Key Immigration Definitions and Concepts

Key Immigration Definitions and Concepts

Let us help you start your application today!

In this guide, you can find the key U.S. immigration definitions and concepts:

Adjustment of Status – process through which certain nonimmigrants can apply to become lawful permanent residents (green card holders) without having to leave the U.S. This process is available to individuals who are already in the U.S. under certain nonimmigrant status, such as a student visa (F-1), work visa (H-1B), or others, and wish to transition to permanent residency.

Admission – legal entry of an individual into the U.S. When a foreign national arrives in the U.S., they go through a process of admission, which involves inspection and approval by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at ports of entry, such as airports or land border crossings.

Affidavit of Support – a legal document (Form I-864) used to demonstrate that a sponsor is willing and able to financially support a foreign national who is seeking to immigrate to the U.S. The sponsor’s income and financial resources are evaluated to determine if they meet the minimum income requirements to support the immigrant.

Alien – a  foreign national who is not a citizen or national of the U.S. It is a legal term used to describe individuals who are not U.S. citizens. Aliens may include lawful permanent residents (green card holders), temporary visa holders, refugees, and undocumented immigrants.

Arrival-Departure Record (I-94) – a form issued by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to foreign visitors entering the United States. It is used to record the arrival and departure of travelers. The I-94 contains information such as the date of entry, the port of entry, the visa classification, and the authorized period of stay in the U.S. I-94 forms issued after April 30, 2013 can be obtained online.

Asylum – form of protection that may be granted to foreign nationals who have fled their own country due to fear of persecution. This persecution could be based on factors such as race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Chargeability – assignment of a specific numerical quota or limit to each country for certain immigration categories. This concept is particularly relevant to family-sponsored and employment-based preference categories, where numerical limits are set by law. Chargeability determines which country’s numerical limit an applicant is counted against.

USCIS – United State Citizenship and Immigration Services. It is an agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) responsible for administering and overseeing immigration and naturalization services in the United States. USCIS plays a central role in the processing of various immigration-related applications and petitions.

Consular Processing – process through which individuals apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy in their home country. Consular processing is completed outside the U.S. and is an alternative to adjusting status within the U.S.

Crime Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMT or CMT) – certain criminal offenses that are considered contrary to the accepted rules of morality and the duties owed between individuals. Conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude can have significant immigration consequences, including ineligibility for certain immigration benefits or grounds for deportation.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – one of the largest agencies within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). CBP is responsible for securing the U.S. borders and facilitating the lawful movement of people, goods, and commerce. The agency plays a critical role in safeguarding the nation’s borders against terrorism, illegal immigration, drug smuggling, and other illicit activities.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) – U.S. immigration policy that provides temporary relief from deportation and grants work authorization to certain undocumented individuals who entered the United States as children. DACA was implemented through an executive action in 2012 under the administration of President Barack Obama.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – U.S. federal executive department established in response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It was officially created on November 25, 2002, through the Homeland Security Act of 2002, signed into law by President George W. Bush. The primary purpose of DHS is to coordinate and consolidate efforts to protect the United States from various threats, including terrorism, natural disasters, and other emergencies.

Deportation – also known as removal, the legal process through which an individual who is not a U.S. citizen is ordered to leave the country. Deportation is a formal proceeding initiated by the U.S. government to enforce immigration laws and maintain the integrity of the immigration system. Individuals subject to deportation may be removed from the United States due to various reasons, including visa violations, criminal convictions, or the expiration of authorized stay.

Derivative status – dependent immigration status that is based on the principal status of another individual. It typically applies to dependents (spouse and unmarried children under 21) of a primary visa or immigration status holder. The derivative status allows certain family members to accompany or follow-to-join the principal applicant in the U.S.

Diversity LotteryDV Lottery, also known as the Green Card Lottery, is a program administered by the U.S. Department of State that provides a limited number of immigrant visas to individuals from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. The primary purpose of the Diversity Visa Lottery is to promote diversity in the U.S. immigrant population.

Employment Authorization Document (EAD) – a document issued by USCIS that allows certain non-U.S. citizens to work legally in the U.S. The EAD is commonly referred to as a work permit, and it authorizes the holder to be employed by any employer in the U.S. during the validity period of the document.

Exchange Visitor – also known as a J-1 visitor, an individual who participates in a U.S. government-approved exchange program for the purpose of cultural exchange, education, and the sharing of knowledge and skills. Exchange Visitor programs are administered by the U.S. Department of State and are designed to foster mutual understanding between the people of the United States and people of other countries. The exchange programs cover a wide range of fields, including education, research, training, and cultural enrichment.

EOIR – Executive Office for Immigration Review. It is an agency within the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that is responsible for overseeing the immigration court system in the United States. EOIR’s primary role is to administer and adjudicate immigration cases, including those involving individuals facing removal or deportation.

Green Card – officially known as a Permanent Resident Card, is a document that provides evidence of an individual’s lawful permanent resident status in the United States. Holding a green card allows a foreign national to live and work in the U.S. permanently.

Immediate Relatives – a category of family-sponsored immigrants who are eligible for special immigration benefits based on their close relationship with a U.S. citizen. Immediate relatives have a unique preference category, and there is no numerical limit on the number of visas that can be issued each fiscal year for this category. The “immediate relatives” category includes the following relationships: parents, spouses and unmarried children under 21 of U.S. citizens.

Immigrant Visa – a type of visa issued by a U.S. embassy or consulate to foreign nationals who intend to move permanently to the U.S. It allows individuals to enter the U.S. as immigrants, and upon arrival, they become lawful permanent residents (LPRs) with the ability to live and work in the country on a permanent basis. 

Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) – a comprehensive federal law in the United States that governs immigration and naturalization. The INA is the primary body of law that regulates the entry, presence, and status of non-U.S. citizens in the United States.

Immigration Judge – a federal administrative judge who presides over cases in immigration courts. Immigration Judges are appointed by the Attorney General of the U.S. and are part of the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), which is an agency within the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The primary responsibility of Immigration Judges is to adjudicate cases involving immigration and deportation matters.

Inadmissibility – condition where an individual is ineligible to be admitted into the U.S. as an immigrant or is barred from obtaining certain immigration benefits. The concept of inadmissibility is based on specific grounds and criteria outlined in the U.S. immigration laws. These grounds are designed to protect the interests of the United States and ensure the integrity of the immigration system.

Individual Calendar Hearing – a specific type of immigration court hearing that is scheduled for an individual case. This type of hearing is conducted in the context of removal proceedings in the U.S. immigration court system. Immigration court hearings are presided over by Immigration Judges, who are part of the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), a component of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Inspection – process of examining and evaluating the documents and information presented by individuals seeking entry into the U.S. This process occurs at designated ports of entry, which include airports, land border crossings, and seaports. The primary goal of immigration inspection is to determine the eligibility of individuals to enter the U.S. and to ensure compliance with U.S. immigration laws and regulations.

Labor Certification – process through which employers demonstrate to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) that there are no qualified U.S. workers available to fill certain job positions, and as a result, the employer is seeking to hire a foreign worker. This process is a prerequisite for certain employment-based immigrant visa categories, particularly those that require a permanent labor certification as part of the application process.

Labor Condition Application (LCA) – a form that U.S. employers must file with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) as part of the process for sponsoring foreign workers in certain nonimmigrant visa categories. The LCA is a prerequisite for H-1B, H-1B1, and E-3 visa categories, which are temporary work visas for foreign nationals employed in specialty occupations.

Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) – also known as a green card holder, is an immigrant who has been granted the legal right to live and work permanently in the United States. Lawful Permanent Residency is an immigration status that allows individuals to enjoy many of the rights and privileges of U.S. citizens, except for the right to vote in federal elections and certain other restrictions.

Master Calendar Hearing – an initial hearing in the U.S. immigration court system that serves as a preliminary stage in removal proceedings. The purpose of the Master Calendar Hearing is to address basic issues related to an individual’s case, provide the respondent (the individual facing removal) with an opportunity to respond to the charges, and set the framework for the subsequent proceedings.

Merits Hearing – also known as an Individual Hearing or an Individual Merits Hearing, is a substantive and detailed hearing in U.S. immigration court where an Immigration Judge considers the specific details and merits of an individual’s case in removal proceedings. Unlike the Master Calendar Hearing, which addresses procedural and preliminary matters, the Merits Hearing focuses on the specific issues and evidence relevant to the individual’s eligibility for relief from removal or other defenses.

Naturalization – the legal process through which individuals who are not U.S. citizens at birth voluntarily acquire U.S. citizenship. It allows eligible immigrants to become full and equal members of the U.S. citizenry with all the rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship.

Nonimmigrant – an individual who is admitted to the U.S. for a temporary period and for a specific purpose, such as tourism, work, study, or temporary professional assignments. Nonimmigrants are individuals who intend to stay in the U.S. temporarily and do not have the intention of becoming permanent residents. The status of a nonimmigrant is typically indicated by a specific visa category.

Nonimmigrant Visa – a temporary visa that allows individuals to enter the U.S. for a specific purpose and a limited duration. Unlike immigrant visas, which are intended for those seeking permanent residence in the U.S., nonimmigrant visas are designed for individuals with the intention of staying temporarily, such as for tourism, business, study, work, or other temporary activities.

Notice to Appear (NTA) – a formal document issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to initiate removal proceedings against an individual in the U.S. The NTA is a legal notice that informs the individual of the charges against them and schedules them to appear before an Immigration Judge in immigration court. It is a critical step in the process of removal proceedings.

Parole – discretionary authority of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to allow certain individuals to enter or be physically present in the U.S. for a temporary period. Parole is not a visa or an admission to the U.S. for permanent residence, but rather a temporary status granted for specific humanitarian, public interest, or significant public benefit reasons.

PERM (Program Electronic Review Management) – labor certification process used by U.S. employers to sponsor foreign workers for employment-based immigrant visas (green cards). The PERM process is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and is a key step in the employment-based green card application process.

Port of Entry – also known as POE, is a designated location where individuals entering the United States are processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). At a Port of Entry, CBP officers inspect and admit travelers, including U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and foreign visitors, into the country. Ports of Entry can include airports, seaports, land border crossings, and other designated entry points.

Preference Categories – different classifications or priorities assigned to family-sponsored and employment-based immigrant visa categories. These categories determine the order in which immigrant visa numbers are allocated, as the demand for visas often exceeds the available annual quota. The U.S. immigration system uses a preference system to allocate visas based on family relationships or employment qualifications.

Priority Date – the date on which the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)  receives a properly filed immigration petition. The priority date establishes an individual’s place in line for visa allocation within a particular preference category.

Prosecutorial Discretion – power that immigration enforcement authorities, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), have to decide whether to enforce immigration laws against a particular individual or group. It allows officials to prioritize cases and allocate resources based on factors such as national security, public safety, humanitarian concerns, and the best use of limited resources.

Provisional Waiver – also known as Form I-601A Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver, is a waiver of the unlawful presence ground of inadmissibility that is filed prior to leaving the U.S. for consular processing. The purpose of the provisional waiver is to reduce the time that eligible individuals would be separated from their U.S. citizen and permanent resident family members during the immigration process.

Public Charge Rule – immigration policy that assesses whether an individual seeking admission to the U.S. or applying for lawful permanent resident (green card) status is likely to become dependent on certain public benefits. The rule aims to ensure that immigrants are financially self-sufficient and not reliant on government assistance.

Quotas – numerical limitations or restrictions on the number of immigrant visas that can be issued each fiscal year for certain categories of immigrants. These numerical limits are established by the U.S. Congress and are designed to regulate and control the flow of immigrants into the U.S. The use of quotas helps shape immigration policy, control overall immigration numbers, and prioritize certain groups or preferences. Learn more: How to Read the Visa Bulletin for Family-Based Immigrants, How to Read the Visa Bulletin for Employment-Based Applications

Refugee – an individual who has fled their home country due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Refugees are forced to leave their country and seek protection in another due to circumstances that make it unsafe for them to remain.

Relief from Removal – also known as deportation relief, refers to various forms of legal protection or remedies that individuals facing removal (deportation) from the U.S. may seek in order to avoid being removed. These forms of relief provide individuals with a legal basis to remain in the country despite being subject to removal proceedings. Some common forms of relief from removal include asylum, withholding of removal, protection under Convention Against Torture, cancellation of removal, adjustment of status, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and deferred action.

Removal – the legal process through which an individual is ordered to leave the U.S. and return to their home country or another designated country. Removal is also commonly known as deportation. It is the formal procedure by which the U.S. government enforces immigration laws and can result in the compelled departure of individuals who are found to be in violation of immigration laws or deemed removable for other reasons.

Request for Evidence (RFE) – a formal inquiry or notice issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to request additional documentation or information from an applicant in order to complete the evaluation of their immigration petition or application. An RFE is commonly issued when the USCIS adjudicator reviewing the case determines that there is insufficient evidence or information to make a decision on the application.

Service Centers – facilities that process and adjudicate various immigration petitions and applications submitted by individuals, families, employers, and other entities. These centers play a crucial role in the administration of U.S. immigration services and are responsible for handling a wide range of immigration benefits.

SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) – a web-based system used by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to track and monitor the activities of nonimmigrant students (F and M visa categories) and exchange visitors (J visa category) while they are in the U.S. 

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) – humanitarian immigration benefit granted by the U.S. government to eligible nationals of certain countries that are facing ongoing armed conflict, environmental disasters, or other extraordinary and temporary conditions. TPS allows individuals from designated countries to live and work in the U.S. for a specified period without the fear of deportation.

Treaty Investor – an individual who seeks to enter the U.S. to develop and direct the operations of an enterprise in which they have invested, or are actively in the process of investing, a substantial amount of capital. This classification is part of the E-2 nonimmigrant visa category, which is specifically designed for individuals from countries with which the U.S. has a treaty of commerce and navigation or a bilateral investment treaty.

Unlawful Presence – period of time during which an individual is physically present in the U.S. without being admitted or paroled, or after the expiration of their authorized period of stay. Unlawful presence can have serious consequences for individuals in the U.S. on a temporary visa, as it may lead to bars on reentry and potential deportation.

U.S. Department of State (DOS) – federal executive department responsible for the administration of the U.S. visa application process at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. 

Visa Bulletin – a monthly publication issued by the U.S. Department of State (DOS) that provides information on the availability of immigrant visa numbers for the issuance of green cards through family-sponsored and employment-based immigration categories. The Visa Bulletin is a crucial tool for individuals waiting for visa numbers to become available in order to proceed with the final steps of the immigration process.

Visa – an official document issued by the U.S. Department of State that allows a foreign national to enter the U.S. for a specific purpose and duration. The visa is stamped or affixed to the individual’s passport or travel document and contains information about the visa category, permitted activities, and the authorized period of stay in the U.S. It’s important to note that a U.S. visa does not guarantee entry into the country; it only allows the individual to travel to a U.S. port of entry, where U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers determine whether to admit them.

Visa Waiver Program (VWP) – a program that allows citizens of certain countries to travel to the U.S. for short visits (90 days or less) without obtaining a visa. Instead of a traditional visa, travelers under the Visa Waiver Program must obtain an authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before boarding a flight to the U.S. The program is intended to facilitate tourism and business travel while maintaining security measures.

Voluntary Departure – legal process that allows certain individuals facing removal or deportation from the U.S. to leave the country voluntarily instead of being subject to a formal removal order issued by the immigration authorities. Voluntary Departure is a discretionary form of relief that allows individuals to depart on their own accord and may have certain advantages compared to a formal removal order.

Waivers – official forgiveness or exemption from certain grounds of inadmissibility or deportability that would otherwise result in a denial of an immigration benefit or lead to removal proceedings. Waivers are discretionary forms of relief that allow certain individuals to overcome specific legal barriers and proceed with their immigration cases.

Withholding of Removal – form of relief from deportation or removal available under U.S. immigration law for individuals who meet certain criteria and can demonstrate a credible fear of persecution or torture in their home country. It is a type of protection that, if granted, allows the individual to remain in the U.S. and prevents their removal to a country where they would face persecution or torture.

 Work Permit – also known as an employment authorization document (EAD), is an official document issued by the U.S. government that grants an individual the legal right to work in the United States for a specific period. The work permit is typically issued to non-U.S. citizens who are authorized to work based on their immigration status or eligibility for specific employment-related programs.

90-Day Rule – guideline used by U.S. immigration authorities to determine if an individual has violated the terms of their nonimmigrant visa when applying for permanent residency (green card) within 90 days of entering the U.S. If an individual engages in activities inconsistent with their nonimmigrant status or indicates an intention to adjust status shortly after entering the U.S., it may be considered a violation of the 90-day rule. Such activities could include getting married or accepting employment that is not authorized under the nonimmigrant visa.