Glossary of Legal Terms

AB • C • D • E • F • G H I J L M N O P Q R S T U V W 

Acquired Citizenship

Conferred at birth on children born abroad to an American citizen or citizens.

Adjustment to Immigrant Status

Procedure allowing certain aliens already in the United States to apply for immigrant status.  Aliens admitted to the United States in a nonimmigrant, refugee or parolee category may have their status changed to that of lawful permanent residents if they are eligible to receive immigrant visas and immediately available.  In such cases, the alien is counted as an immigrant as of the date of adjustment, even though he may have been in the United States for an extended period of time.  Beginning in October 1994, Section 245(i) of the INA allowed illegal residents who were eligible for immigrant status to remain in the United States and adjust to permanent resident status by applying at a USCIS office and paying an additional penalty fee.  Section 245(i) is no longer available unless the alien is the beneficiary of a petition under Section 204 of the Act or of an application for a labor certification under Section 212(a)(5)(A), filed on or before April 30, 2001.  Moreover, if the application is filed after January 1, 1998, the alien must have been present in the United States on December 21, 2000.  Prior to October 1994, most illegal residents were required to leave the United States and acquire a visa abroad from the Department of State as they are now.


Process of allowing someone legally to be in the United States.  Admission is part of the inspection process.  A person may be inspected and admitted or paroled into the United States or, instead of being admitted, placed in removal proceedings or in expedited removal. 

Affidavit of Support

Contract given by an American citizen or lawful, permanent resident residing in the United States, who will provide financial support to an alien seeking to enter the United States or adjust his status.  There are two affidavit of support forms, I-864 and I-134.  The regulations must be consulted with respect to the appropriate use and requirements of these forms.  Form I-864 is most often used.  It is required to be given by petitioners for immediate family and, in the employment-based categories if the employer/petitioner is related to the beneficiary.  There are extensive obligations on the affiant, including enforceability of the affidavit as a contract until the beneficiary becomes an American citizen or has forty calendar quarters of qualifying employment in the United States.  The I-134, Affidavit of Support, is often used in connection with nonimmigrant visa applications as a form of evidence to demonstrate that the alien seeking classification as a visitor, student or similar non-employment-based nonimmigrant classification will have adequate financial resources while in the United States in order to overcome concerns of his becoming a public charge. 


Created for many aliens.  It contains their alien registration numbers. 

Aggravated Felon

Person who commits any one of a number of crimes specifically defined in INA 101(a)(43) that may make this person deportable.  Aggravated felon status creates numerous substantive and procedural disabilities with respect to asylum, inadmissibility, removal, judicial review, etc…, set forth in INA Sections 208, 212 and 237-242.  An aggravated felon is ineligible for most forms of immigration relief from removal, and, following completion of his sentence, will likely be placed in an expeditious process for removal.

Agricultural Worker

Nonimmigrant class of admission, temporarily in the United States to perform agricultural labor or services as defined by the Secretary of Labor.


Person who is not a citizen or national of the United States.

Aliens previously removed

Having been previously removed is a ground of inadmissibility for aliens. The bar to admission lasts between five years to twenty years from the date of removal, depending on circumstances called out INA 212(a)(9)(A).

Amerasian (Vietnam)

Immigrant visas are issued to Amerasians under Public Law 100-202 (Act of 12/22/87), which provides for the admission of aliens born in Vietnam after January 1, 1962 but before January 1, 1976, if the alien was fathered by an American citizen.  Spouses, children, parents or guardians of the alien may accompany him.

Amerasian Act

Public Law 97-359 (Act of 10/22/82) provides for the immigration to the United States of certain Amerasian children.  In order to qualify for benefits under this law, an alien must have been born in Cambodia, Korea, Laos, Thailand or Vietnam after December 31, 1950 but before October 22, 1982, and have been fathered by an American citizen.


See Legalization.

Application for Admission

Refers to an application for admission into the United States and not to the application for issuance of an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa. 

Application Support Centers (ASC)

USCIS’ offices fingerprint applicants for immigration benefits.  Some of USCIS’ applications, such as the Application for Naturalization or the Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, require USCIS to conduct an FBI fingerprint background check on the applicant.  Most applicants who require background checks will be scheduled to appear at a specific ASC.


Arrest of a removable alien by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  Each apprehension of the same alien in a fiscal year is counted separately.


Discretionary benefit accorded to certain persons inside the United States who are able to demonstrate an inability or unwillingness to return to their home countries due to persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.  One year after the receipt of asylum status, the asylee may apply for lawful, permanent residence.  Please also see also Refugee


Alien in the United States, or at an American port of entry, who is found to be unable or unwilling to return to his country of nationality, or to seek the protection of that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution.  For persons with no nationality, the country of nationality is considered to be the country in which the alien last habitually resided.  Asylees are eligible to adjust to lawful, permanent resident status after one year of continuous presence in the United States.  The American government permits 10,000 of these  adjustments each fiscal year.

Attorney General

May, in fact, mean the Secretary of Homeland Security.  While the Homeland Security Act of 2002 transferred functions of INS from Department of Justice to the Department of Homeland Security, it did not change every reference to the delegation of authority in the INA and other laws.  Instead, it included a savings provision stating that statutory, regulatory and other references relating to an agency that is transferred to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or delegations of authority that precede such transfer shall be deemed to refer, as appropriate, to DHS, including its officers, or to its corresponding organizational units. 


Visa used by diplomats and other governmental officials for travel to the United States.  With the exception of a head of state who qualifies for an A visa regardless of the purpose of his visit, the type of visa required by a diplomat or other government official depends upon his purpose of travel.  The specific types of diplomatic visas are:

A-1 – For ambassadors, public ministers, career, diplomatic or consular officers and members of their immediate families.

A-2 – For other foreign governmental officials, employees and members of their immediate families.

A-3 – For attendants, servants and personal employees of holders of A-1 or A-2 visas and members of their immediate families.


Aliens on whose behalf an American citizen, legal, permanent resident or employer has filed a petition to receive immigration benefits from USCIS.

Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA)

Highest administrative body for interpreting and applying immigration laws.  It is authorized a maximum of fifteen members, including the Chairman and Vice Chairman who share responsibility for BIA management.  BIA is located at the Executive Office for Immigration Review’s (EOIR) headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia.  Generally, BIA does not conduct courtroom proceedings but does “paper” reviews of appeals.  On rare occasions, however, BIA does hear oral arguments of appealed cases.

Border Crosser

An alien resident of the United States reentering the United States from Canada or Mexico after an absence of fewer than six months.  This definition also subsumes nonresident aliens entering the United States from the Canadian border for stays of no more than six months or the Mexican border for stays of no more than seventy-two hours.

Border Crossing Card (BCC) or Laser Visa

Identity card issued to an alien who is lawfully admitted for permanent residence, or to an alien who is a resident of Mexico or Canada.  Consular or immigration officers issue these cards.  The new biometric BCC is a laminated, credit card-style document with many security features and valid for ten years.  Also called a “laser visa”, it additionally serves as a B/B2 visitor’s visa.

Border and Transportation Security (BTS)

One of the five major divisions or directorates of DHS.  This directorate assumes the enforcement functions of the former INS, including the Boarder Patrol and Investigations.  As the largest directorate, BTS is home to such former agencies as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), United States Customs Service, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. 

Burden of Proof (BoP)

Pursuant to INA 291, a person who applies for a visa or any other document required for entry, or applies for admission, or otherwise attempts to enter the United States, has the burden of proof to establish that he is eligible to receive such documents and, thus, not subject to exclusion under any provision of the INA.  Likewise, an alien bears the burden of proof when claiming entitlement to nonimmigrant, immigrant, special immigrant, immediate relative or refugee status.  In a removal proceeding, the alien must establish admissibility “clearly and beyond doubt”.  If the applicant is a returning, permanent resident, the BoP is on DHS.  If the respondent is in removal proceedings and not seeking admission, the BoP is on USCIS by clear and convincing evidence; for example, proving alienage through presentation of a foreign birth certificate that is not contradicted by an American passport or certificate of naturalization.

Business Nonimmigrant

Alien entering temporarily the United States to engage in commercial transactions that do not involve gainful employment in the United States.  That is, he is not engaged in international commerce on behalf of a foreign firm, not employed in the American labor market and receiving no salary from American sources.


Nonimmigrant visa for aliens entering the United States temporarily for business, pleasure (tourism, amusement and non-commercial visits), medical treatment or activities of a fraternal, social or community-service nature. Examples of the reasons to obtain B visas are consultations with business associates or negotiations with customers, scientific, educational, professional, business conventions or the settlement of estates.   

Cancellation of Removal

A discretionary benefit adjusting an alien’s status from that of deportable alien to one of being lawfully admitted for permanent residence.  An application for cancellation of removal is made during the course of a hearing before an immigration judge.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

Performs agricultural quarantine and customs inspections.  As part of the Directorate of BTS, the CBP focuses on the movement of people and goods across borders at ports of entry.  Interior enforcement is delegated to Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Certificate of Citizenship

Identity document proving American citizenship.  Certificates of citizenship are issued to derivative citizens and to those who acquired American citizenship (Please see the definitions for acquired and derivative citizenship).


Unmarried person under twenty-one years of age who is:

  1. born in wedlock;
  2. born out of wedlock when a benefit is sought on the basis of a relationship with his mother, or to his father if the father has or had a bona fide relationship with the child;
  3. a stepchild, provided that he was under eighteen years of age at the time the marriage creating the stepchild relationship;
  4. legitimated while in the legal custody of the legitimating parent;
  5. adopted under sixteen years of age and who has resided since adoption in the legal custody of the adopting parents for at least two years; or
  6. an orphan under sixteen years of age and who has been adopted abroad by an American citizen or has an immediate-relative visa petition submitted on his behalf and enters the United States for adoption by an American citizen.

Civil Surgeon

Medically trained and licensed physician practicing in the United States who is certified by USCIS.  These medical professionals provide examinations that are part of the immigration-approval process to enter the United States.  Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and USCIS require these examinations.  For medical examinations given overseas, please see Panel Physician below.  Please note that medical examinations will not be recognized if they are given by a doctor who is not a civil surgeon. 

Conditional Resident

Any alien granted permanent-residency status on a conditional basis (e.g., a spouse of an American citizen), who is required to petition for the removal of such conditions before the second anniversary of the approval of the granting of this status.

Country of –

Birth:  that in which a person is born.

Chargeability:  that to which an immigrant entering under the preference system is accredited for purposes of numerical limitations.

Citizenship: that in which a person is born and for which he has not renounced or lost citizenship, or naturalized and to which that person owes allegiance and by which he is entitled to be protected.

Former Allegiance:  that of which the citizenship of a naturalized American citizen or of a person who derived American citizenship.

(Last) Residence:  that in which an alien habitually resided prior to entering the United States.

Nationality: that of which a person’s citizenship derives or in which the person is deemed a national.

Consular Processing

Applying for an immigrant visa at an American consular post outside the United States.


Formal judgment of guilt entered by a court, or if an adjudication of guilt is withheld, a judge or a jury has found the person guilty, or the person has entered a plea of guilty or nolo contendere and has admitted sufficient facts to warrant a finding of guilt and the judge has ordered some form of punishment, penalty or restraint. Please see our Immigration and Criminal Convictions section for more information.


A foreign national performing normal operations and service on a sea or air vessel.  Crewmen are admitted for twenty-nine days, with no extensions authorized.  Two categories of crewmen are defined in the INA: D1, a nonimmigrant visa for those working on commercial sea vessels or aircraft and whose services are required for the normal operation of these conveyances and D2, a nonimmigrant visa that allows foreign nationals to enter the United States to serve aboard fishing vessels with a homeport or base of operation in the United States.  It is only available if the fishing vessels are temporarily visiting Guam.

Crime of moral turpitude

A criminal act done contrary to justice, honesty, principle or good morals.  It is an act of baseness, vileness or depravity in the private and social duties that a person owes his fellow man, or to society in general, and is contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty among men.  Moral turpitude implies something immoral in itself, regardless of the fact that it is punishable by law.  It must not be merely mala prohibita, but the act itself must be inherently immoral.  The perpetration of the act itself, and not its prohibition by the statute, affixes the moral turpitude.  A crime of moral turpitude may be grounds for inadmissibility or removal. Please see our Immigration and Criminal Convictions section for more information.

Cuban or Haitian Entrant

Status accorded to 1) Cubans who entered illegally or were paroled into the United States between April 15, 1980, and October 10, 1980, and 2) Haitians who entered illegally or were paroled into the country before January 1, 1981.  Cubans and Haitians meeting these criteria who have continuously resided in the United States since January 1, 1982, and were known to USCIS before January 1, 1982, may adjust to permanent residency under a provision of the Immigration Control and Reform Act of 1986.

Curricular Practical Training (CPT)

Available to F-1 students and defined as employment that is an integral part of the student’s curriculum.  CPT may include alternate work/study periods, internship, cooperative education or any other type of practicum that is offered by employers through cooperative agreements with higher educational establishments.  No prior approval from the USCIS is required to pursue CPT.  Please see our Web page on student visas to learn more about requirements for CPT. 

Deferred Inspection

See “Parolee

Department of Homeland Security

Agency into which INS was folded effective March 1, 2003.  The benefits functions of the former INS transferred to USCIS, while the enforcement functions went to CBP and ICE, both of which are part of the BTS

Department of State (DOS)

The United States Department of State, often referred to as the State Department, is the Cabinet-level foreign affairs agency of the United States government, similar to foreign ministries, foreign offices, ministries of external relations, etc. in other countries. It is administered by the Secretary of State, the office currently held by Hillary Clinton.

Deportable Alien

One admitted into the United States subject to any grounds of removal specified in the INA. This includes any alien illegally in the United States, regardless of whether he entered the country by fraud or misrepresentation, or entered legally but subsequently violated the terms of his nonimmigrant status.


Formal removal of an alien from the United States due to having violated immigration laws.  Deportation is ordered by an immigration judge without any punishment being imposed.  Prior to April 1997, deportation and exclusion were separate procedures.  The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 consolidated these procedures.  After April 1, 1997, aliens may be subject to removal based on deportability. Now called removal, this function is managed by ICE.

Derivative Beneficiary

The spouse and children of a principal beneficiary.  Derivative beneficiaries cannot personally qualify for preference status and issuance of family-based visas.  They can only be issued visas after one is granted to the principal beneficiary.  The derivative beneficiary can be accorded the same preference status, without a separate petition, as the principal beneficiary, if accompanying or joining him at a later date.

Derivative Citizenship

Citizenship conveyed to children through the naturalization of parents or, under certain circumstances, to foreign-born children adopted by American citizens, provided certain conditions are met.

Designated School Official (DSO)

Person designated by an educational institution to administer programs for F-1 and M-1 students as well as monitor and update SEVIS programs.  The DSO verifies that the students have read the applicable regulations.  The DSO is the only individual authorized to sign SEVIS forms, such as the I-20, and otherwise act officially on behalf of the school.  He must be either an American citizen or permanent resident


Geographic areas into which the United States and its territories are divided for field operations or the three overseas offices located in Rome, Bangkok and Mexico City.  Each district office, headed by a director, has a specified service area that may include part of, an entire or many, state(s).  District offices are where most of USCIS’ field staff is located. District offices are responsible for providing services and benefits to people in their areas and for enforcing immigration laws in that jurisdiction.  Certain applications are filed directly with these offices.  In addition, many kinds of interviews are conducted there.  Also at these offices, staff is available, for example, to answer questions and provide forms


A category of immigrants replacing the earlier categories of nationals from underrepresented countries and those adversely affected by the INA Amendments of 1965 (P.L. 89-236).  The annual limit of diversity immigration was 40,000 during fiscal years 1992-94, which was under the aegis of a transitional diversity program, and 55,000 beginning in fiscal year 1995, under a permanent diversity program.

Diversity Visa Lottery (DV)

Makes 55,000 immigrant visas available yearly to people from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.  Of such visas, 5,000 are allocated for use under NACARA beginning with the lottery in 1999.  The State Department (DOS) randomly selects approximately 110,000 applicants since many will not complete the visa process.  Once 55,000 are issued or the fiscal year ends, the DV program is closed.  If a foreign national receives a visa through the DV Lottery, then he will be authorized to live and work permanently in the United States.  He will also be allowed to bring his spouse and unmarried children under the age of twenty-one.

Docket Control

The mechanism by which DHS tracks the case status of potentially removable aliens.

Domestic Violence

Such crimes include stalking, violation of a protective order and crimes against children, all of which are grounds for removal. For more information please see our section on Immigration and Criminal Convictions.

Dual Nationality

Simultaneous possession of two citizenships.  It results from the fact that there is no uniform rule of international law relating to the acquisition of nationality.  Dual nationality can occur by birth in one country to citizens of another, by marriage to a foreign national and by foreign naturalization.  Dual nationality is not favored under American law.  Specifically, American immigration law requires the renunciation of allegiance to all other sovereigns.  However, it is not required that the newly naturalized citizen renounce his other citizenship when taking the Oath of Allegiance at the conclusion of the naturalization ceremony.  Other countries, on the other hand, do not accept dual citizenship and require relinquishment of the person’s other citizenship upon naturalization to the new one.

Duration of Status

Defined in 8 CFR 214.2(f)(5) as the period required to complete the program of study for an F-1/M-1 or J-1 student, as indicated on Form  I-20, in addition to any authorized period of practical training after graduation, plus sixty days. 

Employer Sanctions

Provision of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) that prohibits employers from hiring, recruiting or referring, for a fee, aliens known to be unauthorized to work in the United States.  Violators of the law are subject to a series of civil fines or criminal penalties when there is a willful pattern of violations.

Employment Authorization Document (EAD)

Any person intending to work in the United States who is not a citizen or a lawful, permanent resident must apply for an EAD to be eligible for employment.

Employer Verification

Procedure established by IRCA requiring verification, via Form I-9, of identity and eligibility to work for all individuals.

Exchange Visitor

An alien entering the United States temporarily as a participant in a program approved by the Secretary of State for the purpose of teaching, instructing or lecturing, studying, observing, conducting research, consulting, demonstrating special skills or receiving training.


Prior to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), exclusion was the formal term for denial of an alien’s entry into the United States.  The decision to exclude an alien was made by an immigration judge after a hearing.  Since April 1, 1997, the process of adjudicating inadmissibility may take place in either an expedited removal process or in removal proceedings before an immigration judge.

Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR)

Branch of the U.S. Department of Justice which includes the BIA, Office of Chief Immigration Judge and all immigration judges as well as the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Office (OCAHO).


Loss of citizenship by voluntary performance of one of the acts listed in INA 349(a)(1)-(7).  This voluntary performance must be done with the intention of relinquishing one’s American citizenship. 

Expedited Removal

The IIRIRA authorized the USCIS to remove quickly certain inadmissible aliens from the United States.  This authority covers aliens who are inadmissible because they have no entry documents or have used counterfeit, altered or otherwise fraudulent documents.  The authority covers aliens who arrive in, or attempt to enter, the United States without having been admitted or paroled by an immigration officer.  The USCIS has the authority to order the removal, and the alien is not referred to an immigration judge, except under certain circumstances such as when he makes a claim to legal status in the United States or demonstrates credible fear of persecution if returned to his home country.

Fiancé of American Citizen

Nonimmigrant alien coming to the United States to conclude a valid marriage with an American citizen within ninety days after entry.

Field Offices

Offices that are found in some districts serving a portion of the jurisdictions.  Field offices, headed by officers-in-charge, provide many services and enforcement functions.  They also greatly increase the convenience to USCIS’ customers.

Files Control Office

USCIS field office.  It is either a district (including USCIS overseas offices) or suboffice of that district where aliens’ case files are maintained and controlled.

Fiscal Year

Twelve-month period beginning October 1 and ending September 30.

Foreign Governmental Official

Nonimmigrant classified as an alien entering temporarily the United States who has been accredited by a foreign government to function as an ambassador, public minister, career diplomatic or consular officer, other accredited official, or an attendant, servant or personal employee of an accredited official as well as all of the above aliens’ spouses and unmarried minor (or dependent) children.

Foreign Medical Graduate

Alien who has graduated from a medical school or has qualified to practice medicine in a foreign state.  This category excludes those who are of national or international renown in medicine under INA 101(a)(41). 

Foreign Information Media Representative

Nonimmigrant class of admission entering temporarily the United States as a bona fide representative of the foreign press, radio, film or other media.  This class of alien may also have with him his spouse and unmarried minor (or dependent) children.

Foreign State

May include its outlying possessions.  However, self-governing dominions or territories under mandate or trusteeship are regarded as separate from foreign states.

Foreign State of Chargeability

Independent country to which an immigrant entering under the preference system is accredited.  No more than seven percent of the family-sponsored and employment-based visas may be issued to natives of any one independent country in a fiscal year.  No country may receive more than two percent of the family-sponsored and employment-based visas issued.  Since these limits are based on visa issuance rather than entries into the United States, and immigrant visas are valid for six months, there is no correlation between these two occurrences.  Chargeability is usually determined by country of birth.  Exceptions are made to prevent the separation of family members when the limitation for the country of birth has been met.

General Naturalization Provisions

Encompass the basic requirements that every applicant must meet unless he is a member of a special class.  General provisions require an applicant to be at least eighteen years of age, a lawful, permanent resident with five years of continuous residence in the United States, have been present in the country for half of that period and have exhibited a moral character for at least this period

Geographic Area of Chargeability

Any one of five regions into which the world is divided for the initial admission of refugees to the United States.  These regions are Eastern Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Near East and Southern Asia and the former Soviet Union as well as Eastern Europe.  The annual consultations between the Executive Branch and Congress determine the ceiling for the number of refugees to be admitted into the United States from each area.  Beginning in Fiscal Year 1987, an unallocated reserve was incorporated into the admission ceilings.

H-1B Dependent Employers

Petitioners, pursuant to INA 101(a)(15)(H)(i)(b), who have a significant percentage, as specified in the statute, of H-1B beneficiary employees, and are accordingly subject to additional requirements, particularly as they relate to obtaining the required labor condition application.  The American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act (ACWIA) provision that governed dependent employers lapsed and became inapplicable on September 30, 2003.  [If it “sunset”, then why do you discuss it?]

Health Care Worker

Aliens, excluding physicians, belonging to this classification must have the appropriate certification.

Hemispheric Ceilings

Statutory limits on immigration to the United States in effect from 1968 to October 1978. Mandated by the Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965, the ceiling on immigration from the Eastern Hemisphere was set at 170,000, with a per-country limit of 20,000.  Immigration from the Western Hemisphere was held to 120,000, without a per-country limit until January 1, 1977.  The Western Hemisphere was then made subject to a 20,000 per-country limit.  Effective October 1978, the separate hemispheric limits were abolished in favor of a worldwide limit.


Must be completed for each individual hired, whether American citizen or not.  On this form, the employer must verify the employment eligibility, identity documents presented by the employee and record this information.  The list of acceptable documents has been amended in the 2007 version of the form and can be found at  Form I-9 must be kept by the employer either for three years after the date of hire or for one year after employment is terminated, whichever is later.  The form must be available for inspection by authorized governmental officials (e.g., Department of Homeland Security, Department of Labor, Office of Special Counsel).


Certifies the admission of an alien to a program of study and, in conjunction, with evidence of financial ability and unabandoned permanent residence abroad, establishes eligibility for a student visa status.  See definition of SEVIS below. 

Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA)

Pub.L. 104-208, Div. C, 110 Stat. 3009-546.  This law vastly changed the immigration laws of the United States.  Under IIRIRA, many criminal acts that were not considered to be deportable offenses under the old law now carry serious immigration penalties such as deportation and, in many cases, permanent exclusion from the United States.  In addition, most aspects of the law are retroactive for convictions prior to 1996.


Please see “Immigration and Nationality Act


See “Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA)

Immediate Relatives

Certain immigrants who, because of their close relationship to American citizens, are exempt from immigration quotas.  Immediate relatives are spouses of citizens, children (under twenty-one years of age and unmarried) of citizens and parents of citizens who are twenty-one or older.


See “Permanent Resident Alien

Immigration Act of 1990 (IMMACT 90)

Public Law 101-649 (Act of November 29, 1990) increased the limits on legal immigration to the United States, revised all grounds for exclusion and deportation, authorized temporary protected status to aliens of designated countries, revised and established new nonimmigrant admission categories, revised and extended the Visa Waiver Pilot Program and revised naturalization requirements.

Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE)

Agency of DHS, which protects national security and upholds public safety by targeting criminal networks and terrorist organizations seeking to exploit vulnerabilities in America’s immigration system.  ICE has five operational divisions, each containing a number of law enforcement, intelligence or mission-support positions.  They are Office of Detention and Removal Operations (DRO), Office of Investigations (OI), Office of Federal Protective Service (FPS), Office of Intelligence and Office of International Affairs (OIA).

Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments of 1996

Reflected in Public Law 99-639 (Act of 11/10/86), which was passed in order to deter immigration-related marriage fraud.  Its major provision stipulates that aliens deriving their immigrant status based on marriages of fewer than two years are conditional immigrants.  To remove their conditional status, the immigrants must file applications with USCIS during the ninety-day period before their second anniversaries of receiving conditional status.  If aliens cannot show that the marriages through which the status was obtained are valid, then their conditional immigrant status may be terminated, and they may be deported.

Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA)

Part of Public Law 99-603 (Act of 11/6/86), which was passed in order to control and deter illegal immigration to the United States.  Its major provisions stipulate the legalization of undocumented aliens who have been continuously unlawfully present since 1982, legalization of certain agricultural workers, sanctions for employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers and increased enforcement at American borders.

Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)

This act, along with other immigration laws, treaties and conventions of the United States, relates to the immigration, temporary admission, naturalization and removal of aliens.

Immigrant Work Visas

There are four categories for granting permanent residence to foreign nationals based on employment:

EB-1 Priority Worker

  • Foreign nationals of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics 
  • Foreign nationals who are outstanding professors or researchers
  • Foreign nationals who are managers and executives and have transferred to the United States

EB-2 Professionals

  • Foreign nationals of exceptional ability in the sciences, arts or business
  • Foreign nationals possessing advanced degrees
  • Qualified, alien physicians who will practice medicine in underserved areas of the United States.

EB-3 Skilled or Professional Workers

  • Foreign-national professionals with bachelor’s degrees (not qualifying for a higher preference category) 
  • Foreign-national, skilled workers (minimum two years training and experience)
  • Foreign-national, unskilled workers

EB-4 Special Immigrants

  • Foreign-national, religious workers
  • Employees and former employees of the American Government abroad


An inadmissible alien is one seeking admission at a port of entry and does not meet INA’s criteria for admission.  The alien may be placed in removal proceedings or, under certain circumstances, allowed to withdraw his application for admission.

Industrial Trainee

Please see “Temporary Worker

Ineligible to Citizenship

A person who is, or was at any time, permanently debarred from becoming an American citizen, notwithstanding the provisions of any treaty relating to military service. 


The internet-based system that allows the public to make an appointment on line with the USCIS in their local office. 

INPASS (INS Passenger Accelerated Service System)

INPASS is an automated system, utilizing kiosks at ports of entry designed to reduce immigration inspection processing time for authorized travelers.

Intent (Nonimmigrant Intent)

Section 214(b) of the INA provides that every alien (other than H-1Bs or Ls) shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he establishes at the time of the application for admission, that he is entitled to a nonimmigrant status under the applicable provisions of the INA. 

International Representative

Nonimmigrant class of admission for aliens entering the United States temporarily as a principal or other accredited representative of a foreign government (whether officially recognized or not by the United States) to an international organization, an international organization officer or employee, and for all above aliens’ spouses and unmarried minor (or dependent) children.

Intracompany Trainee

Alien, employed for at least one continuous year of the last three by an international firm or corporation, who seeks to enter the United States temporarily in order to work for the same employer, or a subsidiary or affiliate thereof, in a capacity that is primarily managerial, executive or involves specialized knowledge.  This classification also includes the alien’s spouse and minor, unmarried children.


Status of a nonimmigrant investor is available to nationals of countries with which the United States has appropriate treaties of friendship, commerce or navigation (FCN) or bilateral investment treaties (BIT).  Permanent, immigrant status is available (initially, on a conditional basis) on an employment-creation basis for persons who invest at least 1 million ($500,000) in certain geographic locations) and create at least ten jobs.  There are extensive regulations, interpretations, guidelines and decisions with respect to qualifying for either of these statuses, including such matters as amount and source of capital. 

J Visa

Promotes the interchange of people in the fields of education as well as the arts and sciences. Participants in the J-visa program include students at all academic levels; trainees obtaining on-the-job training; teachers of primary, secondary and specialized schools; research and teaching professors at institutions of higher learning; research scholars; professional trainees in the medical and allied fields; and international visitors coming for the purpose of traveling, observing, consulting, conducting research, training, sharing or demonstrating specialized knowledge or skills.

Labor Certification

Requirement for American employers seeking to employ certain persons whose immigration is based on job skills or nonimmigrant temporary workers to perform services for which qualified American workers are unavailable.  Labor certification is issued by the Secretary of Labor and contains attestations by American employers as to the numbers of American workers available and the effect of the alien’s employment on the wages and working conditions of American workers similarly employed.  Determination of labor availability is made at the time of the visa application and at the location where the applicant wishes to work.

Labor Condition Application (LCA)

DOL form, ETA-9035, which must be submitted with an H-1B petition.  This form can be filed electronically with Form ETA-9035E (  The LCA is an attestation to four conditions of employment by an employer seeking to hire an H-1B nonimmigrant, stating that:

  1. the employer is paying the H-1B nonimmigrant at least the higher of the actual wage paid by the employer to others in the same occupation with similar experience and qualifications or the prevailing wage for the occupation in the surrounding area;
  2. the employment of the H-1B nonimmigrant will not adversely affect the working conditions of similarly employed workers;
  3. there is not a strike, lockout or work stoppage in the occupation for which the H-1B nonimmigrant is being hired; and
  4. notice of having hired the H-1B nonimmigrant has been provided.

Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR)

Resides in the United States under legally recognized and lawfully recorded permanent residence as an immigrant.  This classification is also known as a “permanent resident alien,” “resident alien permit holder” or “green card holder.”

Legalization Dependents

The maximum of 55,000 visas were issued to spouses and children of aliens legalized under the provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 in each of Fiscal Years 1992 – 1994.

Legalized Aliens

Those with erstwhile illegal status but granted temporary resident status under the legalization provision of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.  To be eligible, aliens must have continuously resided in the United States in an unlawful status since January 1, 1982, not be excludable and have entered the country either 1) illegally before January 1, 1982 and not be excludable or 2) as temporary visitors before January 1, 1982, with their authorized stay expiring before that date or with the Government’s knowledge of their unlawful status before that date.  Legalization consists of two stages:  temporary and permanent residency.  In order to adjust to permanent status, aliens must have had continuous residence in the United States, be admissible as an immigrant and demonstrate at least a minimal understanding of the English language as well as American history and government.

Legitimated Child

Most countries have legal procedures for natural fathers of children born out of wedlock to acknowledge their children. 

  1. only one of the parents is living, or 
  2. both parents have abandoned the child

M Visa

Reserved for nonimmigrants wishing to pursue nonacademic or vocational studies. For more information please see our section on Student Visas.

Medical Waiver

Permits an immigration applicant to be allowed into the United States despite having a health condition identified as grounds for inadmissibility.  Terms and conditions can be applied to a medical waiver on a case-by-case basis.

Medical and Legal Parolee

Please see “Parolee”


Alien who leaves his country of origin to seek residence in another.

Motions to Reopen or Reconsider

A motion to reconsider is filed when a decision of DHS, an immigration judge or BIA has errors of law or fact.  A motion to reopen is filed in proceedings before the USCS, and an immigration judge or BIA in order to introduce new facts.  In removal proceedings, respondents may file only one motion to reconsider or reopen.  A motion to reconsider must be filed within thirty days of the final administrative order of removal.  A motion to reopen must also state new facts not available during the original proceedings and must be supported by affidavits or other evidentiary materials.  Except under certain circumstances involving asylum, a motion to reopen must be filed within ninety days. 


Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act

NATO Official

As a nonimmigrant class of admission, an alien entering the United States temporarily as a member of the armed forces, or as a civilian employed by the armed forces, on assignment from a member country to NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization).  This classification also includes the alien’s spouse and unmarried minor (or dependent) children.


Person owing permanent allegiance to a state.


Process conferring, by any means, of citizenship upon a person after birth.

Naturalization Application

Form N-400 used by a lawful, permanent resident to apply for American citizenship.  The application is filed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services at the Service Center with jurisdiction over the applicant’s place of residence.


Alien seeking temporary entry to United States for a specific purpose.  The alien must have a permanent residence abroad (for most classes of admission) and qualify for the nonimmigrant classification sought.  The nonimmigrant classifications include foreign government officials, visitors for business and for pleasure, aliens in transit through the United States, treaty traders and investors, students, international representatives, temporary workers and trainees, representatives of foreign information media, exchange visitors, fiance(e)s of American citizens, intracompany transferees, NATO officials and religious workers.  Most nonimmigrants can be accompanied or joined by spouses and unmarried minor (or dependent) children.

Nonimmigrant Visa

Issued to an alien as an eligible nonimmigrant.  “Every alien shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officer, at the time of the application for a visa, and the immigration officers, at the time of the application for admission, that he is entitled to a nonimmigrant status under INA 01(a)(15).”  Visa refusals under INA 214(b) are the most common denials and are neither reviewable nor appealable.  A nonimmigrant visa affixed to the passport or other travel document signifies that a consular officer believes that the alien is eligible to apply for admission in a particular nonimmigrant category.  Initial issuance of visas can only be performed by an American consular officer outside the United States (except for A and G visas issued to diplomats and representatives of international organizations, respectively, and their employees and dependents).  Some visas can be reissued at the Department of State in Washington, D.C.  A visa does not guarantee admission into the United States.  An immigrant inspector may deny entry if he believes that a particular alien is not eligible to be admitted in the category for which the visa was issued.  Specific visas are issued on the basis of reciprocity with the applicant’s country of citizenship with respect to both validity and number of entries permitted.  The period of validity of a particular visa establishes the period during which the alien may present himself at an American port of entry.  Visas may be valid for as few as thirty days or up to ten years, and may be limited to a single entry or be valid for multiple entries.  The period of validity of the visa is not the same as the authorized period of temporary stay, which is indicated on Form I-94, Arrival Departure Record, stapled to the passport and may be less than the period of validity of the visa or much longer (typically when single entry visas are valid only for a limited period of time).  It is important to understand that it is always the I-94, not the visa in the passport, that determines a nonimmigrant alien’s status and the authorized purpose as well as the period of stay.  An alien is not out of status if he was properly admitted pursuant to a valid visa, and the visa has expired, provided that the person is still within the authorized period of stay indicated on Form I-94. 

Non-preference Category

Were available to qualified applicants not entitled to visas under the preferences until the category was eliminated by the Immigration Act of 1990.  Non-preference visas have not been available since September 1978 because of the high demand in the preference categories.  Five thousand additional non-preference visas were available in each of Fiscal Years 1987 and 1988 under a provision of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.  This program was extended through 1991, with 15,000 visas issued each year.  Aliens born in countries where immigration was adversely affected by the Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965 (Public Law 89-236) were eligible for these special non-preference visas.

North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)

Public Law 103-182 (Act of 12/8/93), superseded the US-Canada Free-Trade Agreement as of January 1, 1994.  It continues the reciprocal trading relationship between the United States and Canada (see US-Canada Free-Trade Agreement), and establishes a similar relationship with Mexico.

Notice To Appear (NTA)

NTA is a document issued by DHS to commence removal proceedings.  This replaced the earlier order to show cause (OSC). 

Numerical Limit, Exempt from

Aliens accorded lawful, permanent residency who are exempt from the provisions of the flexible numerical limit of 675,000, set by the Immigration Act of 1990.  Exempt categories include immediate relatives of American citizens, refugees, asylees (limited to 10,000 per year by section 209(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act), Amerasians, aliens adjusted under the legalization provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and certain parolees from the former Soviet Union and Indochina.

Nursing Relief Act of 1989

Public Law 101-238 (Act of 12/18/89), provides for the adjustment to permanent resident status of certain nonimmigrants who, as of September 1, 1989, had H-1 nonimmigrant status as registered nurses; were employed in that capacity for at least three years and whose continued nursing employment met certain labor certification requirements.

National Visa Center (NVC)

Responsible for the collection of visa application fees and documentation.  When an applicant’s priority date meets the most recent qualifying date, NVC will contact the applicant and petitioner with instructions for submitting the appropriate processing fees.  After the appropriate processing fees are paid, NVC will again contact the applicant and petitioner to request that the necessary documentation be submitted for further processing.


For an alien entering the United States or adjusting status without a labor certification, occupation refers to the employment held either in the country of last legal residence or in the United States.  For an alien with a labor certification, occupation is the employment for which certification has been issued.

Occupational Information Network (O’NET)

Provides information on job classifications.  It will replace the Dictionary of Occupational Titles.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Program available to F-1 students upon completion of studies at each level of education (bachelor, master and doctorate degrees).  Twelve months of full time practical training is available to foreign students if they meet the requirements set.  For more information on OPT requirements, please see our Web page on student visas.” 

Orphan Child

The Immigration and Nationality Act provides a definition of an orphan.  A child may be considered an orphan because of the death or disappearance of, abandonment or desertion by, or separation or loss from, both parents.  The child of an unwed mother or surviving parent may be considered an orphan if that parent is unable to care for the child properly and has, in writing, irrevocably released the child for emigration and adoption.  The child of an unwed mother may be considered an orphan, as long as the mother does not marry (which would result in the child’s having a stepfather) and as long as the child’s biological father has not legitimated the child.  If the father legitimates the child or the mother marries, she is no longer considered the sole parent.  The child of a surviving parent may also be an orphan if he has not married since the death of the other parent (which would result in the child’s having a stepfather or stepmother).  Note:  Prospective adoptive parents should be sure that a child fits the definition of an orphan before adopting.  If a child does not meet this definition, then he may not be eligible to immigrate.

Out of Wedlock

A child born of parents who were not legally married to each other at that time.  Note:  Adoptive and prospectively adoptive parents of an illegitimate child who should find out whether the child has been legitimated.

Panel Physician

Medically trained, licensed and experienced doctor practicing overseas who is appointed an American embassy or consulate.  These medical professionals receive American immigration-focused training in order to provide examinations as required by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and USCIS.  For medical examinations given in the United States, please see “Civil Surgeon.”  IMPORTANT:  Medical examinations given overseas will not be recognized if they are given by a doctor who is not appointed by an American embassy or consulate.


Authority given by DHS to enter the United States without a specific status.  Examples include parole for humanitarian or family-unification purposes, for proceeding with an adjustment of status that would otherwise be considered to have been abandoned. 


A parolee is an alien, inadmissible to the inspecting officer, but allowed into the United States for urgent, humanitarian reasons or when his entry is determined to be for significant, public benefit.  Parole does not constitute formal admission into the United States and confers temporary status only, requiring parolees to leave when the conditions supporting their parole cease to exist.  Types of parolees include:

  1. Deferred inspection:  may be conferred by an immigration inspector when an alien appears at a port of entry with documentation, but, after preliminary examination, some questions remain about his admissibility, which can best be answered at his point of destination.
  2. Advance parole:  authorized at a USCIS district office in advance of the alien’s arrival; may be issued to an alien living in the United States as other than a lawful, permanent resident, who has an unexpected need to travel and return and whose conditions of stay do not otherwise allow for readmission.
  3. Port-of-entry parole:  authorized at the port upon the alien’s arrival; applies to a wide variety of situations and is used at the discretion of the supervisory immigration inspector, usually to allow short periods of entry.  Examples include allowing aliens who could not be issued the necessary documentation within the required time period or who were otherwise inadmissible, to attend funerals and permitting fire fighters, to assist with emergencies.
  4. Humanitarian parole:  authorized at USCIS’ headquarters or overseas district offices for urgent humanitarian reasons.  It is used in cases of medical emergency and comparable situations.
  5. Significant Public Benefit Parole: authorized at USCIS’ Office of International Affairs for “significant public benefit” as specified in the law.  It is generally used for aliens to take part in legal proceedings when there is benefit to inure to the Government.  These requests must be submitted by a law enforcement agency.
  6. Overseas parole: authorized at an USCIS district or suboffice while the alien is still overseas; designed to constitute long-term admission.  In recent years, most of the aliens whom USCIS has processed through overseas parole have arrived under special legislation or international migration agreements.


Travel document issued by a competent authority showing the bearer’s origin, identity and nationality, if any, and is valid for bearer to enter a foreign country. 

Per-country Limit

Maximum number of family-sponsored and employment-based preference visas that can be issued to citizens of any country in a fiscal year.  No more than seven percent of the visas may be issued to natives  of a country in a fiscal year and no more than two percent may be issued to a dependency of an independent country.  The per-country limit does not indicate, however, that a country is entitled to the maximum number of visas each year, only that it cannot receive more than that number.  Due to the way that the preference system and per-country limits work, most countries do not reach their allotted maximums.

Permanent Resident or Permanent Resident Alien

A permanent resident lives in the United States under the legally recognized and lawfully recorded permanent residence status as an immigrant, also known as “permanent resident alien,” “lawful permanent resident,” “resident alien permit holder,” and “green card holder.” 

Permanent residents are also commonly referred to as immigrants; however, the INA broadly defines an immigrant as any alien in the United States, except one legally admitted under specific nonimmigrant categories (INA section 101(a)(15)).  An illegal alien who enters the United States without inspection, for example, is strictly defined as an immigrant under the INA but not as a permanent, resident alien.  Lawful, permanent, residents are legally accorded the privilege of residing permanently in the United States.  They may be issued immigrant visas by the Department of State overseas or adjusted to permanent resident status by USCIS in the United States.

Program Electronic Review Management System (PERM)

Program under development by the DOL to replace the current Labor Certification Program.  It uses a computerized system to scan attestation forms filed by employers regarding their compliance with regulatory requirements. 


Family member who must be either an American citizen or an LRP.  However, widows and widowers of American citizens, battered spouses and children of American citizens or LPRs and Amerasian children may petition for themselves.

Physical Presence

Being present in a country for at least some part of a day.  For naturalization purposes, this is a key concept and must not be confused with residence.  It is also important for INA 122(e), home country physical presence purposes. 

Port of Entry

Designated by DOS for aliens and Americans to (re)enter the United States.  All district and file control offices are also considered ports since they become locations of entry for aliens adjusting to immigrant status.

Pre-departure Inspection

A complete immigration inspection of airport passengers before departure from a foreign country.  No further immigration inspection is required upon arrival in the United States other than submission of Form I-94.

Preference System (Immigration Act of 1990)

Started in Fiscal Year 1992.  This system includes nine categories of visas, among which are family-sponsored and employment-based. The family-sponsored preferences are:  unmarried sons and daughters of American citizens; spouses, children, and unmarried sons and daughters of permanent resident aliens; married sons and daughters of Americans; and brothers and sisters of American citizens.  The employment-based preferences are: 1) priority workers (persons of extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers, and certain multinational executives and managers); professionals with advanced degrees or aliens with exceptional ability; skilled workers, professionals (without advanced degrees), and needed unskilled workers; special immigrants; and employment-creation immigrants (investors).

Preference System (prior to Fiscal Fear 1992)

Encompasses six categories, among which 270,000 immigrant visa numbers were distributed each year between 1981-91. This preference system was amended by the Immigration Act of 1990, effective Fiscal Year 1992. (Please see Preference System – Immigration Act of 1990). The six categories were: unmarried sons and daughters (over twenty-one years of age) of American citizens (20 percent); spouses and unmarried sons and daughters of aliens lawfully admitted for permanent residence (26 percent); members of the professions or persons of exceptional ability in the sciences and arts (10 percent); married sons and daughters of American citizens (10 percent); brothers and sisters of American citizens over twenty-one years of age (24 percent); and needed workers (10 percent). The non-preference category, historically open to immigrants not entitled to visa numbers under one of the six preferences just listed, had no numbers available.

Presence without Admission or Parole

A state of being in the United States and not having previously been admitted or paroled, or arriving in the US at a time and place other than designated by the Attorney General (exception for certain battered women and children) without admission or parole.  This type of presence makes the alien inadmissible to the United States unless he qualifies for immigrant status as a battered person under INA 204(a)(1)(A)(iii), (Iv), (B)(ii), or (iii). 

Principal Alien

One who applies for immigrant status and from whom another alien may derive lawful status under immigration law or regulations (usually spouses and minor unmarried children).

Priority Date

In the USCIS immigrant visa petition application process, the priority date is established when the petition is filed.  If the alien relative has a priority date on or before the date listed in the visa bulletin, then he is eligible for a visa.

Principal Designated School Official

Please see DSO.

Alien Professional Athlete

A member of a team who enters the United States by filing an alien labor certification, even if he has changed teams.

Q Visa

Used for the Q international cultural exchange programs, which provide practical training and employment as well as the sharing of the history, culture and traditions of the participant’s home country.

Quota Chargeability

The country to which an intending immigrant is chargeable for quota purposes normally is the country of birth, although there are several exceptions providing for chargeability to other countries.  Please also see Country of Chargeability

Reduction in Recruitment (RIR)

Please see Labor Certification.

Re-entry Permit

Travel document issued to a permanent resident traveling abroad temporarily.  A person must be present in the United States to file the application but may depart during the adjudication process.


Person who is outside his country of nationality who is unwilling to return because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution.  Persecution or the fear thereof must be based on the alien’s race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.  People with no nationality must generally be outside their country of last residence to qualify as a refugee.  Refugees are subject to ceilings by geographic area set annually by the President, in consultation with Congress, and are eligible to adjust to lawful, permanent resident status after one year of continuous presence in the United States. For more information please see our section on Asylum

Refugee Approvals

The number of refugees approved for admission to the United States during a fiscal year.

Refugee Arrivals

The number of refugees admitted to the United States through ports of entry during a fiscal year.

Refugee Authorized Admissions

The maximum number of refugees allowed to enter the United States in a given fiscal year.  As set forth in the Refugee Act of 1980 (Public Law 96-212), the President determines the annual figure after consultation with Congress.


A qualified applicant for conditional entry between February 1970 and April 1980, whose application for admission to the United States could not be approved because of inadequate numbers of seventh-preference visas.  As a result, the applicant was paroled under the parole authority granted to the Secretary of Homeland Security.

Refugee Travel Document

Similar to a re-entry permit issued to an asylee or refugee.  It takes the place of a passport. 

Regional Offices

There are three USCIS regional offices that supervise the work of the various districts.  The regional directors report to the Associate Director for Domestic Operations in USCIS’ Headquarters, Washington, DC.  The three regional offices are located in (Eastern Region) Burlington, VT, (Central Region) Dallas, TX, and (Western Region) Laguna Nigel, CA.  A fourth regional office (Southeastern Region) is planned for Orlando, FL.

Registry Date

Aliens who have continuously resided in the United States since January 1, 1972, are of good moral character and are not inadmissible, are eligible to adjust to their status to that of a legal, permanent resident.  Before the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 amended the date, aliens had to have been in the country continuously since June 30, 1948, to qualify.


Expulsion of an alien from the United States.  This expulsion may be based on grounds of inadmissibility or deportability.


Formal repudiation of American citizenship under INA 349(a)(5).  It can only be accomplished outside the United States by taking a prescribed oath before a diplomatic or consular officer.

Required Departure

Please see “Voluntary Departure”


Cancellation of a prior adjustment of status to lawful permanent resident status. 


Permanent relocation of refugees to a place outside their countries of origin to allow them to establish residence.  Refugee resettlement is accomplished with the direct assistance of private, voluntary agencies working with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Resident Alien

Non-American citizens currently residing in the United States.  The term is applied in three ways; Please see the sections on permanent resident, conditional resident and returning resident.

Retention Requirement

The conditions imposed upon those born abroad to one American and one alien parent between May 24, 1934 and December 24, 1952.  The law under which these individuals acquired citizenship required that they enter the United States between the ages of fourteen and twenty-eight and, by being present therein for two continuous years in order to retain the citizenship status that they acquired by birth.  Failure to comply with this requirement resulted in cessation [cancellation?] of their American citizenship, usually at the age of twenty-six, when they were no longer able to comply.  A person whose citizenship ceased for failure to comply with the retention requirements can have his citizenship restored by taking an oath of allegiance prescribed by INA 324(d). 

Returning Resident

Lawful permanent resident who has been outside the United States.  He can also be defined as a “special immigrant”.  If he is outside the United States for more than 180 days, he must apply for readmission.  If he resides outside the United States for more than one year and is returning to his permanent residence, he usually must have a re-entry permit from USCIS or an immigrant visa from the Department of State.

Safe Haven

Temporary refuge given to migrants who have fled their countries of origin to seek protection or relief from persecution or other hardships until they can return to their countries safely or, if necessary, obtain permanent relief from the conditions they fled.

Serious Criminal Offense

Any felonious crime of violence, as defined in 8 USC 16, or any crime of reckless driving or of driving while intoxicated if such crime involves personal injury to another. 

Service Centers

There are four service centers established to handle the filing, data entry, and adjudication of certain applications for immigration services and benefits.  Applications are mailed to USCIS’ Service Centers since they’re not staffed to receive walk-in applications or questions.

Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)

An interagency, integrated computer information system that tracks F and M visa students as well as J exchange visitors worldwide.  The SEVIS program monitors foreign students and is managed by DHS through ICE.  SEVIS can be only accessed by USCIS-approved schools, DOS and DHS.  SEVIS requires schools to report virtually all changes in a student’s program such as those to status, violations, issuance of I-20s, transfer to different schools, reinstatements to schools, and generally tracks his movements in the United States and trips abroad. 

Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)

Acts as the bridge for various governmental organizations that have an interest in information on foreign students.  SEVP uses SEVIS to track and monitor schools and programs, students, exchange visitors and their dependents throughout the duration of approved participation.  SEVP collects, maintains and provides the information so that only legitimate foreign students or exchange visitors gain entry to the United States.  The result is an easily accessible information system that provides timely information to the appropriate agencies. 

Special Agricultural Workers (SAW)

Aliens who performed labor in perishable agricultural commodities for a specified period of time, and were admitted for temporary, then permanent residency under a provision of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.  A maximum of 350,000 aliens who worked at least ninety days in each of the three years preceding May 1, 1986 were eligible for Group I temporary resident status.  Eligible aliens who qualified under this requirement but applied after this limit was met and aliens who performed labor in perishable agricultural commodities for at least ninety days during the year ending May 1, 1986 were eligible for Group II temporary resident status.  Adjustment to permanent, resident status is essentially automatic for both groups; however, aliens in Group I were eligible on December 1, 1989 and those in Group II were eligible one year later, on December 1, 1990.

Special Naturalization Provisions

Provisions covering special classes of aliens who may be naturalized even though they do not meet all the general requirements.  Such special provisions allow wives or husbands of American citizens to file for naturalization after three years of lawful, permanent residence instead of the prescribed five years; a surviving spouse of an American who served in the armed forces to file his naturalization application in any district instead of where he resides; and children of Americans to be naturalized without meeting certain requirements or taking the oath, if too young to understand its meaning.  Other classes of aliens who may qualify for special consideration are former American citizens, servicemen, seamen and employees of organizations promoting American interests abroad.


A sponsor is a person who completes Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, under Section 213A of the Act or Form I-134. 


A person without a nationality.

Status Violator

A person who violates his nonimmigrant status.  For example, he could be a dependent of a principal alien working without authorization.  A status violator is not the same as an alien who is unlawfully present.  Status violators are subject to removal.


Alien entering the United States surreptitiously on a vessel without legal status of admission.  Such an alien is subject to denial of formal admission and return to the point of embarkation by the carrier.


Nonimmigrant class of admission, an alien temporarily in the United States to pursue a full course of study in an approved program in either an academic (college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school or other institution or language training program) or a vocational or other recognized nonacademic institution.

Student Visa Abuser

Alien who has violated the provisions of INA 24(m) regarding attendance at public elementary or secondary schools or public adult education or language programs. 

Subject to the Numerical Limit

The largest categories that are subject to this numerical limit are family-sponsored and employment-based preferences as well as diversity immigrants.  The annual, flexible numerical limit is 675,000, which is set by the Immigration Act of 1990.

Suspension of Deportation

Remedy initiated before removal proceedings began under the IIRAIRA for certain persons who have been in the United States for either seven or ten years and have met other criteria set forth in INA 244(a), now superseded by a procedure called Cancellation of Removal.

Temporary Protected Status (TPS)

Establishes a legislative basis for allowing temporary refugees in the United States.  Under a provision of the Immigration Act of 1990, the Secretary of Homeland Security may designate nationals of foreign states to be eligible for TPS.  This finding is based on conditions in these countries that pose a danger to personal safety due to ongoing armed conflict or environmental disaster.  Grants of TPS are initially made for periods of six to eighteen months but may be extended.  Removal proceedings are suspended against aliens while they are in temporary protected status.

Temporary Resident

Please see “Nonimmigrant

Temporary Worker

An alien authorized to work only for a temporary period of time.  The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, the Immigration Act of 1990 as well as other legislation revised existing, and created new, classes of nonimmigrant admission.  Nonimmigrant, temporary worker classes of admission are as follows:

  1. H-1A – registered nurses (valid from 10/1/1990 through 9/30/1995);
  2. H-1B – workers with specialty occupations admitted on the basis of professional education, skills, and/or equivalent experience;
  3. H-1C – registered nurses to work in areas with a shortage of health professionals under the Nursing Relief for Disadvantaged Areas Act of 1999;
  4. H-2A – temporary agricultural workers performing agricultural services or labor of a temporary or seasonal nature due to a shortage of American workers in these fields;
  5. H-2B – temporary, non-agricultural workers performing temporary services or labor when unemployed Americans capable of these jobs cannot be found;
  6. H-3 – aliens working as trainees on a temporary basis other than to receive graduate medical education or training;
  7. O-1, O-2, O-3 – temporary workers with extraordinary ability or achievement in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics; those entering solely for the purpose of accompanying and assisting such workers as well as their spouses and children;
  8. P-1, P-2, P-3, P-4 – athletes and entertainers at an internationally recognized level of performance; artists and entertainers under a reciprocal exchange program or a program that is culturally unique; and their spouses and children;
  9. Q-1, Q-2, Q-3 – participants in cultural exchange programs; participants in the Irish Peace Process Cultural and Training Program; and spouses and children of Irish Peace Process participants;
  10. R-1, R-2 – temporary workers performing work in religious occupations and their spouses and children.

Please see other sections of this glossary for definitions of exchange visitor, intracompany transferee, and U.S.-Canada or North American Free-Trade Agreement classes of nonimmigrant admission.

Transit Alien

An alien in continuous transit through the United States, with or without a visa, including one who is entitled to pass in transit to and from the United Nations Headquarters District and foreign countries, and foreign government officials and their spouses and unmarried minor (or dependent) children in transit.

Transit Without Visa (TWOV)

An alien traveling without a nonimmigrant visa under Section 233 of the INA.  Such an alien is admitted under agreements with transportation companies that guarantee his immediate and continuous passage to a foreign destination.  Please also see “Transit Alien”

Transmission Requirement

Refers to the amount of time required by law that an American citizen must spend in the United States in order to transmit citizenship to a child born abroad by one citizen and one alien parent.  The law distinguishes whether the citizen is required to be present in the United States for given period of time or merely maintain a residence there for said period.  Time spent abroad in certain occupations such as being employed by the U. S. Government, can be considered time spent in the United States.  In every case, however, the transmission time must occur prior to the birth of the child. 

Transportation Security Administration (TSA)

Transferred to the Directorate of Border of Transportation Security from the Department of Transportation.  It has statutory responsibility for security of all American airports. 

Treaty Trader or Investor

A nonimmigrant class of admission.  This alien is authorized under the provisions of treaties of commerce and navigation between the United States and other countries.  These treaties allow such an alien to carry on substantial trade or direct the operations of an enterprise in which he has invested a substantial amount of capital.  This class also includes the alien’s spouse and unmarried, minor children.

U Nonimmigrant Visas – Victims of Criminal Activity

Victims of crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and who, not only have information regarding the activity, but are willing to assist governmental officials in the investigation.  USCIS can grant up to 10,000 U visas each year for a maximum of four years.

Alien victims of crime may request U nonimmigrant status by filing Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status.  The form requests information regarding the petitioner’s eligibility for U status, as well as his admissibility into the United States.  In addition, Supplement B to Form I-918, U Nonimmigrant Status Certification, must be submitted from a federal, state or local law-enforcement official.  This official must demonstrate that the petitioner “has been, is being or is likely to be helpful” in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity.  The petitioner does not need to be present in the United States to request U status.

Underrepresented Countries, Natives of

Those from countries cited in the Immigration Amendments of 1988, Public Law 101-658 (Act of 11/5/88), which allowed for 10,000 visas to be issued to these aliens in each of Fiscal Years 1990 and 1991.  Underrepresented countries are defined as those that received less than twenty-five percent of the maximum allowed under the country limitations (20,000 for independent countries and 5,000 for dependencies) in Fiscal Year 1988.

See also “Diversity

US – Canada Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA)

Public Law 100-449 (Act of 9/28/88) established a special, reciprocal trading relationship between the United States and Canada.  It provided two new classes of nonimmigrant admission for temporary visitors to the United States: Canadian business persons as well as their spouses and unmarried, minor children.  Entry is facilitated for visitors seeking classification as visitors for business, treaty traders or investors, intracompany transferees or other business people engaging in activities at a professional level. Such visitors are not required to obtain nonimmigrant visas, prior petitions, labor certifications or prior approval but must satisfy the inspecting officer that they are seeking entry to engage in activities at a professional level and are so qualified. The US-Canada Free-Trade Agreement was superseded by the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as of 1/1/94.

United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS)

Division of the DHS responsible for the benefits side of the former INS.  

Unlawful Presence

Being in the United States after expiration of the period authorized by the Attorney General or without having been admitted or paroled.  Thus, Canadians admitted without being issued an I-94, and F, J, and M students and exchange visitors admitted for “duration of status” (D/S) who overstay, do not accrue unlawful presence until and unless an immigration judge or DHS official finds such person to be out of status.  Violation of status (e.g. the F-1 student who works without authorization) does not constitute unlawful presence. “Aliens unlawfully present” is grounds for inadmissibility for three years for those who voluntarily leave the US after being unlawfully present for more than eighty days but less than one year commencing April, 1997, or for 10 years if unlawfully present for one year or more.  Unlawful presence is different, in critical ways, from violation of status. 


Required for aliens seeking admissions as immigrants.


Allows the bearer to apply for entry to the United States in a certain classification (e.g. student (F), visitor (B), temporary worker (H)).  A visa does not grant the bearer, however, the right to enter the United States.  DOS is responsible for visa adjudication at American embassies and consulates.  The Bureau of Customs and Border Protection’s (BCBP) immigration inspectors determine admission into, as well as length and conditions of stay in, the United States at a port of entry.  The information on a nonimmigrant visa only relates to when an individual may apply for entry.  DHS’ immigration inspectors will record the terms of your admission on your Arrival/Departure Record (I-94 white or I-94W green) and in your passport.

Visa Waiver Program (VWP)

Allows citizens of certain countries, traveling temporarily to the United States under the nonimmigrant admission classes of visitors for pleasure or business, to enter without obtaining nonimmigrant visas.  Admission is for no more than ninety days.  This program was instituted by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (entries began 7/1/88).  Under the Guam Visa Waiver Program, certain visitors from designated countries may visit Guam for a maximum of fifteen days without having to obtain nonimmigrant, visitor visas.

Voluntary Departure

Exiting by an alien without an order of removal.  Prior to the departure, there may be a hearing before an immigration judge.  An alien allowed voluntarily to depart concedes removability but does not have a bar from seeking readmission at any time.  Failure to depart within the time granted results in a fine and a ten-year bar to several forms of relief from deportation.


Certain grounds of inadmissibility and the two-year home country presence requirement for an exchange visitor under INA 22 can be waived.  These waivers remove an impediment to obtaining a visa or status.  Also, USCIS can grant a waiver of labor certification and job offer to professionals with advanced degrees and aliens of exceptional ability if their presence in the United States is deemed to be in the national interest.


An alien’s voluntary retraction of his application for admission to the United States in lieu of a removal hearing before an immigration judge or expedited removal.

Work Permit

Comprises various documents.  Citizens, nationals and lawful, permanent residents are automatically authorized to be employed in the United States.  Certain nonimmigrant visa categories include, as part of their status, employment authorization either with or without limitation to a particular employer or, after application and approval from USCIS, for authorization to be employed.  Virtually all employment authorization for nonimmigrants or undocumented aliens (where authorized) is limited as to time, and most as to the nature of the employer and employment.