Glossary of Immigration Terms

Accompanying Relative
Those family members (must be a spouse or unmarried children under 21) who are eligible to receive immigrant or nonimmigrant visas based on their relation to the visa holder.

Adjustment of Status (AOS)
The process of adjusting the alien’s status from nonimmigrant to immigrant. This can take place as a part of the “Green Card” process. When all the proper forms and supporting documents are filed with USCIS for the Adjustment of Status, an interview is scheduled, which, if all goes well, should result in the stamping of the immigrant visa in the passport. The counterpart of the Adjustment of Status is “Consular Processing”.

Advance Parole
USCIS permission to travel abroad while adjustment of status is pending approval.

Affidavit of Support
An affidavit of support is the contract that an immigrant’s sponsor signs, agreeing to financially assist the immigrant to prevent him/her from becoming a public charge.

Alien
A person who is not a citizen or a national of the U.S. The term refers to all foreign nationals in the U.S., whether they are here temporarily or with permanent resident (“green card”) status.

Alien Registration Card
USCIS Form I-551, also called the “Green Card”. This card holder has obtained permanent residence status. In special limited circumstances, an I-551 stamp may also be placed in your passport by USCIS.

Approval Notice
The I-797 form that shows that the petition or form filed with USCIS has been approved. In the case of the alien waiting on an H-1B to be approved, an Approval Notice means their employment has been approved and they may start working for the new employer. If the alien will be entering the U.S. for the first time or is “out of status”, they will need to visit a U.S. Embassy outside the U.S. for visa stamping before actually going to work for the new employer.

Asylum
Humanitarian permission to remain in the U.S., based on an Applicant’s well-founded fear of persecution in his/her home country.

Beneficiary
An alien who is the recipient of an application filed on their behalf by another individual or organization. This person will receive the immigration benefit applied for, if and when approved.

CBP
Short term (acronym) for the Customs and Border Protection agency. Most people encounter CBP at passport-inspection upon physical arrival in the United States (usually by air).

Change of Status (COS)
The process of requesting a change in the alien’s current non-immigrant status in the U.S. This can only be done if the Alien is physically in the United States, and is done by filing either Form I-129 or Form I-539 with USCIS. Under special circumstances, Canadian and Mexican nationals can do this at designated Border Crossing Posts at the U.S. Border. Visitors to the U.S. on Visa Waiver CANNOT file for a COS.

Child
An unmarried son or daughter under 21 years of age.

Citizen
A person who, either through birth or through naturalization, has full rights, privileges and protection of living in the U.S.

Consular Processing
When an alien has applied for and been approved for an immigrant visa (Green Card), the normal way to ultimately become a permanent resident is through immigrant “visa processing” at a U.S. consulate in the alien’s home country. This, of course, requires costly travel, and time away for their job, so most aliens choose the “Adjustment of Status” process, which can take place while in the U.S.

District Offices
USCIS offices located throughout the U.S. For our usual purposes, these are the offices where the Adjustment of Status paperwork is filed by the alien, as the final step in the Immigrant Visa process. These offices are not to be confused with Service Centers.

DHS
Short term (acronym) for the Department of Homeland Security.

Diversity Visa Program (Green Card Lottery)
A free annual lottery held by the U.S. State Department which attempts to increase diversity in the U.S. population by randomly selecting people from those countries which have the fewest immigrants to the U.S. relative to their population.

DOL
Short term (acronym) for the Department of Labor. In the immigration law context, most contact with DOL will arise in the Labor Condition Attestations (LCAs or ETA 9035) filed with H-1B petitions, or in the filing of Labor Certifications for certain employment-based Green Card applications.

Dual Citizenship
Having simultaneous citizenship in two countries; Allowed in the U.S. as long as U.S. citizenship is not renounced or activities in second country are beyond that of an ordinary citizen.

Employment Authorization Document
Also called “EAD”. If an alien posses this card, he is authorized to work without having the employer file a petition for nonimmigrant worker. Make sure the card is valid, however, by checking the expiration date…if it is expired, DO NOT HIRE THIS PERSON! Most common cases we see for an alien to have an EAD is when a foreign student graduates from a U.S. university, they may be granted an EAD to work on “practical training”, usually issued for a period of one year, at which time can be changed to H-1B status. Also, when an alien has applied for the Adjustment of Status (as a part of the Immigrant Visa process), they may obtain an EAD to continue employment while the adjustment is pending.

Exclusion
Process of being denied entry into the U.S. Some grounds can be remedied or waived, some cannot.

Extension of Status (EOS)
The process of requesting an extension in the alien’s current non-immigrant status in the U.S. This can only be done if the Alien is physically in the United States, and is normally done by filing Form I-539 with USCIS. Under special circumstances, Canadian and Mexican nationals can do this at designated Border Crossing Posts at the U.S. Border. Visitors to the U.S. on Visa Waiver CANNOT file for a EOS.

Foreign National
An individual who is a citizen or a national of a country other than the United States.

Form AR-11 Notification of Address Change
This form is filed with USCIS to notify of a new or changed address. Aliens are required to maintain their records with USCIS uptodate.

Form ETA-9035.
Must be filed with the DOL and signed by the regional certifying officer before we can send a petition for non-immigrant worker (I-129) to USCIS. When an employer signs this form, they attest that they have followed certain “rules” of hiring an H-1B worker. When considering the hire of an H-1B worker, the employer must be willing to attest to all of these conditions to meet DOL regulations.

Form I-90 Application to Renew/Replace Green Card
This application is filed with USCIS in order to apply for a new Green Card. This is necessary in cases where the original card either was lost, stolen, destroyed, mutilated, or is simply expiring.

Form I-94 Arrival and Departure Record

A document that is issued to every alien who enters the U.S. for a temporary stay and who is officially inspected by a U.S. Immigration Officer (CBP). This document is stapled in the passport and indicates the amount of time the individual can initially remain in the U.S. This card should be white in color if the alien is entering the U.S. on a visa in their passport. If the I-94 card is green, this is a Visa Waiver card and is not based on a visa entry.

Form I-102 Application for Replacement/Initial Non-Immigrant Arrival-Departure Document
Filed when an I-94 Card needs to be replaced. Or if an I-94 Card was not issued upon entry into the U.S., this form may be filed with an application to extend the visa.

Form I-129 Petition for Non-Immigrant Worker
Form to file with USCIS for processes concerning non-immigrant workers. When you receive Approval of this petition, the “Case Type” listed on the Approval Notice (I-797) will be “I-129″.

Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative

Form to file with USCIS for processes concerning the sponsorship by a U.S. citizen or Permanent Resident, of a qualifying Alien relative (spouse, parent, child, sibling). This form in itself does not confer any actual legal benefit in the United States unless accompanied by a further application for a Green Card if and when an immigrant visa becomes available to the Alien.

Form I-131 Application for Advance Parole or Re-Entry Permit
See “Advance Parole”. See “Re-Entry Permit”.

Form I-134 Affidavit of Support
Primarily used in cases involving persons who are applying for an immigrant visa. This form is to affirm that the listed dependents (spouse and children under 21), will be properly financially supported and will not become a public charge.

Form I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker
Form to file with USCIS when processing an employment – based immigrant visa (to obtain a “Green Card”). This petition must be approved before the alien may go to the next step of the Adjustment of Status.

Form I-485 Application for Adjustment of Status

Adjustment of Status (AOS) is the process of adjusting the alien’s status from nonimmigrant to immigrant. This can take place as a part of the “Green Card” process. When all the proper forms and supporting documents are filed with USCIS for the Adjustment of Status, an interview is scheduled, which, if all goes well, should result in the stamping of the immigrant visa in the passport. The counterpart of the Adjustment of Status is “Consular Processing”.

Form I-539 Application to Extend/Change Non-Immigrant Status
Used to extend the visa period of stay or change the status for non-working family dependents, or for a worker changing status to a dependent.

Form I-797 Notice of Action
A document that is issued by the USCIS, showing “action” taken on a particular process. The most frequent use of this form is either a “Receipt Notice” or an “Approval Notice” (see definitions of each).

Form I-824 Application for Action on an Approved Application or Petition.

Form used to request a duplicate Approval Notice or to send notification of a previously approved petition to a U.S. Consulate or Port of Entry.

Form N-400 Application for Naturalization
Form to file with USCIS to begin the Naturalization (Citizenship) process.

Form DS-156
Nonimmigrant Visa Application, formerly known as Optional Form 156. This is a Department of State form, not an USCIS form. This form is completed by the alien prior to receiving the visa stamp.

Form DS-157
Supplemental Nonimmigrant Visa Application, normally required to be completed by male applicants 16-65 years of age. This is a Department of State form, not an USCIS form. This form is completed by the alien prior to receiving the visa stamp.

Green Card (Immigrant Visa, Permanent Resident Card)

A colloquial term for the identity document or alien registration receipt card issued to permanent resident (immigrant) aliens. The card includes the alien’s photograph, fingerprint and signature, and allows the holder to live and work legally inside the U.S. The card also lets the holder travel outside the U.S. and return as long as primary residence in the U.S. is maintained. At one time the form I-551 identity card was green, which is how it derived its name. It has undergone many revisions. The care is renewable every ten years.

H-1B Visa
This term is also commonly called “work visa”. “H-1B” refer to the classification for Specialty Occupations, commonly workers who performs jobs which would normally require a completed university degree at the Bachelor or Master level.

H-4 Visa
The visa that is obtained for a dependent (spouse or child under 21) of an H classification visa holder. Spouses and dependents in this classifications CANNOT work in the U.S.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
Federal law enforcement agency, which in conjunction with other agencies oversees the enforcement of and compliance with Immigration laws. ICE investigates a wide range of national security, financial and smuggling violations including drug smuggling, human trafficking, illegal arms exports, financial crimes, commercial fraud, human smuggling, document fraud, money laundering, child pornography/exploitation and immigration fraud.

Illegal Alien
Common colloquial term for someone who is also classified as an “undocumented immigrant” or “undocumented alien”, this is someone who enters or lives in the United States without official authorization, either by entering without inspection by the USCIS, overstaying their visa, or violating the terms of their visa.

Immediate Relative
Spouses, parents and children of United States Citizens.

Immigrant
An alien who comes to the U.S. to live permanently. Once an immigrant, their worldwide domicile has been moved to the United States.

Immigration and Naturalization Service (formerly INS, now USCIS)
Under legacy INS, it was a branch of the U.S. Department of Justice. Following major restructuring after “9/11”. The Department of Homeland Security was created, which would oversee the “new INS”, the newly created “Citizenship and Immigration Services”. The USCIS is responsible for admitting foreign nationals into the U.S., and processing all immigration and naturalization related applications made by, or on behalf of, foreign nationals. The USCIS maintains offices throughout the U.S. and in several foreign countries.

Job Posting
Posting a notice for public examination which shows a company’s intention to hire an H-1B Status alien. Among other things, the posting will verify that the salary offered is no less than the prevailing wage for other workers in the same profession. The most common way of posting is to post the actual form ETA 9035 Labor Condition Application (LCA). Job Posting is also referred to in the Immigrant Visa (Green Card) process during the “recruitment” phase.

Labor Certification
The first step in receiving an employment-based visa for certain classes of workers. The potential U.S. employer must first undergo an elaborate and often lengthy process of advertising the position, based on specific instructions from the U.S. Department of Labor, to ensure that no qualified American workers are available to perform the job before hiring the foreign worker.

Labor Condition Application (LCA)
Form ETA-9035. Must be filed with the DOL and signed by the regional certifying officer before we can send a petition for non-immigrant worker (I-129) to USCIS. When an employer signs this form, they attest that they have followed certain “rules” of hiring an H-1B worker. When considering the hire of an H-1B worker, the employer must be willing to attest to all of these conditions to meet DOL regulations.

Naturalization
When an alien is eligible to become a naturalized citizen of the U.S. There are several requirements for eligibility…the first being, that they must have been admitted as a permanent resident, and must have maintained that status for at least five (5) years, in some circumstances three (3) years. They must show good moral characer, and continued physical presence in the U.S.

Nonimmigrant
An alien who comes to the U.S. for a temporary stay and limited, defined purpose, ultimately to return to the home country.

Optional Practical Training
When a foreign student graduates from a U.S. university, they are eligible to apply for an Employment Authorization Document. The EAD will give them an opportunity to become employed in the U.S. in the field of study under which they have just graduated. The OP-EAD, as it is sometimes called, is valid for 12 months, and is not renewable. Before the OP-EAD expires, however, the status may be changed to an H-1B visa or TN visa, requiring sponsorship by a U.S. employer.

Out of Status
When an alien is in the U.S., but has gone beyond the boundaries of the visa. There are many reasons for being “out of status”, but the two most common reasons we see are: (1) the visa extension has not been filed on time before it expired, or (2) the alien has been terminated or becomes ineligible to work, for any reason, and is unemployed. When certain non-immigrant workers become unemployed, for whatever reason, the visa automatically become invalid, even if the date of the visa has not actually expired.

Parole
Permission which allows a foreign national to physically enter the U.S. yet still be considered to not have legally entered the country.

Passport
A document issued by a government that identifies the holder and his citizenship, and permits that individual to travel abroad.

Permanent Residence Status
Confers on foreign nationals the right to live and work in the U.S. without time limitations. Individuals are given alien registration cards upon approval of their application for permanent residence and are thereafter called permanent resident aliens. “Immigrant” is another name for permanent resident alien. When an alien says, “I have my green card”, this means they have permanent residence status and do not need to rely on a particular visa for legal stay and work.

Petition
The forms and appropriate supporting documentation filed with the USCIS to seek approval for a nonimmigrant or prospective immigrant for a specific immigration benefit.

Petitioner
The employer or individual that is filing an application on behalf of an alien.

Port of Entry (POE)
Location (city) where the alien first enters the U.S. These are most frequently airports, but can also be land-border crossing posts, or sea ports.

Preferences
Certain groups of people are given first chance at the green cards available under a quota every year. The two main preference categories are family preference and employment preference. Green Cards essentially come in five major preference categories, with several sub-categories.

Public Charge
Immigrants who become dependent upon public assistance, fail to find employment, and are unlikely to be self-supporting in the future may be deported on the grounds that they have become a “public charge.”

Receipt Notice
Form I-797 that shows that USCIS has received your form or petition and are now proceeding to process. It will give you an estimate of just how long the processing will take on your particular case. Visa applications submitted at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy do not carry receipt notices, although many posts will issue some form of written acknowledgement by fax or email.

Re-Entry Permit
USCIS permission for a Green Card holder to travel abroad for an extended time period without violating the residency requirements of physical presence in the U.S. (“six month rule”). The Re-Entry permit is a ‘passport-like’ document valid for 2 years.

Refugee
A person outside of the U.S. and unable or unwilling to return to his or her country because of persecution or a well-rounded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

Removal / Removal Proceeding
The process of physically removing an Alien from the United States. USCIS and ICE will put an Alien in legal proceedings to effect the Alien’s voluntary or forced departure from the U.S. if deemed removable by an Immigration Judge.

Service Centers (CSC, VSC, MSC, TSC)
USCIS has four service centers throughout the U.S., which processes all our petitions and most other forms we may file for various reasons. They are in Vermont, Texas, California and Nebraska. These service centers are not to be confused with district offices, which are local offices, usually located in major metropolitan areas.

Status
Often confused by laypeople with a “visa”, a status is the description of foreign national (or “alien”) issued by the USCIS inspector upon entering the U.S. The I-94 card (green or white) describes the terms and limits of an Alien’s stay in the U.S. The status is a permission to be physically present within the U.S. under certain terms and restrictions. If an Alien is no longer physically in the U.S., the status automatically terminates.

Unlawful Presence
When any alien is “present in the United States after the expiration of the period of stay authorized by the Attorney General or [being] present in the United States without being admitted or paroled.” The Immigration and Naturalization Service (USCIS), in a September 19, 1997 memo, has interpreted this to mean that only time spent in the United States beyond the date of expiration on an I-94 card will count as unlawful presence. An alien may also begin to accrue unlawful presence if he is in the U.S. without inspection or parole, if he is found to have violated status by a Service director or an immigration judge, or if the Service terminates the parole granted to an alien.

Visa
Document needed for travel to the U.S. An individual planning to travel to the U.S. from any country as a nonimmigrant must apply for entry permission at an American Consulate/Embassy outside the U.S. A stamp (visa) placed in the passport, permits the individual to board a vessel to the U.S. A visa is a travel document used to apply for permission to enter the U.S. for a specific purpose and duration.

Visa Extension / Renewal
A process to extend and renew the period of stay of a nonimmigrant visa by filing an application with your local U.S. consulate or embassy in your home country. Personal interviews and appearance at the Consulate are now required for all Applicants. Mail-in renewals/extensions are no longer possible.

Visa Waiver Program (VWP)
Enables citizens of the currently 27 participating countries to travel to the U.S. for tourism or business for 90 days or less, without obtaining a U.S. visa. The holder of a Visa Waiver is not authorized for employment and cannot change or extend status while in the U.S.

Visitor Visa (Tourist Visa)
B-1 or B-2 Visa – Given to citizens of a foreign country who wish to enter the U.S. temporarily for Business or Pleasure. The holder of this visa is not authorized for employment while in the U.S. This visa, by necessity, is mostly applied for by nationals of countries who are not in the small group of participating Visa Waiver nations, or by nationals who are otherwise no longer eligible to travel to the U.S. on visa waiver.