USA Immigration Glossary

USAFIS presents its new glossary of U.S. Immigration Definitions. The list of immigration and legal terms defined in our glossary will help you to educate yourself in the field of U.S. immigration-related terms and abbreviations. Words used in the U.S. immigration process, as well as in the Green Card Lottery application process, are rather complex. Immigration-specific terms are often specialized and their meanings are not always clear to a non-experienced applicant. You are welcome to use the USAFIS glossary of U.S. immigration terms to get a deeper understanding of the U.S. immigration process.


  • Accompanying Relative – See ‘Derivative Beneficiary’, below
  • Adjustment of Status (AOS)

When one enters the U.S., he or she is given a certain status based upon the reason for that specific visit. Someone with a student visa, for example, is given the status of a student that allows him or her to study in the U.S.

When a person who has a non-immigrant status wishes to apply for a green card – this is called adjustment of status. For example: someone who entered the US in student status and thereafter, weds a US citizen and applies for a green card based upon that marriage.

Please note that changing from one type of non-immigrant status to another non-immigrant status is called change of status. For example: changing from a student status to H-1B status (temporary worker status).

  • Admission

Admission is defined as legal entry into the United States of America as approved by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer (CBP). At the port of entry, the CBP issues a Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Card) stating both the legal status and the duration for which you are permitted to remain in the United States.

  • Advance Parole

Anytime you are adjusting status to a green card and you wish to leave the country, special permission is required to re-enter the US. This is called Advance Parole. Green Card applicants and their children under 21 must apply for advance parole before leaving the United States for any period of time, unless they are already in specific temporary worker status (i.e., H or L status). If they do not, they risk having their AOS applications cancelled by immigration authorities.

  • Affidavit of Support

A document promising financial support by an American citizen for a foreign national upon the foreign national’s entry into the United States in order to prevent him or her from requesting US government financial assistance during the stay in the US. A US citizen (“the sponsor”) is required to make this promise as part of a family-based Immigration Visa application (and in some limited employment situations).


  • Beneficiary

The person on whose behalf a petition is filed. For example: when a U.S. citizen woman files an application for her husband, she is the petitioner, her husband is the beneficiary of the petition who is eligible to apply for a Green Card.

  • Bona Fide Employer

This refers to an American employer sponsoring a foreign employee who meets USCIS requirements. Employers must prove financial stability and regular company operations.

  • Bona Fide Marriage

This refers to a genuine marriage and not one entered into for the purpose of fraudulent entry into the United States.


  • Cancelled without Prejudice

Embassy or consulate stamp of cancellation that indicates an administrative mistake in the visa or that the visa is a duplicate. It does not affect the validity of other visas in the passport nor does it prejudice future visa applications.

  • Case Number

A number issued to immigrant visa applications by the National Visa Center (NVC). This number is issued to all permanent resident applicants whether they are family-based or employment-based as well as to winners of the DV Lottery.

  • Change of Status

Change of Status refers to an alien legally entering the United States on a non-immigrant visa (such as a student visa) and wishes to change to another non-immigrant visa classification (such as temporary skilled employee status) without being required to exit the US during the process.

  • Conditional Residence

The USCIS provides two groups of immigrants with conditional Green Cards valid for a period of two years. Several months before the two year period ends, the Green Card must be renewed through a procedure called “Removal of Conditional Status”, using Form I-751 for conditional residence based on marriage (form I-829 to remove conditional status for investor green card).

  • Consular Officer

An employee of the United States government assigned to handle consular affairs such as issuing visas and passports. Consular officers working for the Department of State decide who is eligible to apply for a visa.

  • Consular Processing

Applying for a visa or a Green Card in a foreign country through the local US consulate. For example, when a U.S. citizen marries a non-citizen in a country other than the U.S., the non-citizen will need to apply for the Green Card in that country using consular processing.

  • Consulate

An office belonging to the United States government, usually located in a one or more large cities of a foreign country, where US consular affairs are handled. The US Embassy is usually located in a foreign country’s national capital, while a US Consulate may be located in one or more large cities in a foreign country.

  • Customs & Border Protection (CBP) Officer

Customs and Border Protection Officers are stationed at all United States Ports of Entry to provide the actual determination of a foreign national’s period of legal stay in the United States, which will be noted upon a Form I-94 presented upon entry. CBP officers are authorized to instigate a secondary investigation to determine in a more detailed manner a traveler’s eligibility to enter the U.S.


  • Denial of Admission

Entry to the United States may be denied by a Customs and Border Protection Officer at a port of entry due to one or more of a variety of reasons (e.g. suspicion of false pretenses, suspicion regarding the intent to immigrate illegally, etc.).

  • Denial of Visa

A request for an entry visa to the United States that is denied by a US consul. Please note that a consul has full authority to deny a visa request, in spite of its previous approval by the USCIS.

  • Department of  State

The branch of the U.S. government in charge of U.S. embassies and consulates around the world.

  • Deportation

Also known as ‘removal’, it is the act of removing an individual from the United States. Removal proceedings usually require a hearing conducted by an immigration judge. Persons removed from the U.S. are generally barred from re-entering for five years unless a waiver is granted.

  • Derivative Beneficiary

Accompanying relatives; immediate family members; the spouse or child (under 21 years old) of a person eligible to receive a visa or a Green Card. Derivative beneficiaries are usually entitled to the same type of visa or Green Card as their eligible relative because of the family relationship. Note that under the Immediate Relative category (see below) there are no derivative beneficiaries allowed.

  • Department of Homeland Security – DHS

Created in 2002, the Department of Homeland Security coordinates the internal security agencies and bodies such as US Customs, the Coast Guard, Citizenship and Immigration and Ports of Entry, etc.

  • Dual Intent

“Dual Intent” indicates an intention to immigrate at some time in the future while properly and currently maintaining non-immigrant status. Dual Intent is a doctrine recognized within the framework of various visa classifications such as H-1 and L-1.

  • Duration of Status (D/S)

Duration of Status is a term recorded on certain I-94 cards issued to foreign nationals at American Ports of Entry by a US Immigration Inspector. This stamp indicates the period during which a foreign national may remain legally in the United States

  • DV Lottery

The Diversity Visa Lottery (DV Lottery) is a lottery conducted annually that issues 50,000 green cards worldwide.


  • EB-1 Employment Based Immigration

This is an employment based green card classification. The following are eligible to apply for this type of green card: (1) people who possess extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics; (2) outstanding professors or researchers; and (3) multinational managers.

  • EB-2

The EB-2 classification is open to those foreign nationals who are professionals holding advanced degrees or their equivalent or exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business who will substantially benefit American interests or welfare.

  • EB-3

This classification is open to professionals with at least a Bachelors Degree; foreign nationals who have two years of experience as skilled workers; or unskilled workers who perform labor for which qualified workers are not available in the United States.

  • EB-4

The EB-4 classification is intended for special immigrant religious workers and other special classifications such as battered women.

  • EB-5 Immigration through Investment

The EB-5 classification is intended for those foreign nationals who have made or are making a significant commercial investment in a new or existing enterprise and through this investment create and/or maintain a certain number of jobs for Americans.

  • Employment Authorization Document (EAD)

The EAD is a work permit available for spouses of principal visa holders of J-1, A-1, E-1, E-2 and L-1. It is considered almost as flexible as a Green Card. You must file a form I-765 in order to receive an EAD.

  • Exchange Visitor (J-1)

A J-1 Exchange Visitor is a foreign national participating in an educational, occupational training or scientific research exchange program.

  • Extension

To extend a petitioner’s status in the U.S.


  • Family First Preference

Family First Preference is the track by which an American citizen may obtain a LPR visa for their foreign national unmarried children over the age of 21.

  • Family Second Preference

Family Second Preference is the track by which an LPR may obtain a LPR visa for their foreign national spouse and children under 21; and unmarried children over the age of 21.

  • Family Third Preference

Family Third Preference is the track by which an American citizen may obtain a LPR visa for their foreign national married children over the age of 21.

  • Family Fourth Preference

Family Fourth Preference is the track by which an American citizen may obtain a LPR visa for their foreign national siblings, their spouses and children.

  • Fiance Visa

K-1 Fiance Visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows fiances who are engaged or contracted to be married to an American citizen to enter the US. The wedding ceremony must be held within a 90 day period from the date of entry.


  • Green Card/GC

A Green Card, officially known as a US Permanent Resident Card, is a special permit allowing its holder to permanently live and work in the United States. The US Permanent Resident Card is commonly referred to as a “Green Card” because this hard plastic card is green in color. The Green Card can be used as a form of identification (ID) in the United States and is proof that a foreign national is a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) of the United States.


  • Immediate Family Category

A spouse of a US citizen, an unmarried child (under 21), or a parent of a US citizen over the age of 21 may receive an immigrant visa without having to wait for a priority number to become available.

  • Immigrant Visa

A visa intended for a person who wishes to permanently stay in the United States. In order to receive an immigrant visa a person needs to meet certain requirements, usually in the area of family ties or employment.

  • Immigration Lottery

The Diversity Immigrant Visa program is a United States congressionally mandated lottery program for receiving a United States Permanent Resident Card. It is also known as the Green Card Lottery. The lottery is administered on an annual basis by the Department of State and conducted under the terms of Section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

  • Inadmissibility

Certain potential immigrants are ruled inadmissible or undesirable by U.S. authorities due to their past history, health, financial situation or the danger that they pose to the public. In some cases inadmissibility can be overcome, usually through the help of an attorney.

  • Intra-Company Transferee Visa (L-1)

The L-1 Visa is intended to allow multinational corporations the opportunity to transfer managers and experts to the United States on a temporary basis.


  • J-1 Designation

The J-1 Exchange Visitor Designation is the accreditation in which an organization provides J-1 sponsorship to a variety of specific training programs.

  • J-1 Sponsor

U.S. organization that sponsors foreign nationals wishing to participate in an occupational training program in the United States.


  • Labor Certification (LC)

Labor Certification is a process which certain foreign nationals are obligated to follow in order to receive permission to work in specific fields in the United States.

  • Labor Condition Application (LCA)

All H-1B visa petitioners must apply and receive preliminary approval, called an LCA, from the Department of Labor in order to receive subsequent visa approval.

  • Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR)

A Lawful Permanent Resident is any person who is not a citizen of the United States, but is lawfully residing the United States. All LPR’s are required to maintain and carry a Green Card.

  • Legal Status (In Status/Out Status)

This is adhering to the terms of the status given upon entry to the US. For example, you are a foreign national on a student visa engaged in full-time study and not working, you are “in status.” On the other hand, if you are a foreign national on a student visa and work full-time in your uncle’s shop and don’t study, you are “out of status.”



  • National Visa Center (NVC)

Located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the National Visa Center (NVC) processes immigrant visa petitions from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for those who will apply for immigrant visas at US embassies and consulates.

  • Naturalization

The process through which an alien (non-citizen), becomes a U.S. citizen.

  • Non-immigrant Visa

A visa intended for people wishing to enter the United States for a temporary period of time. Non-immigrant visa categories include tourists, businessmen, workers, students, etc…

  • Non-immigrant Visa Application (DS-156)

The form is an application to receive a visa (permit of entry stamped in a foreign passport) presented to a local US consulate.



  • Overstay

“Overstay” is the term that describes the situation in which a visitor to the United States remains in the country after the date approved and recorded on his I-94 form. “Overstay” is grounds for sanctions to be instituted against the foreign national ranging from cancellation of the visa to denial of entry based upon the duration of the “overstay” period.



  • Passport

A passport is an official document of a nation that when issued to a citizen serves as legal documentation of the holder’s identity and allows the individual to cross national borders in accordance with the countries’ laws and statutes.

  • Permanent Resident/PR

A person with a Green Card who is allowed to legally live and work in the U.S. long-term.

  • Petition

A formal request made by either a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident (PR) on behalf of an applicant (the beneficiary), proving the applicant is qualified to receive an immigrant visa or a Green Card.

  • Port of Entry

The port of entry is the place where a foreign national enters the United States. It is at this location where he will undergo an examination of identity, verification of biometric data, examination of the validity of one’s passport and where the attached visa will be allocated and/or approved to enter the United States.

  • Port of Exit

The port of exit is the place where a foreign national departs the United States. It is at this location where he may undergo an examination of identity, verification of biometric data, examination of the validity of one’s passport and visa in order to verify that the visitor was “in status” during his stay in the United States (See Overstay).

  • Premium Processing

Premium Processing Service, provides applicants with the opportunity to obtain a more rapid processing of their petition (for specific visas) for an additional payment.

  • Preference Categories

The categories in which relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent residents apply for an immigrant visa are ranked by preference from highest to lowest. Each category is granted a certain number of visas annually. The waiting period for each category varies according to the number of visas in the category.

  • Preference Relative

A family member of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident who belongs to one of the preference categories.

  • Prevailing Wage

Prevailing Wage is the hourly wage, employment benefits and overtime, paid in a specific occupation, in a particular region of the US.

  • Priority Date

The date on which an application was filed with the immigration authorities. By checking the Visa Bulletin (see below) published by the Department of State, an applicant can see which priority dates are currently being processed and can then estimate how long he or she will have to wait for their visa.



  • Quota

A specific number of immigrants who are allowed each year to enter the United States. Immediate relatives however, are not subjected to quotas. Quotas are set by the U.S. Congress each year.



  • Receipt Notice

This is an I-797 Notice of Action confirming that the Department of Homeland Security received a petition or application.

  • Re-entry Permit

Legal Permanent Residents (Green Card holders) who know in advance that they will need to remain outside the US for over one year may apply for a re-entry permit. A re-entry permit preserves the Green Card and proves that you do not intend to abandon permanent residence while outside of the US. Re-entry permits are issued for a period of two years and may be extended, under certain circumstances, for an additional period of two years. Re-entry permits are filed on form I-131.

  • Religious Workers Visa (R-1)

The R-1 visa is issued to non-immigrant foreign nationals engaged in religious work within the framework of a recognized denomination. This visa requires organizational sponsorship by a non-profit organization. This visa is applicable to priests, ministers and religious instructors and others who provide religious services.

  • Refugee

A person fleeing his or her country to escape persecution and who is seeking special immigration status in the United States. Unlike asylees (see above), refugees can apply for their special status before coming to the U.S.

  • Removal

The formal name for deportation, the act of expelling a person from the US.

  • Removal Proceedings

A legal procedure for removing a person from the United States. Removal proceedings are held in front of an immigration judge who decides whether the person can/should be removed from the United States.

  • Request for Evidence (RFE)

The RFE is a written and detailed request made by the USCIS to a visa applicant to provide additional documentation in order to establish and/or support visa eligibility. In such cases, the applicant or petitioner is usually given no more than 12 weeks to respond to a request for evidence.


  • Secondary Inspection

A thorough investigation conducted by a CBP Officer when questions arise concerning the validity of a foreign national’s eligibility to enter the United States. The inspection may result in a decision to deny entry.

  • Security Checks

Background investigations conducted in order to prevent certain individuals from entering the US.

  • Service Center

A USCIS office for handling immigration issues for people in the U.S.

  • Special Immigrant Visa

If a permanent resident (Green Card holder) remained outside the US for over a year without first receiving special permission (re-entry permit, see above), they may need to request a special immigrant visa in order to return to the US in LPR status. You must apply for a special immigrant visa at the local consulate with proof of the reason that required the stay outside the US. You must also prove that there was no intention of abandoning your residence in the US.

  • Specialty Occupation Visa (H-1B)

H-1B visas are intended for persons in a specialty occupation, which requires the theoretical and practical application of knowledge obtained with the completion of a specific course of higher education.

  • Sponsor

The term ‘sponsor’ is often used to describe the petitioner. In order to be a sponsor, you must have minimum income or assets above a certain level determined by the U.S.government.

  • Spouse

A spouse is a legally married husband or wife and is considered eligible to receive a derivative visa.

  • Spouse of a US Citizen Visa (K-3)

K-3 visas were instituted to help foreign spouses of US citizens to enter the US while waiting for their Green Card to be approved.

  • Student Visa (F-1)

The F-1 Student Visa is issued to foreign nationals accepted to accredited US educational programs. The visa is valid as long as the student maintains a full-time program of study.

  • Supplemental Non-immigrant Visa Application (DS-157)

The DS-157 is a supplemental visa application for non-immigrant visas in which the petitioner is requested to provide information that will assist the relevant authorities to conduct their security background investigations. This form is presented to the consulate when applying for a NIV. In most cases, this information is requested from males between the ages of 16-45.


  • Technology Alert List (TAL)

The Technology Alert List provides a summary of technologies and fields with potential “dual-use” applications. The TAL list is a comprehensive security check that includes every technology or skill involving chemistry, immunology and pharmacology, as well as architecture, civil engineering, and urban design.

  • Temporary Visitor Visa (B-1/B-2)

This is the most common visa classification for short-term visits to the United States.

  • Temporary Worker

A temporary worker is a non-immigrant employee legally permitted to work in the United States for a limited period of time under certain classifications.

  • Treaty Investor Visa (E-2)

This visa is intended for citizens of countries with which the United States maintains treaties of commerce and navigation. The citizens who are in the progress of or have made a substantial capital investment in a bona fide US business are eligible to apply for the E-2 Visa.

  • Treaty Trader Visa (E-1)

This visa is intended for citizens of countries with which the United States maintains treaties of commerce and navigation. The citizens who carry on trade of a substantial nature, which is international in scope, are eligible to apply for the E-1 Visa.


  • United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

In March 2003, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was made part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and renamed the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The USCIS is responsible for the secure, efficient and improved administration of immigration and naturalization adjudication functions and establishing immigration services policies and procedures.

  • Undocumented Alien

An illegal alien. A person who entered the United States without receiving permission from the U.S. government and is therefore in the U.S. illegally.

  • US Diversity Visa Lottery

Alternative name for US Green Card Lottery program. The intention of the US Diversity Visa Lottery program is to make America more diversified by having different ethnic groups joining into the melting pot of the United States.

  • US -VISIT Program

US-VISIT is a program to enhance border and national security while easing legitimate travel and trade. It makes use of biographic and biometric technologies as well as the high-speed transfer of information.


  • Visa

A permit issued by a consulate of the United States granting a person permission to enter the US with certain restrictions, which depends on the type of visa granted.

  • Visa Bulletin

A chart issued by the Department of State showing which priority numbers are currently being processed. The Visa Bulletin helps applicants estimate how long they will have to wait for their visas by listing the waiting period other applicants had to go through.

  • Visa Interview

Conducted by a consular officer, the interview serves as an important instrument in determining eligibility, potential causes for denial and the need for any special security checks (e.g. TAL).

  • Visa Waiver Program (VWP)

The VWP allows citizens of some 27 participating countries to enter the United States as visitors for pleasure or business without first getting a visa. Visitors can only stay for 90 days and cannot extend their stay.


  • Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility

Applicants who are inadmissible to enter the US and want to appeal the decision, must request special permission to disregard the reason for the inadmissibility and to be issued the visa.