical Examination FAQ.
PERM Labor Certification: The initial stage of the process by which certain foreign workers obtain US permanent residence (green card). The process requires a job offer from a US employer, and that US employer must sponsor the foreign worker. The employer is responsible for getting a PERM labor certification from the US Department of Labor. In general the purpose of PERM is to ensure that the work of foreign workers in the US will not negatively affect job opportunities, wages and working conditions for US workers.
Permanent Resident (correctly called Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR)): See Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR).
Physical Presence: The place where a person is actually, physically, located.
Polygamy: Having more than one husband or wife at the same time. Polygamy is illegal under US law.
Port of Entry: Place (often an airport) where a person requests admission to the US by a DHS / CBP officer. See US Ports of Entry.
Post: US Embassy, US Consulate or other US diplomatic mission outside of the US. Not all US Embassies, US Consulates and US missions are visa-issuing posts. See list of US Embassies, Consulates, and Missions.
Poverty Guidelines: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) publishes a Federal Poverty Guidelines list every year giving the lowest income acceptable for a family of a particular size so that the family are not deemed to live in poverty. Consular officers use these figures in immigrant visa (IV) cases to determine whether a sponsor’s income is sufficient to support a new immigrant, in accordance with US immigration law.
Preference Immigration: A system for determining which people can immigrate to the US, and when those people can do so, within the annual limits of immigration set by Congress. In family immigration, preference is based on the status of the petitioner (US citizen or lawful permanent resident) and his/her relationship to the applicant. In employment immigration it is based on the qualifications of the applicant and labor needs in the US.
Principal Applicant: The person named in the petition. For example, a US citizen may file a petition for his married daughter to immigrate to the US. His daughter will be the principal applicant, and her family members will get visas from her position. They will get derivative status. Or a company may file a petition for a worker. The worker is the principal applicant. Family members will get derivative status.
Priority Date: A priority date determines a person’s turn to apply for an immigrant visa (IV) or to file for adjustment of status (I-485). In family immigration, the priority date is the date when a petition was filed at a USCIS office, or submitted to a US Embassy or US Consulate abroad. In employment immigration, the priority date may be the date the Department of Labor (DOL) receives a labor certification application, or the date USCIS receives an I-140 immigrant petition.
Public Charge: Refers to becoming dependent upon the government for the expenses of living (food, shelter, clothing, etc.). Following US immigration law, an applicant is ineligible for a visa if he/she will be a public charge. See USCIS Public Charge Q and A.
Qualifying date: This is the date that the Department of State Visa Office uses to determine when to send an Instruction Package to an immigrant visa (IV) applicant. The Instruction Package tells an IV applicant what documents must be prepared for the immigrant visa (IV) application.
Rank Order Number: This is the number that Kentucky Consular Center gives to entries of the DV Green Card Lottery Program as the computer selects them. The first entries chosen have the lowest numbers. The Department of State Visa Office gives winning entries a chance to apply for a green card according to their rank order number for their region.
Receipt Notice: A USCIS form, Notice of Action, Form I-797, that confirms that USCIS has received a petition.
Re-entry Permit: A travel document that the USCIS issues to lawful permanent residents (LPR’s) who want to stay outside of the US for more than one year and less than two years. An LPR who cannot get a passport from their country of nationality can also apply for a re-entry permit. You can put visas for foreign countries in a re-entry permit.
Refugee: A person who has a well-founded fear of persecution if he/she should return to his/her home country. He/she applies to come to the US in another country and enters the US as a refugee.
Retrogression: Sometimes a case that is current one month will not be current the next month. This occurs when the annual numerical limit has been reached. This usually happens near the end of a fiscal year (October 1 to September 30 of the next year). When a new fiscal year begins, the Visa Office gets a new supply of visa numbers and usually brings back the cut-off dates to where they were before retrogression.
Returning Residents: Lawful permanent residents (green card holders) who want to return to the US after staying abroad more than one year or beyond the expiration of their re-entry permits.
Revalidation or Renewal of a Visa: Nonimmigrant visa (temporary visa) applicants who currently have a US visa, and are seeking renewal or revalidation of their US visa for future travel to the US must apply abroad, generally in their country of residence. The exception is renewal or revalidation of A, G, and NATO diplomatic and official visas (except A-3, G-5 and NATO-7), which continue to be processed in Washington and at the US Mission to the United Nations in New York.
Revocation of a Visa: Cancellation of a US visa. Following cancellation, the visa is no longer good (valid) for travel to the US.
SAW: See Special Agricultural Worker, below.
Schedule “A” Occupations: The Department of Labor (DOL) has given USCIS authority to approve labor certifications for certain occupations including physical therapists, professional nurses and people of exceptional ability in the sciences or arts.
Second Preference: A category of family immigration (F2) for spouses, children and unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents.
Section 213A: A section of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) that establishes that sponsors have a legal duty to support immigrants they want to bring (sponsor) to the US. Sponsors must complete Form I-864 Affidavit of Support.
Sibling: Brother or sister.
Skills List: The Exchange Visitor Skills List (J-1 Skills List) is a list of fields of specialized knowledge and skills that have been deemed necessary for the development of an exchange visitor’s home country. When you agree to participate in an Exchange Visitor Program, if your skill is on your country’s Skills List, you are subject to the two-year foreign residence (home-country physical presence) requirement, which requires you to return to your home country for two years at the end of your exchange visitor program, under US law.
Son/daughter: In US immigration law a “child” becomes a “son or daughter” when he/she turns 21 or marries. A son or daughter must have once met the definition of a child in US immigration law.
Special Agricultural Worker: Farm workers in perishable products who worked for a specified period of time and were able to adjust status to lawful permanent resident according to the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.
Special Immigrant: A special category of immigrant visas (E-4) for various types of cases, including (1) persons who lost their citizenship by marriage; (2) persons who lost citizenship by serving in foreign armed forces; (3) certain foreign medical school graduates; (4) Panama Canal immigrants; and (5) certain others.
Sponsor: (1) A person who fills out and submits an immigration visa (IV) petition. Another name for sponsor is petitioner, or (2) a person who completes an affidavit of support (I-864) for an immigrant visa (IV) applicant.
Sponsored Immigrant: An immigrant who has had an affidavit of support filed for him/her.
Spouse: Legally married husband or wife. A co-habiting partner does not qualify as a spouse for immigration purposes. A common-law husband or wife may or may not qualify as a spouse for immigration purposes, depending on the laws of the country where the relationship occurs.
State Workforce Agency: The agency or bureau in each State that deals with employment and labor issues. For the address of the workforce agency (SWA) in each State go to the US Department of Labor, Foreign Labor Certification site.
Stepchild: A spouse’s child from a previous marriage or other relationship. In order for a stepchild to be able to immigrate as a “child,” the marriage creating the stepchild/stepparent relationship must have happened before the stepchild was 18 years of age.
Surviving Parent: A child’s living parent when the child’s other parent is dead, and the living parent has not remarried.
SWA: See State Workforce Agency, above.
Tax-exempt: A condition of the law in which an organization or people in some kinds of work do not have to pay taxes which regular citizens or businesses must pay. Religious organizations are often tax-exempt.
Temporary Worker: A foreign worker who will work in the US for a limited period of time. Some US visa classes for temporary workers are H-1B, L-1, O-1, P, Q and R. If you are seeking to come to the US for employment as a temporary worker in the US (H-1B, L-1, O-1, P-3, and Q visas), your prospective employer must file a petition with the USCIS. USCIS must approve this petition before you can apply for a visa at a US Embassy or US Consulate.
Termination of a Case: If the applicant fails to reply to the inquiry correspondence sent by their US Embassy or US Consulate, termination of his/her visa application will begin. The US Embassy or US Consulate will first send a Follow-up Letter and Instruction Package to the applicant. If the applicant does not answer within one year, a termination letter is sent. At this point the applicant has one more year to activate the immigrant visa (IV) case. If there is no answer in one year, the case is terminated. You can stop termination of a case by notifying the US Embassy or US Consulate before the prescribed time period has lapsed, that the applicant does not want the case to be closed (terminated).
Third Country National: Someone who is not an US citizen and not a citizen of the country in which he or she is applying for a US visa. Suppose you are a Kenyan national visiting Mexico. If you apply for a visa to visit the US while you are in Mexico, you would be considered a third country national (TCN).
Third Preference: A category of family immigration (F3) for married sons and daughters of US citizens and their spouses and children. Before 1992 this was known as fourth preference (P-4).
Two Year Home-Country Physical Presence Requirement: This refers to (J) exchange visitors who are required to return to their home country for two years at the end of their exchange visitor program under US immigration law. Also known as the Section 212(e) requirement, or the Two Year Home Residency Requirement.
Upgrade a Petition: If you naturalize (become a US citizen) you may ask the to change the petitions you filed for family members when you were a lawful permanent resident (LPR) from one category to another. This is called upgrading. For example, a petition for a spouse will be changed/upgraded from F2 to IR1. That is, the petition changes from a preference category with numerical limits to an immediate relative category without numerical limits. The applicant no longer has to wait for her/his priority date to be reached.
Upgrading a petition sometimes has consequences. A preference petition for a spouse permits derivative status for children. An immediate relative petition does not. You, the petitioner, would need to file separate petitions for each of your children.
Visa: Generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wants to enter the US must first obtain a US visa–either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay, or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. Visa applicants must apply at a US Embassy or US Consulate outside of the US, generally in their country of permanent residence. US immigration law defines the type of visa you must have. The US visa type is related to the purpose of your travel. A visa allows a foreign citizen to travel to a US port-of entry, and request permission of a US immigration inspector to enter the US. However, issuance of a US visa does not guarantee entry to the US. A CBP Officer at a US port-of-entry will determine whether you can be admitted, and will decide how long you can stay for any particular visit.
Visa Expiration Date: The visa expiration date is shown on a visa. This means the visa is valid, or can be used from the date it is issued until the date it expires, for travel for the same purpose for which the visa was issued, when the visa is issued for multiple entries. The time from visa issuance date to visa expiration date as shown on the visa itself is called visa validity. For example, if you travel frequently as a tourist with a multiple entry visa, you do not have to apply for a new US visa each time you want to travel to the US. As an example of travel for the same purpose for which the visa was issued, if you have a visitor visa, it cannot be used to enter at a later time to study in the US. The visa validity is the length of time you are permitted to travel to a US port-of-entry to request permission of the US immigration inspector to enter the US. The visa does not guarantee entry to the US. A visa’s Expiration Date should not be confused with the authorized length of your stay in the US, which is given to you by the US immigration inspector at a port-of-entry, and stamped on your I-94 Arrival-Departure Record (white card) or I-94W (green colored card) if you enter on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The visa expiration date has nothing to do with the authorized length of your stay in the US for any given visit.
Some circumstances which can serve to void or cancel the period of time your visa is valid. If you overstay the end date of your authorized stay, as provided by the DHS’s US immigration officer at port of entry, or USCIS, then this action on your part generally will automatically void or cancel your visa. However, if you have filed an application in a timely manner for extension of stay or a change of status, and that application is pending and not frivolous, and if you did not engage in unauthorized employment, then this normally does not automatically cancel your visa. If you have applied for adjustment of status to become a permanent resident (“green card” holder), you should contact USCIS about obtaining Advance Parole before leaving the US.
Visa Numbers: Congress establishes the amount of immigration to the US each year. Immigration for immediate relatives is unlimited; however, preference categories are limited. To distribute the visas fairly among all US immigration categories, the Department of State Visa Office distributes the visas by providing visa numbers according to preference and priority date. To learn more on how the numbers are created each month review our Operation of the Immigrant Numerical Control System webpage.
Visa Validity: This generally means a visa is valid, or a visa can be used from the date it is issued until the date it expires, for travel for the same purpose for visas, and when the visa is issued for multiple entries. The visa expiration date is shown on the visa. Depending on the alien’s nationality, visas can be issued for any number of entries, from as little as one entry to as many as multiple (unlimited) entries, for the same purpose of travel.
For example, if you travel frequently as a tourist with a multiple entry visa, you do not have to apply for a new visa each time you want to travel to the US. As an example of travel for the same purpose, if you have a visitor visa, you cannot use it later to enter the US to study.
The visa validity is the length of time you are permitted to travel to a US port-of-entry to request permission of the US immigration inspector to enter the US. The visa does not guarantee entry to the US. The Expiration Date for the visa should not be confused with the authorized length of your stay in the US, which is given to you by the US immigration inspector at port-of-entry on the Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94 (white card), or Form I-94W (green colored card) for the Visa Waiver Program. The visa expiration date has nothing to do with the authorized length of your stay in the US for any particular visit.
Some circumstances can void or cancel the period of time your visa is valid. If you overstay the end date of your authorized stay, as provided by the DHS’s US immigration officer at port of entry, or USCIS, then this action on your part generally will automatically void or cancel your visa. However, if you have filed an application in a timely manner for extension of stay or a change of status, and that application is pending and not frivolous, and if you did not engage in unauthorized employment, then this normally does not automatically cancel your visa. If you have applied for adjustment of status to become a permanent resident alien (“green card” holder), you should contact USCIS regarding obtaining Advance Parole before leaving the US. See also Visa Expiration Date, above.
Visa Waiver Program (VWP): Citizens of participating countries meeting Visa Waiver Program requirements may be allowed to enter the US as visitors for pleasure or business without first getting a US visa. Visitors on the Visa Waiver Program (I-94W) can stay only 90 days and cannot extend their stay or change to another visa status. (Since the visa requirement is waived for participants of the VWP, there is no underlying status to extend, and no status from which to change to another visa category in the US.)
Voluntary Service Program: An organized project performed by a religious or nonprofit charitable organization to provide help to the poor or needy or to further a religious or charitable cause. Participants may be eligible for B visas.
Waiver of Ineligibility: In US immigration law certain foreign nationals are ineligible for visas to enter the US due to certain medical conditions, criminal or security issues, or other conditions and activities. Some US visa applicants may apply for permission to enter the US despite their ineligibility; this is called a waiver of ineligibility. See Classes of Aliens Ineligible to Receive Visas.
Work Authorization: If you are not a US citizen or a lawful permanent resident of the US (green card holder), you may need to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to prove that you are allowed to work in the US. For example, people who have filed for adjustment of status to permanent residence are eligible for Work Authorization, as are certain dependents of the E-1 or E-2 visa, the E-3 visa, the L-1 visa and the G visa.