Immigration Glossary


Definitions and correct spellings for common immigration terms


Contents



Glossary


A


ADJUDICATE

To make a decision or determination, usually related to a legal issue or dispute. When an immigration case has been “adjudicated,” it means that an officer has made a decision to either approve or deny the requested immigration benefit.


ADJUSTMENT OF STATUS

The process of applying for a green card from within the United States, as opposed to applying from outside the United States using consular processing. It is called “adjustment of status” because the applicant changes from one status (their original visa) to another (permanent U.S. residence). See our green card adjustment of status guide for more information.


ADMISSIBILITY

Eligibility to enter the United States. If a person is found to be admissible, they will be allowed to enter the country after being inspected by an immigration officer. See also inadmissibility.


ADMIT-UNTIL DATE

The date that a person’s immigration status in the United States will expire, as marked in their I-94 travel record. See also duration of status (D/S).


ADVANCE PAROLE

Permission to reenter the United States after traveling abroad without applying for a new visa. Green card applicants can use Form I-131 to apply for advance parole in order to travel abroad without abandoning their application. See also green card.


AFFIDAVIT

A sworn statement submitted in writing, often witnessed by a notary. See also Affidavit of Support.


AFFIDAVIT OF SUPPORT

A document in which a person promises to support an immigrant financially, and to reimburse the U.S. government for the cost of any public assistance they receive. Usually submitted as part of a green card application. Read more here.


ALIEN

A person who is not a U.S. citizen. Under U.S. tax law, green card holders and people who spend significant amounts of time in the United States are considered “resident aliens,” while other foreign nationals, such as temporary visa holders who haven’t yet been in the United States long enough to qualify as “resident,” are considered “nonresident aliens.” See also foreign national.


ALIEN REGISTRATION NUMBER (A-NUMBER)

A number assigned by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to each person who files a visa or immigration application. The A-number — also sometimes called a “USCIS number” or “USCIS#” — remains the same for a person’s whole life, even if they file several different visa or immigration requests. See also case number.


APPEAL

A request to an outside authority to overturn an official decision or ruling. Some immigration decisions can be appealed to the USCIS Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) or the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), an office within the Department of Justice. Other decisions can’t be formally appealed, but can be referred back to the issuing office for reconsideration. See motion to reopen or reconsider.


ASYLUM

Protection and immigration benefits granted to a person already in the United States, or at a U.S. port of entry, because they fear persecution in their home country. A refugee becomes an asylee once they arrive in the United States or at a U.S port of entry. Asylees can request a green card after 1 year in the United States.


AUTOMATIC VISA REVALIDATION

A process allowing certain nonimmigrants to take short trips to Mexico, Canada, or some Caribbean islands and return to the United States on an expired visa, without first needing to apply for a new visa. See the Department of State website for more information.


B


BENEFICIARY

Someone for whom an immigration benefit has been requested, either by the beneficiary themselves, or by a relative or employer. The person for whom the benefit is requested is the principal beneficiary, while close family members who also qualify for such benefits are derivative beneficiaries.


BIOMETRICS

Physical characteristics that can be used to identify a person. When you apply for a visa or other immigration benefits, you will often be called for a biometrics appointment at which your fingerprints will be recorded and your photograph will be taken.


B-VISA

A nonimmigrant visa issued for temporary travel to the United States. The B-visa includes the B-1 visa (used for business) and the B-2 visa (used for tourism and pleasure). Since many people combine business and pleasure during trips to the United States, the visa is often issued as a single multipurpose B-1/B-2 visa.


C


CASE NUMBER

A number issued by USCIS to keep track of individual immigration and visa applications. A single person can have multiple different case numbers (also known as “receipt numbers”) tracking their different immigration requests and visa applications. See also alien registration number.


CERTIFICATE OF CITIZENSHIP

An official document that identifies the holder as a U.S. citizen. It is issued to people who were born abroad, and gained citizenship either at birth or at a later date, such as when their parents became naturalized citizens. See also Certificate of Naturalization.


CERTIFICATE OF NATURALIZATION

An official document that identifies the holder as a U.S. citizen. It is issued to people who gain citizenship through naturalization, following the Oath of Allegiance. See also Certificate of Citizenship.


CITIZENSHIP

To be a national of a particular country. U.S. citizenship can be acquired at birth, through one’s parents at a later date, or through naturalization.


CITIZENSHIP TEST

A test administered during an in-person interview as part of the naturalization process. Candidates for citizenship must show that they can speak, read, and write in English, and must also show a basic knowledge of American civics, including the country’s history and political system. Read more here.


CITIZENSHIP STATUS

See immigration status.


CONDITIONAL RESIDENCE (CR)

A probationary green card status issued to some U.S. residents, such as immigrants who were married for less than 2 years when their marriage-based green card was approved. Conditional residents’ green cards are marked “CR-1” and remain valid for just 2 years, after which they must apply for a permanent green card, valid for 10-year renewable periods. Learn more about the CR-1 Visa.


CONTINUOUS RESIDENCE

A period of time that a green card holder spends in the United States after gaining U.S. residence. Permanent residents must spend between 3 and 5 years continuously resident in the United States in order to qualify for U.S. citizenship. Spending more than 6 months abroad can disrupt continuous residence. See also physical presence.


CONSULAR ELECTRONIC APPLICATION CENTER

The online tool used to file most visa applications submitted from abroad. You can use this portal to submit forms and documents, pay fees, and check the status of your application.


CONSULAR PROCESSING

The process used to apply for a green card from outside the United States, as opposed to applying from within the United States using the “adjustment of status” process. Most of the process is handled by officials at the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest to the applicant’s place of residence.


CONSULATE

A diplomatic office in a foreign country. In many countries, the United States has a big embassy in the capital city, and a number of smaller consulates (run by officials called consuls) in other important towns and cities. Both consulates and embassies offer a wide range of immigration services. Read more about consular immigration services here.


CORRESPONDENCE

Written communication, usually by email or letters, between two or more people or organizations. USCIS sometimes uses the term to refer to the forms and letters sent in by applicants, and notices or receipts it sends back in return.


CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION (CBP)

A U.S. government agency within the Department of Homeland Security. CBP officials protect the U.S. border, enforce customs and immigration regulations, and inspect new arrivals before admitting them to the United States.


CUT-OFF DATE

See final action date.


D


DATE FOR FILING

A date, listed in the visa bulletin, by which certain green card applicants can file their application even if their final action date has not yet been reached. This applies mostly to applicants living outside the United States, but USCIS provides monthly updates on which dates applicants should use.


DEFERRED ACTION FOR CHILDHOOD ARRIVALS (DACA)

A program introduced in 2012 by President Barack Obama to allow undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children (known as “Dreamers”) to lawfully live, study, and work without fear of deportation. Efforts to phase out the program and deport many Dreamers are currently the focus of legal proceedings. Read more here.


DENIAL

The official decision in which USCIS tells a would-be immigrant or visa applicant that their request for an immigration benefit cannot be granted. See also reject.


DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY (DHS)

The U.S. government agency that handles domestic security, including most immigration functions. USCIS and the CBP are both a part of the DHS.


DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE (DOJ)

The U.S. government agency that handles criminal justice and law enforcement. Immigration courts and some immigration appeals are administered by the DOJ.


DEPARTMENT OF STATE (DOS)

The U.S. government agency that handles foreign affairs and diplomacy, and runs U.S. consulates and embassies around the world.


DERIVATIVE

Something that springs from (or “derives from”) another source. In the context of immigration, a person is considered “derivative” if their immigration status depends on the status of their spouse or parent. For example, the child of a green card holder is often eligible for a green card of their own. The person receiving a benefit in this way is called a “derivative beneficiary,” and the visa or other benefit they receive is sometimes called a “derivative benefit” or “derivative classification.”


DISCRETION

The ability to make decisions using one’s own judgement. In some situations, immigration officials are required to make specific rulings; in others, they have broad powers to use their own judgement to decide whether to approve or deny an immigration benefit.


DOMICILE

For immigration and tax purposes, your domicile typically refers not just to your house or apartment, but to your country of residence. This is often referred to as your “country of domicile” or being “domiciled in” a specific country.


DUAL INTENT

A term that refers to a person’s intentions in coming to the United States. To have dual intent is to use a temporary or nonimmigrant visa while simultaneously planning to immigrate permanently to the United States. Most temporary visas don’t allow dual intent, and applying for a green card while using such a visa can cause serious problems. A few visas, such as the H-1B and L-1 visas, do allow for dual intent, allowing them to be used as a stepping stone to a green card.


DUPLICATE

An exact copy, or to make an exact copy. In the immigration context, many forms and documents must be submitted in duplicate form (in other words, a photocopy instead of the original). Learn how to produce flawless document copies for immigration applications.


DURATION OF STATUS (D/S)

A mark or stamp made on a temporary visitor’s I-94 record (in the admit-until date section) when they are admitted to the United States. The D/S mark (sometimes also referred to as “Duration of Stay”) allows a visitor to remain in the United States for as long as they maintain their current immigration status. A student visa holder can often remain in the United States until they complete their educational program, but loses their status once they are no longer enrolled in classes, for instance.


E


ELECTRONIC SYSTEM FOR TRAVEL AUTHORIZATION (ESTA)

An online tool used by people traveling under the Visa Waiver Program to request authorization to come to the United States, for business or pleasure, for a period of 90 days or less.


EMBASSY

A diplomatic office, usually located in a foreign country’s capital city and headed by an ambassador. In many countries, the United States also maintains smaller diplomatic offices called consulates in important towns and cities. Both consulates and embassies offer a wide range of immigration services.


EMIGRATE

To leave one’s home country in order to live permanently in a new country. Sometimes confused with immigrate, which means to move permanently to a new country. You emigrate from one place in order to immigrate to somewhere else.


EMPLOYMENT AUTHORIZATION

The right to work in the United States. Green card holders automatically have employment authorization, but many other non-citizens must request a work permit called an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Employment authorization can be restricted to a specified employer, or can allow a person to work for any employer during their time in the United States.


EMPLOYMENT GREEN CARD

A green card obtained in one of several employment-based (EB) categories. Employer-sponsored green cards, investor green cards, and green cards for immigrants with exceptional skills and abilities are all considered employment green cards. See also family preference and immediate relative.


ESCALATE

To rapidly accelerate or increase the priority level of a given issue. In the immigration context, issues may be escalated when they need special attention. These issues may be moved ahead in line for faster processing or review by an immigration officer or manager.


EXCLUDE

To keep out or not include. In the immigration context, “exclusion” typically refers to a foreign national being denied entry into the United States through a removal procedure.


EXPEDITE

To speed up the progress of something; “expeditious” means speedy or quick. Under immigration law, certain cases can be expedited, meaning that a decision is reached more quickly than the normal processing time.


EXPIRE

To become invalid. Most visas carry an “expiration date” that shows the latest date by which the visas can be used to request entry into the United States. Note that it is possible to have an expired visa without losing one’s immigration status. Your visa’s expiration date is the last date that you can use the visa to travel to the United States, but once admitted to the United States you will receive a D/S mark or admit-until date that tells you how long you are allowed to remain in the country.


F


FAMILY PREFERENCE IMMIGRANT

Foreign nationals who are eligible for green cards because they are related to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, but who are not the immediate relative (spouse, unmarried minor child, or parent) of a U.S. citizen. Adult or married children of U.S. citizens and green card holders, spouses and unmarried minor children of green card holders, and siblings of adult U.S. citizens are all considered family preference immigrants.


FIELD OFFICE

A regional USCIS office that provides services for people resident in a given district. Find your nearest field office here.


FIANCÉ(E) VISA

See K-1 visa.


FILING FEE

A payment that must be made when submitting certain immigration petitions or visa applications, including green card and naturalization applications. In some cases, the fees can be waived if the applicant is experiencing financial hardship.


FINAL ACTION DATE

Also called a cut-off date, this reflects the length of the waiting period for visa numbers in certain oversubscribed green card categories. Applicants must wait until their priority date is prior to the final action date before submitting their green card application. Check our monthly blog post for the latest updates and analysis. See also visa bulletin.


FOREIGN NATIONAL

Anyone who is not a U.S. citizen (also called an “alien”). Green card holders and stateless individuals are both considered foreign nationals.


F-VISA

A widely used category of student visa. F-1 visas are for full-time students; F-2 visas are for their dependents; and F-3 visas are for Mexican or Canadian nationals who reside in their home country but commute to the United States to study. F-1 visa holders are usually eligible for Optional Practical Training, allowing them to work for U.S. employers during and after their studies. See also J-visa and M-1 visa.


G


GENDER

In the context of immigration, gender typically refers to one’s sex at birth. Transgender immigrants can ask USCIS to change the gender indicated on their official immigration documents, including green cards, by presenting court documents, a letter from a healthcare provider, or a government-issued document (such as a passport or driving license) confirming their requested gender designation.


GREEN CARD

The physical card issued to permanent residents of the United States, who are often referred to as green card holders. The green card is also referred to as a Permanent Residence Card (PRC), an immigrant visa, or (when acquired through marriage) a spousal visa.


H


H-1B VISA

A visa used by employers to sponsor skilled foreign workers. The H-1B is one of the few dual intent visas, allowing holders to apply for green cards after coming to the country using an H-1B visa.


HOME RESIDENCE REQUIREMENT (HRR)

A requirement that a J-visa holder return to their home country and remain there for 2 years before seeking a nonimmigrant visa or green card. Also known as the 212(e) rule or the “two year” rule. The HRR can be waived in some circumstances.


I


I-130 (“PETITION FOR ALIEN RELATIVE”)

A form used to establish a family relationship between a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and a person seeking green card status. The first step in a marriage green card application. Read more here.


I-485 (“APPLICATION FOR ADJUSTMENT OF STATUS”)

A form used to apply for a green card from inside the United States, either alongside a Form I-130 or once an I-130 petition has been approved and a visa number has become available. Read more here.


I-797 (“NOTICE OF ACTION”)

A formal communication sent by USCIS to applicants or petitioners. The I-797 can be used to notify you that a requested immigration benefit has been approved or denied, to confirm receipt of payment, to schedule or reschedule appointments and interviews, or to request additional evidence in connection with an application.


I-94 (“ARRIVAL/DEPARTURE RECORD”)

Sometimes called the I-94 travel record, this document tracks the arrivals and departures of visitors to the United States, and can be used to prove lawful entry and current status. You may be issued a paper I-94 when you enter the United States, but in most cases I-94 records are now managed digitally. You can check your online I-94 record and travel history on the CBP website.


IMMEDIATE RELATIVE

For the purposes of green card sponsorship, immediate relatives are defined as spouses of U.S. citizens, children (aged under 21 years old and unmarried) of U.S. citizens, and parents of U.S. citizens (if the U.S. citizen is at least 21 years old). See also family preference.


IMMIGRATE

To immigrate is to move permanently to another country. Often confused with emigrate, which means to move permanently away from a country. You emigrate from one country in order to immigrate to another.


IMMIGRATION

The process of immigrating, or permanently relocating to another country.


IMMIGRATION BENEFIT

Any visa, status, or other right or ability that a foreign national requests from the U.S. government. Green cards, temporary visas, and employment authorizations are all immigration benefits.


IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT (ICE)

The U.S. law enforcement agency tasked with enforcing immigration law, and with identifying and deporting unlawful immigrants. Part of the Department of Homeland Security.


IMMIGRATION AND NATIONALITY ACT (INA)

The federal legislation, passed in 1952, that serves as the legal framework for the current U.S. immigration system. Read it here.


IMMIGRATION LAW

An immigration law is any legislation, regulation, or legal precedent that determines how immigration is administered and enforced. The term can also refer more generally to the field of legal practice that covers immigration issues; for instance, an attorney can specialize in immigration law.


IMMIGRATION STATUS

The legal category in which someone has been admitted into the United States. While someone is maintaining their immigration status in the United States, they are subject to various rules, responsibilities, and benefits associated with that particular status. Someone on a student visa might have to be properly enrolled in classes at their university in order to maintain their status, for instance. Note that your immigration status and your visa are different things; your visa is the specific document (such as an F-1 student visa) that you use to travel to the United States, while your status is the category under which you are admitted and allowed to remain in the country (such as being in F-1 status as a student enrolled in a qualifying degree program). There is no such thing as “visa status” under U.S. immigration law.


INADMISSIBILITY

The quality of not being admissible. For immigration purposes, someone found inadmissible is barred from or ineligible for entrance to the United States, or from receiving a visa, often because of their conduct or circumstances.


INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE (IRS)

The U.S. government agency that collects taxes from individuals and businesses. Records of a person’s payments to the IRS often form an important part of the supporting documents used in subsequent immigration applications.


INTERVIEW

A face-to-face meeting for the purposes of obtaining information. Many visas and other immigration benefits, including green cards and naturalization, require that the applicant attend an interview.


J


J-VISA

A non-immigrant visa issued to students, academics, and cultural exchange visitors. Many J-visas carry a home residence requirement preventing the holder from obtaining other visas, including green cards, until they have left the United States and spent 2 years in their home country.


JOINT SPONSOR

A person other than the primary sponsor who agrees to support a green card applicant financially. A joint sponsor can be used when the primary sponsor doesn’t have the financial means to support the applicant and their household. Read more here.


JURISDICTION

The geographical area or court system within which a particular part of the government exercises its authority. In the context of immigration, “jurisdiction” generally refers to the specific court that has the power and authority to make decisions on a given matter. For example, the U.S. federal court system has jurisdiction over most immigration cases within the United States.


K


K-1 VISA

A fiancé(e) visa that allows a foreign national to travel to the United States for the purpose of marriage to a U.S. citizen. The holder must marry within 90 days of arriving in the United States, and can then adjust their status to receive a green card. The fiancé(e)’s dependents can be issued K-2 visas providing equivalent benefits. Read more here.


K-3 VISA

A visa allowing the spouse of a U.S. citizen to travel to the United States and adjust their status from within the country. The K-3 is seldom used since in most cases it is easier and faster to apply for a green card through consular processing. Read more here.


L


LABOR CERTIFICATION

A process through which an employer proves that no U.S. workers are qualified for a given job. In order to sponsor a foreign national for an employment-based green card, it is often necessary to first obtain labor certification.


LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENCE

The status given to people who are allowed to live and work indefinitely in the United States. Also referred to as having permanent residence, being a resident alien, or simply as having a green card.


L-1 VISA

A nonimmigrant visa that allows multinational companies to transfer foreign workers to their offices in the United States. The L-1 visa allows for dual intent, meaning that it can be used as a stepping stone to a green card.


LOCKBOX

A lockbox is a central filing location that USCIS uses for certain types of applications. Lockbox staff process fees, sort applications, and then forward application packets to the proper USCIS service center for full processing. Currently, there are three lockboxes — in Chicago, IL; Phoenix, AZ; and Dallas, TX. (Boundless will always put the right lockbox address on your application package, so you don’t have to worry).


M


MAIDEN NAME

A woman’s family name prior to marriage. Sometimes also called a “pre-marriage name”.


MARRIAGE-BASED GREEN CARD

A green card obtained through marriage to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Also referred to as a marriage green card or a spousal visa. Read more here.


MEDICAL WAIVER

Special dispensation allowing an immigrant to be admitted into the United States, or issued a visa or other immigration benefit, despite having a medical condition that would ordinarily disqualify them. Read more about medical waivers here.


MOTION TO REOPEN OR RECONSIDER

A request that a government body, such as a USCIS office, reconsider an adverse decision. In many immigration proceedings there is no formal right of appeal, but it is still possible to file a motion asking for officials to take a second look at a finding or adjudication.


M-1 VISA

A student visa chiefly used for the purpose of receiving education or training at a vocational school or technical college.


N


NATIONAL VISA CENTER

A facility, run by the Department of State, that processes visa applications and sends green card application packets to the appropriate embassies and consulates around the world for consular processing. Read more on the DOS website.


NATIONALITY

A person’s country of citizenship, whether by birth or by naturalization.


NATURALIZATION

The process of gaining U.S. citizenship. Green card holders are generally eligible to naturalize after between 3 and 5 years as permanent residents. Read more here.


NATURALIZED CITIZEN

Anyone who gained U.S. citizenship through the naturalization process. Naturalized citizens have all of the same rights and duties as people who have been U.S. citizens from birth.


NONIMMIGRANT

Anyone who does not intend to move permanently to the United States; a temporary visitor or guest-worker. A nonimmigrant visa, such as the tk visa, is a temporary visa that cannot be used to immigrate, or relocate permanently.


NONRESIDENT ALIEN

A term used by the Internal Revenue Service to describe anyone who is neither a U.S. citizen nor a green card holder, and who is not “substantially present” in the United States. Many students and other nonimmigrants who spend significant time in the United States are nonresident aliens when they first arrive, but soon become resident aliens.


NOTARIZED

A notarized document (sometimes called an affidavit) is affirmed by a “notary public” — a person officially authorized to confirm the identity of the person signing the document. Note that a notary public (or “notario público”) is not an immigration lawyer and will generally have no legal qualifications; they are simply licensed to witness signatures.


O


OATH OF ALLEGIANCE

The oath, administered as part of a naturalization ceremony, in which a new citizen pledges to support the United States and the Constitution, and renounces their allegiance to any other governments or nations. Read more here.


O-VISA

A nonimmigrant visa for people who show extraordinary ability in fields such as the sciences, the arts, education, business, or athletics.


OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING (OPT)

A period of employment permitted to the holders of F-1 student visas during or after their studies. Students who complete STEM degrees can extend their OPT period, making the program a valuable pathway to employment in the United States while users apply for H-1B visas, green cards, or other more permanent solutions.


OVERSTAY

To overstay means to remain in the United States beyond the admit-until date listed on one’s I-94 travel record, and thus to fall out of status. (This might not be the same thing as remaining beyond the expiration date on one’s visa.) Overstaying can cause serious problems for future visa applications, and even lead to the visa-holder being barred from returning to the United States for up to 10 years. See also Duration of Status.


P


PAROLE

The temporary right to enter or remain in the United States. Parole can be used to allow a person who is otherwise inadmissible to enter or remain in the United States, perhaps to receive medical treatment or to present evidence in a criminal proceeding, or as part of the advance parole or parole in place programs.


PAROLE IN PLACE

A discretionary program allowing family members of U.S. military service members to remain temporarily in the United States, even if they previously entered the country unlawfully. This can allow the paroled family members to gain green cards through adjustment of status without first leaving the country. Read more here.


PERMANENT RESIDENCE

See lawful permanent residence.


PETITION

A formal request. For immigration purposes, a petition is a document that asks the U.S. government to grant an immigration benefit, either to the person filing the document (the “petitioner”) or to another person (the “beneficiary”).


PETITIONER

A person who makes a request of the government. In the context of immigration, a petitioner is a person who files an immigration form (or “petition”) to request benefits on behalf of another person (the “beneficiary”).


PHYSICAL PRESENCE

To actually be in a particular place or country (in contrast with residence, which simply requires that one makes one’s home there). To qualify for U.S. citizenship, a green card holder must spend 3 to 5 years continuously resident in the United States, and must be physically present in the United States for at least half of that time.


PROCESS

A series of steps or actions taken to achieve a particular result. In the context of immigration, these are actions (including paperwork, filings, and interviews) necessary when applying for immigration benefits like a visa or citizenship. Read more about common immigration forms here.


PROVINCE

A region, administrative area, or district within a country.


PORT OF ENTRY

Any border crossing, seaport, or airport where people enter the United States. USCIS field offices and service centers are also considered ports of entry because people can receive immigrant status there.


POVERTY GUIDELINES

The income level below which a person or household is considered to live in poverty. The guidelines, which are set by the U.S. government, vary based on household size and are higher for people resident in Hawaii or Alaska. For the purposes of immigration, poverty guidelines are used to determine whether applicants qualify for fee waivers, and also to set minimum income levels for certain immigration benefits. See also public charge rule.


PRIORITY DATE

The date that USCIS received your I-130 petition. It represents your place in the line of people waiting for green cards to become available, as shown in the monthly visa bulletin. You can find your priority date on the I-797 form USCIS sent when your I-130 petition was approved. See also final action date and date for filing.


PROCESSING TIME

The time that it takes the U.S. government to consider an application and approve an immigration benefit. This can range from a few days to years or even decades, depending on the specific benefit that’s being sought and on the government’s current backlog. Check the current waiting time for marriage green cards here.


PUBLIC ASSISTANCE

Any form of government benefit, including cash payments, food stamps, healthcare assistance, and certain tax credits and subsidies. Receipt of some kinds of public assistance could lead to the denial of immigration benefits under the public charge rule.


PUBLIC CHARGE RULE

A rule that allows the U.S. government to deny immigration benefits to people who have used, or who are deemed likely to use, certain kinds of public assistance. The public charge rule was dramatically expanded under President Trump, leaving many immigrants unsure of which benefits they could safely use. Read more about the public charge rule, and get the latest updates, here.


R


RECEIPT

Proof provided for having received a document, payment, or other item. In the immigration context, USCIS will mail a “receipt notice” as proof they successfully received a certain document or payment. This notice will include your receipt number, or case number, which is used to track your application. See also I-797.


RECEIPT NUMBER

See case number.


REENTRY PERMIT

Also referred to as a “Permit to Re-Enter” or “white passport,” this passport-like document can be used by green card holders to travel abroad for more than 1 year but less than 2 years without being presumed to have abandoned their U.S. residence. A green card holder can request a reentry permit before leaving the United States in order to document their intention to return and to remain a U.S. resident. A permit can also be used instead of a passport by green card holders who are unable to gain a passport from their country of citizenship.


REFUGEE

A person who has escaped persecution, conflict, or natural disaster in their home country and now seeks protection or shelter in another country. A refugee present in the United States, or one who requests protection at a U.S. port of entry, is referred to as an asylee.


REGULATION

A formal rule established by a government agency or similar authority. Along with legislation, regulations relating to immigration are an important part of immigration law, and determine how the United States provides immigration benefits and enforces its existing laws. Read more here.


REJECT

A finding by USCIS that an immigration filing cannot be accepted because it is incomplete. A rejection does not mean that the applicant doesn’t qualify for a particular immigration benefit; it just means they haven’t submitted their application correctly. See also denial.


REMOVAL

The expulsion of someone from the United States, either because they are being deported or because the U.S. government has determined that they are inadmissible. People subject to removal are typically transported back to their home country.


RESIDE / RESIDED

To live somewhere. For immigration purposes, the place you reside — your residence — is where you primarily live, and where you make your permanent home.


RESIDENCE

The place where someone lives (or “resides”) and makes their home. The word “residence” can refer to a specific house or apartment, but for immigration and tax purposes it typically refers to the country where a person has made their primary and permanent home.


RESIDENT ALIEN

Any non-U.S. citizen who resides in the United States. The term includes green card holders, but for tax purposes many other non-citizens are considered resident aliens. See also nonresident alien.


RETROGRESS

To go back to a previous state. In the context of immigration, “retrogression” is when somebody’s place in line for a green card moves backward instead of forward, leaving the applicant with a longer wait. This can occur when demand for visas outpaces the government’s ability to process applications, or when only a limited number of visas are issued in a given category each year.


RETURNING RESIDENT

A green card holder who has traveled abroad and who is now returning to the United States. If they have been abroad for more than 1 year, the green card holder will need a returning resident visa.


RETURNING RESIDENT VISA (SB-1)

A visa issued to green card holders who have been abroad for more than 2 years, or for more than 1 year without first requesting a reentry permit. Applicants must be able to show their extended absence was due to reasons beyond their control, and that they did not intend to abandon their U.S. residence.


REQUEST FOR EVIDENCE (RFE)

A notice issued by USCIS asking an applicant to provide additional information or evidence in support of their application. Nobody wants to receive an RFE, but it doesn’t mean your application is more likely to be denied, as long as you respond carefully and promptly. Read more here.


REVOKE / REVOKED

To cancel, reverse, or take something back. In the context of immigration, for example, the government can revoke a visa if the visa holder is no longer eligible.


S


SB-1 VISA

See returning resident visa.


SERVICE CENTER

A USCIS office that only handles applications submitted by mail or through electronic means. Unlike a field office, service centers don’t offer any in-person immigration services.


SPONSOR

To file a petition requesting immigration benefits on behalf of another person. Someone who sponsors another person, such as a U.S. citizen who requests a green card for their spouse, is referred to as that person’s sponsor.


SPOUSAL VISA

A green card obtained through marriage to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.


STAMP

A stamp is a marking placed in someone’s passport to allow them to enter the United States as part of a certain category such as a student, temporary worker, or permanent resident.


STANDALONE

In the context of immigration, this refers to a form or application that is filed on its own (alone), and not together with another form or application.


STATUS

A condition, or a state of being. For immigration purposes, “status” can refer to the condition or progress of a specific immigration case, such as whether an application has been received or adjudicated. It can also refer to a person’s immigration status. Note that there is technically no such thing as “visa status”; your visa is a document that allows you to travel to the United States and request admittance, after which you gain an immigration status based on your reason for traveling and the laws and regulations that cover your visit.


STEM

An acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Some student visa holders who complete degrees in STEM subjects are eligible to remain and work in the United States for longer than students in other disciplines. See also Optional Practical Training.


STUDENT AND EXCHANGE VISITOR INFORMATION SYSTEM (SEVIS)

A database maintained by the Department of Homeland Security to track student visa holders.


STUDENT VISA

One of several visa categories used for the purposes of education. The main student visas are the F-visa, the J-visa, and the M-visa.


SUPPORTING DOCUMENTS

The documents submitted as evidence in support of a petition, application, or request for an immigration benefit. Depending on your situation, your documents could include financial records, employment contracts, police reports, marriage licenses, birth certificates, and other similar records. Read more here.


T


TEMPORARY PROTECTED STATUS (TPS)

A program that allows people from certain countries hit by conflict, civil disorder, or natural disaster to live and work in the United States. The Trump administration has been scaling back TPS protections for many people already in the United States.


U


U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES (USCIS)

The agency that is in charge of lawful immigration to the United States. Part of the Department of Homeland Security, this agency handles visa applications, green card applications, and naturalization, and provides many other immigration services.


USCIS NUMBER (or USCIS#)

See Alien registration number.


V


VISA

A visa gives someone permission to apply to enter the United States. When a visa is approved, a certificate is issued or a stamp is marked in the visa holder’s passport, granting entry into the country. Note that a person’s “visa” is different from their “status.”


VISA BULLETIN

A monthly update from the Department of State recording the waiting period for different categories of family preference and employment-based green cards. Check the Boundless blog for updates and analysis on each monthly update.


VISA NUMBER

Every U.S. visa has an identifying serial number, also called a “visa foil number.” For some visa categories, including many employment-based and family preference green cards, a limited quota of new visa numbers are released each year, limiting the number of visas that can be issued and effectively creating a waiting period for visas. The monthly visa bulletin tracks the current waiting period for different categories of green card. Get updates and analysis on the latest visa bulletin here.


VISA STATUS

There is technically no such term as “visa status” in immigration law. See the separate definitions of “visa” and “status.”


VISA WAIVER PROGRAM (VWP)

A program allowing people from 38 countries to travel to the United States for up to 90 days without requiring a visa. Travelers must request authorization in advance using the ESTA system, and under a controversial Trump administration policy could forfeit their VWP eligibility if they travel to certain majority-Muslim countries.


W


WAIVE

To forgo or overlook a requirement or fee. It is often possible to request a “waiver” of filing fees for some immigration forms if the applicant is facing financial hardship. Some immigration requirements, such as the medical requirements for immigration or the penalties for overstaying on a visa, can also be waived in certain circumstances. Read more about filing fees here.


WITHDRAWAL


To voluntarily retract a petition or application for an immigration benefit. This shouldn’t be done lightly, but can sometimes be a useful strategy if there are serious problems with your application that need to be resolved before you can proceed. Read more about common immigration problems here.


WORK PERMIT

A document, officially called an Employment Authorization Document, that grants a foreign national the right to work in the United States. Obtaining a work permit is one way for qualifying foreign nationals who are in the United States to legally gain employment. To apply for a work permit, you must complete and submit Form I-765 (officiially called the “Application for Employment Authorization Document”). See also employment authorization.


X


Y


Z