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Immigration Terms - What Do They Mean – Immigration Lawyer New York
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Immigration Terms - What Do They Mean

By Michael H. Markovitch, Esq. on May, 11, 2016

Immigration law is very complex, using numerous acronyms and technical terms. To assist you in understanding these terms, we at the Law Offices  of Michael H. Markovitch offers this Glossary of Immigration Terms that you may frequently encounter.



“A” Number – A number that is assigned to an individual by USCIS generally when an immigrant (green card) petition is filed.  The same number is maintained for the individual through the entire immigration process.  Most non-immigrants do not have A numbers, except that A numbers are provided on employment authorization documents.

A Visas – Non-immigrant visa category reserved for diplomats, officials and employees of foreign governments recognized by the U.S. who are entering the U.S. on official business, and their immediate families. Includes A-1, A-2 and A-3 subcategories. Family members in A-1/A-2 status may obtain employment authorization.

AC21 – American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act of 2000.  This law added sections relating to H-1B portability, extension of H-1B status beyond the six-year limit in certain circumstances, and green card portability.

ACWIA – American Competitiveness Workforce Improvement Act of 1998.  This law temporarily increased the number of H-1B visas available, mandated an additional $1000 training fee for certain H-1B petitions, and added specific requirements for H-1B dependent employers. This law expired on October 1, 2003.

Acquired Citizenship – Citizenship at birth for children born in foreign countries whose parent(s) are U.S. citizen(s).

Adjustment of Status – Procedure allowing certain aliens already in the United States in a nonimmigrant, refugee, asylee, or parolee category to apply for permanent residence (green card). An immigrant visa number must be available for an adjustment of status application to be filed.

Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) – The office that has the authority to review certain types of USCIS Service Center decisions on immigrant and non-immigrant petitions and other applications for immigration benefits.

Advance Parole – An application made for permission to leave the U.S. while an adjustment of status application is pending at USCIS. Failure to obtain advance parole before departure results in abandonment of the adjustment of status application. Individuals in valid H and L status generally do not need advance parole to travel, with a few exceptions.

Age-Out – In general, to obtain an immigrant visa or adjustment of status as a derivative child, an individual must be under the age of 21.  An individual who reaches the age of 21 is considered to have “aged-out.”  However, the Child Status Protection Act provides certain rules to prevent individuals from aging out, except for in situations where an immigrant visa number is not available due to backlogs.

Alien – not a being from outer space. In immigration terms, an individual who is not a U.S. national or citizen.

Application Support Center – USCIS Office that captures biometric data (including fingerprints) from applicants for immigration benefits.

Asylee – A person who is physically present in the U.S. or at a U.S. port-of-entry, who is unable or unwilling to return to his/her home country because of persecution or a well founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.  An asylee can obtain employment authorization and can eventually adjust status to permanent resident.



B-1 Visa – A non-immigrant category for individuals to come to the U.S. for business purposes that do not involve U.S. employment.  The individual must demonstrate that s/he has no intention of abandoning his/her foreign residence and is only planning a temporary visit, as well as show sufficient financial arrangements to carry out the purpose of his/her visit.  Usually admitted for six months.

B-2 Visa – A non-immigrant category for individuals to come to the U.S. for pleasure (tourism).  The individual must demonstrate that s/he has no intention of abandoning his/her foreign residence and is only planning a temporary visit.  Usually admitted for six months.

BCIS – See Citizenship and Immigration Service, U.S.

BCBP – See Customs and Border Protection, U.S.

Beneficiary – Alien on whose behalf a U.S. citizen, legal permanent resident, or employer has filed a petition to enable the alien to receive immigration benefits from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.

BICE – See Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S.

Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeal (BALCA) – The office with authority to review labor certification decisions issued by the Regional Certifying Officers of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Business Necessity – In the labor certification process, any job requirement that is not normally required for the job in the U.S. and any foreign language requirement must be justified by business necessity. Business necessity may be shown if “the job requirements bear a reasonable relationship to the occupation in the context of the employer’s business and are essential to perform, in a reasonable manner, the job duties as described by the employer.”



Change of Status – This refers to an application or petition filed to USCIS to change an individual from one non-immigrant visa status to another non-immigrant visa status.  In general, the individual must be maintaining legal status at the time when the application/petition is filed.  If the individual departs the U.S. while the application/petition is pending at USCIS, the change of status request is automatically considered to be abandoned.

Chargeability – Because many immigrant visa categories are backlogged, the determination as to which country’s quota an individual is charged to can be very significant.  In general, an individual is chargeable to his/her country of birth, not country of citizenship.  However, children may be charged to the country of either parent and spouses may be charged to the country of their accompanying spouse.

Child – An unmarried person under 21 years of age who is: a child born in wedlock; a stepchild; a legitimated child; a child born out of wedlock; or a child adopted while under 16 years of age.

Citizenship and Immigration Service, U.S. (USCIS) – The agency within the Department of Homeland Security that is responsible for adjudicating immigration benefits.  These functions were formerly performed by the INS under the U.S. Department of Justice.

Conditional Resident – Any alien granted permanent resident status on a conditional basis (either a spouse of a U.S. citizen or an immigrant investor), who is required to petition for the removal of the conditions before the second anniversary of the approval of his or her conditional status.

Consulates – The offices located in each U.S. Embassy or Consulate post around the world with responsibility for adjudicating and issuing visas.  U.S. Consulates operate under the authority of the Department of State.

Crimes of Moral Turpitude – Generally refers to crimes which are inherently base, vile or depraved, and contrary to the accepted rules of morality and the duties owed between persons or to society in general.  Holding an evil intent is the essence of moral turpitude.  In general, individuals convicted of crimes of moral turpitude are inadmissible to the U.S. and may not be naturalized as U.S. citizens, although some exceptions and waivers are available.

Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) – Formerly part of INS, the agency within the Department of Homeland Security that is responsible for inspections at ports-of-entry, including immigration, customs and agricultural inspections, as well as border patrol.  USCBP is under the supervision of the Directorate of Border and Transportation Security.


Deportation – The formal removal of an alien from the United States when the alien has been found removable for violating the immigration laws.  Since the Illegal Immigration and Reform Responsibility Act of 1996, this term is no longer in use and an individual is now placed into “removal” proceedings instead of deportation proceedings.  See Removal.

Dictionary of Occupational Titles – A publication by the U.S. Department of Labor that lists over 19,000 occupational definitions with codes indicating the required training, experience and skills needed to perform the job.  Before the new PERM system, this publication had been used by the Department of Labor in reviewing the job duties and requirements listed on labor certification applications.  Now under the PERM system, the O*Net system is used to determine these issues.

Diplomats and Consular Personnel – People working in a foreign country, under a diplomatic permit, for their country's embassy or consulate. Also refers to citizens traveling abroad under diplomatic passports in order to work for their country's embassies or consulates

District Offices, USCIS – Local offices of USCIS with responsibility for adjudicating certain types of immigration benefits.

Diversity/DV Lottery – An annual program providing immigrant visas to individuals from certain low admission countries around the world.  Applicants must have at least a high school degree or two years of work experience in an occupation requiring at least two years of training or experience.

Dual Intent – The legal concept that an individual may have non-immigrant intent and immigrant (green card) intent at the same time.  Dual intent is permitted for individuals in H and L non-immigrant status.



E-1 Visas – Non-immigrant visa category for treaty traders.  Requires treaty between U.S. and country of citizenship of individual, and company must be at least 50% ultimately owned by citizens of treaty country.  Requires substantial trade principally between U.S. and treaty country.  Individual must be employed as executive, supervisor or essential skills employee.

E-2 Visas – Non-immigrant visa category for treaty investors.  Requires treaty between U.S. and country of citizenship of individual, and company must be at least 50% ultimately owned by citizens of treaty country.  Enterprise must be an active commercial business and investment must be substantial.  Individual must be an investor or employed as executive, supervisor or essential skills employee.

E-3 Visas – Non-immigrant visa category for Australian citizens working in a specialty occupation in the U.S.

EB-1 Employment-Related Visas – See Priority Workers.

Employment Authorization Document (EAD) – A temporary card issued by USCIS that provides an individual with the legal ability to work in the U.S. for any employer in any type of position.  Sometimes referred to as a “work permit.”

Exclusion – Prior to the Illegal Immigration and Reform Responsibility Act of 1996, exclusion was the formal term for denial of an alien’s entry into the United States.   The term that is now used instead of exclusion is “expedited removal.”

Expedited Removal – The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 authorized the INS to quickly remove certain inadmissible aliens from the United States. This authority covers aliens who are inadmissible aliens because they have no entry documents or because they have used counterfeit, altered, or otherwise fraudulent or improper documents.

Extension of Stay – This refers to an application or petition filed to USCIS to extend the individual’s stay in the same non-immigrant visa status.  In general, the individual must be maintaining legal status at the time when the application/petition is filed.



F-1 Student Visas – A nonimmigrant class of admission permitting an alien to come temporarily to the United States to pursue a full course of study in an approved program in either an academic (college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, other institution, or language training program) or a vocational or other recognized nonacademic institution.



G Visas –Non-immigrant category for representatives, officers and employees of certain listed international organizations, their family members, and their servants/personal employees.  Includes G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4 and G-5 subcategories.  Family members in G-1, G-3 and G-4 status may obtain employment authorization.

Green Card – See Immigrant.  Popular name for the Alien Registration card.  In the past, the permanent resident card was green – however, the most recent edition is now pink.



H-1B Visas – A non-immigrant visa category for individuals working in specialty occupations.  The position must require at least a Bachelor’s degree in particular fields, and the individual must hold at least a Bachelor’s degree in the required field, a foreign equivalent degree, or the equivalent education and/or professional work experience.  An H-1B visa is job-specific and employer-specific.  There are limits on the number of H-1B visas that may be issued in each fiscal year.

H-3 Visas – A non-immigrant visa category for temporary workers sponsored by an individual or organization for purposes of receiving instruction and training, other than graduate medical education/training.  The training program cannot be primarily designed to provide productive employment.

Homeland Security, Department of (DHS) – The governmental department established after September 11, 2001, that now has responsibility for most immigration-related functions that were previously the responsibility of the Department of Justice.  The Immigration Courts, Immigration Judges, and Executive Office of Immigration Review continue to remain under the Department of Justice.



I Visas – A nonimmigrant visa category for representatives of foreign press, radio, film or other foreign information media.

I-9 Form – A form that must be completed by all employees and employers (except for household workers) during hire, to certify that the employee is legally authorized to work in the U.S.

I-94 entry/departure record – A form that is filled out by an individual upon arrival to the U.S.  The Immigration officer will keep the arrival portion of the I-94 form, will stamp the departure record with the entry date, and will note the individual’s non-immigrant visa category and expiration date on the departure record.  The departure record card is then stapled into the individual’s passport.  The I-94 card determines an individual’s status in the U.S. and controls how long an individual is authorized to remain in the U.S. The I-94 card must be turned into Immigration officials at the time of the individual's departure from the U.S.

Immediate Relatives – Immigrants who are exempt from numerical limitations imposed on immigration to the U.S. Immediate relatives are: spouses of citizens, children of US citizens (child must be under 21 years of age and unmarried), and parents of US citizens (U.S. citizen must be 21 years of age or older).

Immigrant – The Immigration and Nationality Act broadly defines an immigrant as any alien in the U.S., except one legally admitted under specific non-immigrant categories. Permanent residents are commonly referred to as immigrants. Lawful permanent residents are legally accorded the privilege of residing permanently in the U.S. They may be issued immigrant visas by the Department of State overseas or adjusted to permanent resident status by the USCIS.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (USICE) – formerly part of INS, the agency under the Department of Homeland Security that is responsible for immigration investigations, detention of criminal and other aliens, removal (deportation) of illegal aliens, and intelligence-gathering.  This agency is under the supervision of the Directorate of Border and Transportation Security.

Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) – Most of the U.S. immigration laws are contained within this statute.

Inadmissible – An alien seeking admission at a port of entry who does not meet the criteria in the INA for admission.  Common grounds of inadmissibility include: an individual who has committed or been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude (with some exceptions); person who is likely to become a public charge; person with communicable disease, drug abuser or addict; individual who has been previously deported or removed from U.S. within specified period of time; person who was unlawfully present in the U.S. for more than 180 days; and security grounds (such as terrorism, espionage, etc.).

INS – Immigration and Naturalization Service.  Effective March 2003, this agency was split into three separate agencies and re-organized under the Department of Homeland Security.

Intracompany Transfers – See L-1 Visas.



J-1 Exchange Visitor Visas – A non-immigrant category for individuals who have no intention of abandoning their foreign residence and who qualify as: trainees, students, professors/research scholars, short-term scholars, non-academic specialists, foreign physicians, international visitors, teachers, government visitors, camp counselors, au pairs, or summer students in a travel/work program.  Must be sponsored by an exchange visitor program that has been approved by the Department of State.  Certain J visa holders are subject to a requirement that they must return to their home country or country of last residence for a two-year period upon completion of their training in the U.S.



K Visas – Non-immigrant category for fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens who seek to enter the U.S. to marry the U.S. citizen within 90 days from entry.



L-1 Visas – A non-immigrant visa category for individuals, who have been employed for at least one continuous year out of the last three by an international firm or corporation, and seek to enter the United States temporarily in order to continue work for the same employer, or a parent, subsidiary, affiliate or joint venture, in a capacity that is primarily managerial, executive, or involves specialized knowledge.

Labor Certification – Generally, the first required step to obtain permanent residence in the U.S. based upon employment.  The U.S. employer must demonstrate that minimally qualified U.S. workers are unavailable, unwilling or unqualified for the job offer and that they are offering a salary that meets the prevailing wage for the geographic area.

Labor Condition Application (LCA) – A form that must be filed as part of the H-1B petition process.  In filing this form, the employer certifies that it is paying the required wage, that it is providing comparable working conditions, that no strike/lockout is occurring at the place of employment, and that it has provided notice to its workers at the place of employment.  This form may now be electronically filed and is instantaneously certified by the Department of Labor.

Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) – Any person not a citizen of the United States who is residing in the U.S. under permanent residence. Also known as “Permanent Resident Alien,” “Resident Alien Permit Holder,” and “Green Card Holder.” See Immigrant.



National Interest Waiver – In the permanent residence process, a waiver of the normal labor certification and job offer requirements that may be obtained if: (1) the person seeks employment in an area of substantial intrinsic merit; (2) the benefit will be national in scope; and (3) the national interest would be adversely affected if a labor certification were required.  A national interest waiver is not available solely to address a local labor shortage.  The petitioner must prove that the benefit that his/her unique skills would provide substantially outweighs the inherent national interest in protecting U.S. workers through the labor certification process.

Naturalization – The conferring, by any means, of citizenship upon a person after birth.

Nonimmigrant – An alien who seeks temporary entry to the United States for a specific purpose.  Under U.S. immigration law, all nonimmigrants are presumed to be intending immigrants unless they can show otherwise.  See Dual Intent.

North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – Trade agreement among the U.S., Canada and Mexico.  This agreement includes special rules for Canadians and Mexicans to come to the U.S. as business visitors, professionals, treaty traders/investors and intracompany transferees.



O-1 Visas – A non-immigrant visa category for individuals who have extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics which has been demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim.

Optional Practical Training – see Practical Training.



P Visas (for athletes and performers) – A non-immigrant visa category for a person who performs as an athlete, either individually or as part of a group, at an internationally recognized level of performance, OR a person who performs with or is an integral or essential part of an entertainment group that has been recognized internationally as being outstanding in the discipline for a sustained and substantial period of time.  For performers, the individual must have had a sustained and substantial relationship with the group over a period of at least one year.

PERM – New re-engineered procedure for labor certification applications, with specific recruitment requirements, electronic filing of applications, and Department of Labor audits based upon random selection and answers to certain questions.  This procedure took effect on March 28, 2005.

Permanent Resident – see Immigrant.

Permanent Resident Alien – see Immigrant.

Port of Entry – Any location in the United States or its territories that is designated as a point of entry for aliens and U.S. citizens.

Practical Training – This is a temporary period of employment authorization that may be given to F-1 students either during the academic program (curricular practical training) or upon completion of the academic program (optional practical training).  Practical training must be approved by the school’s Foreign Student Officer and the approval must be annotated on the I-20 document.  Individuals who wish to wish to work under optional practical training must also apply to the USCIS for an employment authorization document before they may work.

Preference System (Immigrant Act of 1990) – The nine categories among which the family-sponsored and employment-based immigrant preference visas are distributed. The family-sponsored preferences are: 1) unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens; 2) spouses, children, and unmarried sons and daughters of permanent resident aliens; 3) married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens; 4) brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens. The employment-based preferences are: 1) priority workers (persons of extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers, and certain multinational executives and managers); 2) professionals with advanced degrees or aliens with exceptional ability; 3) skilled workers, professionals (without advanced degrees), and needed unskilled workers; 4) special immigrants; and 5) employment creation immigrants (investors).

Premium Processing Service – A new procedure by which USCIS will guarantee expedited 15-calendar day processing of certain types of petitions after payment of an additional $1000 fee.  Currently, only I-129 nonimmigrant petitions (H-1B, H-3, L-1, TN, E-1, E-2, O-1, P-1) are eligible for premium processing service.

Prevailing Wage – The weighted average of wages paid to all employees in the same occupation within the geographic area.  Generally, the prevailing wage must be determined through the Department of Labor’s OES wage system, a published salary survey, or an employer-conducted survey.

Principal Alien – The alien who applies for or is sponsored for immigrant or non-immigrant status and from whom another alien may derive lawful status under immigration law or regulations (usually spouses and unmarried children under age 21).

Priority Date – In the permanent residence process, the priority date is the date when the immigrant petition or labor certification application was filed, whichever comes first.  For permanent resident categories in which there are backlogs, the priority date is used to determine an individual’s place in line.

Priority Workers – The category of employment-based immigrant visa petitions which includes Extraordinary Ability Aliens, Outstanding Researchers/Professors and Multi-National Managers/Executives.  Immigrant petitions filed in these categories do not require labor certification.



Reduction in Recruitment – An expedited procedure for labor certification in which the employer demonstrates that it has engaged in a pattern of recruitment in the six month period before the labor certification application is filed, and that it has been unable to find minimally qualified U.S. workers to fill the position. With the advent of the new PERM process in March 2005, this procedure is no longer available for new filings.

Reentry Permit – A document that enables a permanent resident to re-enter the U.S. after a stay abroad for more than one year.  The individual must be physically present in the U.S. when the application is filed.  Re-entry permits are valid for two years, or for one year for individuals who have already held re-entry permits for four years or longer.

Refugee – Any person who is outside his or her country of nationality who is unable or unwilling to return to that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of the person’s race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Removal – The expulsion of an alien from the United States. This expulsion may be based on grounds of inadmissibility or deportability.  Previously known as deportation.



Service Centers – National USCIS offices established to handle the filing, data entry, and adjudication of certain applications for immigration services and benefits. The applications are mailed to USCIS Service Centers -- Service Centers are not staffed to receive walk-in applications or questions.

SEVIS – The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is a web-based system for maintaining information on international students (F-1 visaholders) and exchange visitors (J-1 visaholders) in the United States.

State Department – The US governmental department with responsibility for adjudicating and issuing visas.  All of the US Consulates fall under the jurisdiction of the State Department.

Student – See F-1 Student Visas.



TN Visas – A category of non-immigrant visa available only to certain Canadian and Mexican professionals who hold Bachelor’s degrees in their field or post-secondary degrees with a certain number of years of experience in their field.  See NAFTA.

Trainee – See H-3 Visas and J-1 Exchange Visitor Visas.

Treaty Trader or Investor – See E-1 and E-2 Visas.



Unlawful Presence – A legal term referring to an overstay by a nonimmigrant in the U.S. beyond the expiration date listed on the I-94 card, with certain exceptions.  An individual who accrues more than 180 days of unlawful presence and subsequently departs the U.S. is barred from returning to the U.S. for a period of three years, while an individual who accrues more than one year of unlawful presence is barred for ten years.



Visa – A U.S. visa allows the bearer to apply for entry to the U.S. in certain classifications. A visa does not grant the bearer the right to enter the U.S.  The Department of State (DOS) is responsible for visa adjudication at U.S. Embassies and Consulates outside of the U.S.

Visa Revalidation – A process by which an individual who holds an expired nonimmigrant visa may apply by mail to the State Department Visa Office for a new visa in the same category.  Visa revalidation was only available for E, H, I, L, O and P visaholders.  This process was discontinued in July 2004.

Visa Waiver Pilot Program – see Visa Waiver Program.

Visa Waiver Program – Allows citizens of certain selected countries, traveling temporarily to the United States under the nonimmigrant categories of visitors for pleasure and visitors for business, to enter the United States without obtaining nonimmigrant visas from a US Consulate. Admission is for no more than 90 days, and an individual who enters the U.S. under this program may not change or extend their status in the U.S.


For further information or questions you may have, please do not hesitate to contact The Law Offices of Michael H. Markovitch.



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