Immigration Glossary

Definitions and correct spellings for common immigration terms





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

Adjustment of Status

Form I-485 (Application for Adjustment of Status), is the next step in the family-based green card process after submitting Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative). In the context of a spouse visa (marriage-based green card), the main purpose of the I-485 is to prove that the foreign spouse is eligible for U.S. permanent residency. See our green card adjustment of status guide for more information.



On a family-based green card application, a “beneficiary” is the relative of a U.S. citizen or current green card holder (lawful permanent resident) who seeks their own green card. Eligible relatives include spouses, children, parents, and siblings (as well as the spouses and children of those adult relatives).

On an employment-based green card application, the “beneficiary” is either: 1) a worker who seeks a green card through sponsorship by a U.S. employer or 2) an entrepreneur who wishes to invest a significant sum of money in a new U.S. business that would create full-time jobs.



Written communication, usually by email or letters, between two or more people or organizations.

Citizenship Status

(See Immigration Status)


Conditional Resident

Green cards marked “CR1” are issued to spouses who have been married for less than two years at the time their green card was first approved. Two years later, the conditional resident must file Form I-751 to “remove the conditions” and obtain a permanent green card. Learn more about the CR-1 Visa.



In the context of immigration, a derivative is the person whose own status depends on the status of their spouse or parent. For example, having an H-4 visa is only possible for the spouse or child (the “derivative beneficiary”) of an H-1B visa holder (the “principal beneficiary”).


The house or apartment where somebody lives and considers to be home.


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



To leave one’s home country in order to live permanently in a new country.


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 / excluded

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

expedite / expeditious

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. Here are the latest estimates on how long it takes to get a marriage green card.




In the context of immigration, gender refers to one’s sex at birth.



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 that particular status. Note that “status” is different from a “visa.”


Immigration and Nationality Act – the source of U.S. immigration law. Read it here.


Immediate Relative – Under U.S. immigration law, “immediate relatives” are defined as spouses of U.S. citizens, children (who are 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). Green cards marked “IR1” can typically be renewed every 10 years.



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 matter. For example, the U.S. federal court system has jurisdiction over most immigration cases within the United States.




A lockbox is a central filing location that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) uses to take in filing fees more efficiently for certain types of applications. It’s the first destination for an application package, which the lockbox staff then forwards 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.)


maiden name

A woman’s family name prior to marriage.



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


A notarized document is affirmed by a “notary public,” which is a person officially authorized to confirm the identity of the person signing the document.





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.


A region or district within a country, often located outside a large city.




Proof provided for having received a document, payment, or other item. In the immigration context, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will mail a “receipt notice” as proof they successfully received a certain document and or payment.

reside / resided

To live somewhere.


The place where someone lives (“resides”) and makes their home.


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.

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.



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.


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.

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 that particular status. Note that “status” is different from a “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 “visa” is different from “status.”

visa status

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


Work Permit

Obtaining an immigration work permit is one way for qualifying foreign nationals who are in the United States to legally obtain employment. To apply for a work permit you must complete and submit Form I-765, the Application for Employment Authorization Document (EAD).



A fear or dislike of people from other countries or cultures.