Words used in the visa process are specialized. They may not have the same meanings as they do in everyday language. The following terms and their definitions explain how they are used in the visa and immigration process.
Select the first letter of the word you want to find.
Accompanying: A type of visa in which family members travel with the principal applicant, (in immigrant visa cases, within six months of issuance of an immigrant visa to the principal applicant).
Adjust Status: 1) to change from a nonimmigrant visa status or other status; or, 2) to adjust the status of a permanent resident (green card holder). Learn more on USCIS's website, as it is a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) process.
Administrative processing: Some visa applications require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after the visa applicant’s interview by a consular officer. Applicants are advised of this requirement when they apply. To learn more, review our Administrative Processing webpage.
Admission: Entry into the United States is authorized by a Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer. When you come from abroad and first arrive in the United States, the visa allows you to travel to the port-of-entry and request permission to enter the United States. Admission, or entering the United States, by non-U.S. citizens must be authorized by a CBP officer at the port-of-entry, who determines whether you can enter and how long you can stay here, on any particular visit. If you are allowed to enter, how long you can stay and the immigration classification you are given is shown as a recorded date or Duration of Status (D/S) on your admission stamp or paper Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record. For more information, go to DHS, CBP. If you want to stay longer than the date authorized, you must request permission from DHS, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Adopted Child: An unmarried child under age 21, who was adopted while under the age of sixteen, and who has been in legal custody and lived with the adopting parent(s) for at least two years. These rules do not apply to orphans adopted by U.S. Citizens. The adoption decree must give the child all the rights of a natural born child. For more adoption information visit DOS's adoption.state.gov.
Advance Parole: Permission to return to the United States after travel abroad. Advance parole must be granted by DHS prior to leaving the United States. The following categories of people may need advance parole: people on a K-1 visa, asylum applicants, parolees, people with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and some people trying to adjust status, while in the United States. If these people do not apply for advance parole before they leave the United States, they may be unable to return. Go to DHS, USCIS to learn more.
Advisory Opinion: An opinion regarding a point of law from the Office of Visa Services in the Department of State, Washington, D.C. This opinion would be issued in response to an inquiry from a U.S. Embassy or Consulate regarding the interpretation of immigration law, or in response to an inquiry from an applicant or his/her legal representative regarding the legal correctness of the applicant’s visa refusal.
Advisory Opinion (“J” Visa) Waiver of Foreign Residence Requirement, INA 212(e): A J-1 visa holder's DS 2019 or IAP 66 form will have a statement in the bottom left hand corner of the form, as follows: “Bearer (is or is not) subject to Section 212(e). Two year rule (does or does not) apply (name of country)”. This is a preliminary endorsement of the Consular Officer or Immigration Officer regarding Section 212(e) of the INA. When a J-1 visa holder (or his/her attorney) inquires whether the Foreign Residence Requirement under INA 212(e) applies to a particular J-1 visa holder, then a request for an Advisory Opinion is mailed to the Waiver Review Division at the Department of State. Learn more - See the “Eligibility and Application Procedures” and “FAQ” sections in the Waiver - Foreign Residence Requirement webpages.
Affidavit of Support: (AOS): A document promising that the person who completes it will support an applicant financially in the United States. Family and certain employment immigration cases require the I-864 Affidavit of Support, which is legally binding. All other cases use the I-134 Affidavit of Support. Go to our I-864 information to learn more.
Age Out: A child must be unmarried and under the age of 21, as defined in U.S. immigration law. A child beneficiary of an immigrant petition who will apply for an immigrant visa is considered to have aged out when the beneficiary no longer qualifies for an immigrant visa based on having reached age 21. The Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) changed the law, to allow many beneficiaries to still qualify as children for immigrant visa purposes even after reaching age 21. Learn more about National Visa Center processing for cases where child beneficiaries are close to aging out.
Agent: In immigrant visa processing, the applicant selects a person who receives all correspondence regarding the case and pays the immigrant visa application processing fee. The agent can be the applicant, the petitioner or another person selected by the applicant and listed on Form DS-261, Online Choice of Address and Agent.
Allotment: The allocation of an immigrant number to a consular office or to USCIS. This number may be used for visa issuance or adjustment of status as described in the Operation of the Immigrant Numerical Control System.
AOS: Affidavit of Support, Form I-864. A document promising that the person who completes it will support an applicant financially in the U.S. Family and certain employment immigration cases require the I-864 Affidavit of Support, which is legally binding.All other cases use the I-134 Affidavit of Support. Go to our I-864 information to learn more.
Appointment Package: The letter and documents that tell an applicant of the date of the immigrant visa interview. It includes forms that the applicant must complete before the interview and instructions for how to get everything ready for the interview.
Asylee: A person who cannot return to his home country because of a well-founded fear of persecution. An application for asylum is made in the United States to DHS. Go to the USCIS website to learn more. See Follow-to-Join Refugees & Asylees for information for the spouse or unmarried minor children abroad following to join a refugee or asylee in the United States.
Arrival/Departure Card: Also known as Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record. Effective May 25, 2013, a new electronic I-94 process was fully implemented at air and sea ports-of-entry. Under the new process, a CBP official at the port-of-entry provides each admitted nonimmigrant traveler (all non-U.S. citizens) with an admission stamp on their passport. CBP will no longer issue a paper form I-94, with some exceptions. Learn more on the CBP website. On the admission stamp or paper Form I-94, the CBP official records either a date or “D/S” (duration of status). If your admission stamp or paper Form I-94 contains a specific date, then that is the date by which you must leave the United States. If you were issued a paper Form I-94, it is important to keep this card safe because it shows the length of time you are permitted and authorized by DHS to stay in the United States. It is best kept stapled with your passport, kept in a safe place. The visitors return the I-94 card when they leave the country.
Attorney of Record: An attorney or representative appointed by the petitioner, applicant or beneficiary to receive correspondence and documentation relating to the visa petition or application. An attorney of record may be appointed by the petitioner, applicant or beneficiary by submitting to the National Visa Center or the U.S. Embassy or Consulate processing the visa application: Form G-28, Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Representative; a printed letterhead stationery showing membership in the legal profession (member of a U.S. State or District of Columbia bar association practicing in the United States) and stating that such an attorney has been retained or employed to represent the applicant; or a letter from the applicant that identifies the attorney or representative with whom the applicant established such relationship.
Biometrics: Biologically unique information used to identify individuals. This information can be used to verify identity or check against other entries in the database. The best known biometric is the fingerprint, but others include facial recognition and iris scans. Go to our biometrics page to learn more.
Cancelled Without Prejudice: A stamp a U.S. Embassy or Consulate puts on a visa when there is a mistake in the visa or the visa is a duplicate visa (two of the same kind). It does not affect the validity of other visas in the passport. It does not mean that the passport holder will not get another visa.
Case Number: The National Visa Center (NVC) gives each immigrant petition a case number. This number has three letters followed by ten digits (numbers). The three letters are an abbreviation for the overseas embassy or consulate that will process the immigrant visa case (for example, GUZ for Guangzhou, CDJ for Ciudad Juarez).
The digits tell us exactly when NVC created the case. For example a case with the number MNL2001747003 would be a case assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Manila. 2001 is the year in which NVC received the case from USCIS (formerly INS). The petition was received at the NVC on September 1st, which is the 247th day of the year, so 747 represents the ordinal date (247) plus 500. The 003 shows that it was the third case created for Manila on that day. This case number is not the same as the USCIS receipt number, which is written on the Notice of Action, Form I-797.
Certificate of Citizenship: A document issued by DHS as proof that the person is a U.S. citizen by birth (when born abroad) or derivation (not from naturalization). The Child Citizenship Act of 2001 gives U.S. citizenship automatically to certain foreign-born children of U.S. citizens. These children can apply for certificates of citizenship.
Certified Copy: A certified copy can be any of the following:
- A photocopy of the original that has an original stamp, seal, or other endorsement from the issuing authority.
- An official transcript of the original that has an original stamp, seal, or other endorsement from the issuing authority.
- An official duplicate or replacement copy of the original that either has an original stamp, seal, or other endorsement from the issuing authority or that is printed on official stationary.
Change Status: Changing from one nonimmigrant visa status to another nonimmigrant visa status while a person is in the United States is permitted for some nonimmigrant visa holders, if approved by USCIS. The visa holder may file a request with USCIS before his or her authorized stay expires, which generally is the date on the visa holder’s admission stamp or paper Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record (except for visa holders admitted to the U.S. for duration of status, stamped D/S). See Change My Nonimmigrant Status on the USCIS website to learn more.
Charge/Chargeable: There are numerical limits on the number of immigrant visas that can be granted to aliens from any one foreign country. This limit is the same for all countries. The limit is based on place of birth, not citizenship. Where the immigrant is "charged", means that person is counted towards a given country's numerical limit. For example, an immigrant born in Ethiopia is "charged" to Ethiopia, and therefore counted towards reaching the numerical limit for that country. The person would be "charged" to Ethiopia, even if the immigrant born in Ethiopia was born of Yemeni parents and has a passport from Yemen. For more information visit USCIS's webpage on the topic.
Although immigrants are normally "charged" to their country of birth, an immigrant is sometimes able to claim another for the sake of immigration. You would do this if it helps the immigrant in reaching the "cut-off date" date faster. For example, suppose you were born in India, but your spouse was born in Sudan. The "cut-off date" for a person born in India is earlier in family fourth preference immigration category than the "cut-off date" for a person born in Sudan. We can "charge" you to Sudan, rather than India, and you can use the more favorable cut-off date for Sudan. Therefore, you would be able to immigrate years earlier with a chargeability to Sudan than a chargeability to India.
Child: Unmarried child under the age of 21 years. A child may be natural born, step or adopted. If the child is a stepchild, the marriage between the parent and the U.S. citizen must have occurred when the child was under the age of 18. If the child is adopted, he/she must have been adopted with a full and final adoption when the child was under the age of 16, and the child must have lived with and been in the legal custody of the parent for at least two years. An orphan may qualify as a child if he/she has been adopted abroad by an U.S. citizen or if the U.S. citizen parent has filed an immediate-relative (IR) visa petition for him/her to go to the United States States for adoption by the U.S. citizen.
In certain visa cases a child continues to be classified as a child after he/she becomes 21, if the petition was filed for him/her when he/she was still under 21 years of age. For example, an IR-2 child of an U.S. citizen remains a child after the age of 21 if a petition was filed for him/her on or after August 6, 2002, when he/she was still under 21 years old. The child must meet other requirements of a child as listed above.
Code of Federal Regulations: The Code of Federal Regulations contains useful information on the laws regulating U.S. visa policy.
Conditional Residence (CR) Visa: If you have been married for less than two years when your husband or wife (spouse) gets lawful permanent resident status (gets a green card), then your spouse gets residence on a conditional basis. After two years, you and your spouse must apply together to DHS to remove the condition to the residence. Learn about how to apply for a CR visa on our Immigrant Visa for a Spouse webpage.
The investor visa (EB5 or T5/C5) is also a conditional residence visa. It requires an application procedure after two years to remove the condition on the permanent residence.
Current/non-current: There are numerical limits on the number of immigrant visas that can be granted to aliens from any one foreign country. The limit is based on place of birth, not citizenship. Because of the numerical limits, this means there is a waiting time before the immigrant visa can be granted. The terms current/non-current refer to the priority date of a petition in family or employment preference based immigrant visa cases in relationship to the immigrant cut-off date. If your priority date is before than the cut-off date according to the monthly Visa Bulletin, your case is current. This means your immigrant visa case can now be processed. However, if your priority date is later/comes after the cut-off date, you will need to wait longer, until your priority date is reached (becomes current). To find out whether a preference case is current, see the Visa Bulletin or telephone (202) 485-7699.
Immediate relative immigrant visa cases do not have country numerical limits, with waiting times as a result of the country limits. The terms priority date, cut-off date and current/non-current does not apply for immediate relative cases.
Cut-off Date: The date that determines whether a preference immigrant visa applicant can be scheduled for an immigrant visa interview in any given month. When “C” (meaning Current) is listed instead of a specific date, that means all priority dates are eligible for processing. The cut-off date is the priority date of the first applicant who could not be scheduled for a visa interview for a given month. Applicants with a priority date earlier than the cut-off date can be scheduled. However, if your priority date is on or later than the cut-off date, you will need to wait until your priority date is reached (becomes current). To find out whether a preference case can be scheduled, see the Visa Bulletin.
Denomination/Sect: A religious group or community.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS): DHS is comprised of three main organizations responsible for immigration policies, procedures, implementation and enforcement of U.S. laws, and more. These DHS organizations include United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Together they provide the basic governmental framework for regulating the flow of visitors, workers and immigrants to the United States. USCIS is responsible for the approval of all immigrant and nonimmigrant petitions, the authorization of permission to work in the United States, the issuance of extensions of stay, change or adjustment of an applicant's status while the applicant is in the United States, and more. CBP is responsible for admission of all travelers seeking entry into the United States, and determining the length of authorized stay, if the traveler is admitted. Once in the United States, the traveler falls under the jurisdiction of DHS. Visit the DHS website for more information.
Department of Labor (DOL): A cabinet level unit/ministry of the U.S. government that has responsibility for labor issues. It has responsibility for deciding whether certain foreign workers can work in the U.S. Hiring foreign workers for employment in the United States normally requires approval from several government agencies. First, employers must seek labor certification through the DOL. Once the application is certified (approved), the employer must petition USCIS for approval of the petition before applying for a visa.
Derivative Status: Getting a status (visa) through another applicant, as provided under immigration law for certain visa categories. For example, the spouse and children of an exchange visitor (J visa holder), would be granted derivative status as a J-2 visa holder. Derivative status is only possible if the principal applicant is issued a visa.
Diversity Visa Program: The Department of State has an annual lottery for immigration to the United States. Up to 55,000 immigrants can enter the United States each year from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. See our information on the Diversity Visa Program.
Documentarily Qualified: The applicant has submitted all documents specified by the consular officer or the National Visa Center (NVC) as sufficient to meet the formal visa application requirements, and necessary processing procedures of the consular office or NVC have been completed.
DOL: U.S. Department of Labor. A cabinet level unit/ministry of the U.S. government that has responsibility for labor issues. It has the responsibility for deciding whether certain foreign workers can work in the United States. Hiring foreign workers for employment in the United States normally requires approval from several government agencies. First, employers must seek labor certification through the DOL. Once the application is certified (approved), the employer must petition USCIS for approval of the petition before applying for a visa.
Domicile: Place where a person has his or her principal residence. The person must intend to keep that residence for the foreseeable future. The sponsor of an immigrant must have domicile in the United States before the visa can be issued. This generally means that the sponsor must be living in the United States. In certain circumstances, however, one can be considered to have a domicile while living temporarily living overseas.
Duration of Status: In certain visa categories such as diplomats, students and exchange visitors, the alien may be admitted into the United States for as long as the person is still doing the activity for which the visa was issued, rather than being admitted until a specific departure date. This is called admission for "duration of status". For students, the time during which a student is in a full course of study plus any authorized practical training, and following that, authorized time to depart the country, is duration of status. The length of time depends upon the course of study. For an undergraduate degree this is commonly four years (eight semesters). Normally the immigration officer gives a student permission to stay in the United States for "duration of status". Duration of Status (or D/S) is recorded on the traveler’s admission stamp or paper Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record. See Arrival/Departure Record above. For more information visit the USCIS website.
DV: See Diversity Visa.
Educational and Cultural Affairs: The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the U.S. Department of State fosters mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries to promote friendly, sympathetic, and peaceful relations. ECA administers a variety of exchange programs for non-U.S. secondary, undergraduate, graduate students and professionals, along with other duties. Visit the ECA website.
ESTA: Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors (nationals from 38 participating countries) to travel to the United States without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). A valid ESTA approval is required for all VWP travel to the United States. ESTA applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel, though it is recommended travelers apply when they begin preparing travel plans. To learn whether you may be able to travel on the VWP, and therefore whether you need an ESTA authorization, see our Visa Waiver Program webpage. For more information about ESTA and/or to apply, see the DHS, Custom and Border Protection’s ESTA website.
Exchange Visitor: A foreign citizen coming to the United States to participate in a particular program in education, training, research, or other authorized exchange visitor program. See the Educational and Cultural Affairs website and our Exchange Visitor webpage for more information.
Exchange Visitor Skills List: The Exchange Visitor Skills List (J visas) is a list of fields of specialized knowledge and skills that are deemed necessary for the development of an exchange visitor's home country. When you agree to participate in an Exchange Visitor Program, if your skill is on your country’s Skills List you are subject to the two-year foreign residence (home-country physical presence) requirement, which requires you to return to your home country for two years at the end of your exchange visitor program, under U.S. law. Review the Exchange Visitor webpage to learn more.
Extension of Stay: Extending the length of time a visa holder is authorized to stay in the United States, when approved by USCIS. The visa holder may file a request with USCIS before his or her authorized stay expires, which generally is the admitted-until date on the traveler’s admission stamp or paper Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record (except for visa holders admitted to the U.S. for duration of status, stamped D/S). See Extend Your Stay on the USCIS website to learn more.
Family First Preference: A category of family immigration (F1) for unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their children. Visit our Family Based Immigration webpage for more info.
Family Second Preference: A category of family immigration (F2) for spouses, children and unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents. Visit our Family Based Immigration webpage for more info.
Family Third Preference: A category of family immigration (F3) for married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their spouses and children. Before 1992 this was known as fourth preference (P-4). Visit our Family Based Immigration webpage for more info.
Family Fourth Preference: A category of family immigration (F4) for brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens and their spouses and children. The American citizen must be 21 years of age or older before he/she can file the petition. Before 1992, this was known as fifth preference (P-5). Visit our Family Based Immigration webpage for more info.
Federal Poverty Guidelines: See Poverty Guidelines. The Department of Health and Human Services publishes a list every year giving the lowest income acceptable for a family of a particular size so that the family does not live in poverty. Consular officers use these figures in immigrant visa cases to determine whether a sponsor’s income is sufficient to support a new immigrant, in accordance with U.S. immigration laws. Visit USCIS's Poverty Guidelines webpage for more information.
Fiancé(e): A person who plans or is contracted to marry another person. The foreign fiancé(e) of a U.S. citizen may enter the United States on a K-1 visa to marry the U.S. citizen. Visit our Fiancé(e) webpage to learn more.
First Preference: A category of family immigration (F1) for unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their children. Visit our Family Based Immigration webpage for more info.
Foreign Affairs Manual (9 FAM): 9 FAM Chapter 400 relates to nonimmigrant visas. 9 FAM Chapter 500 covers immigrant visas. 9 FAM Chapter 300 relates to visa ineligibilities and waivers. Go to our site to review the FAM relating to visas.
Fourth Preference: A category of family immigration (F4) for brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens and their spouses and children. The U.S. citizen must be 21 years of age or older before he/she can file a petition under this category. Before 1992, this was known as fifth preference (P-5). Visit our Family Based Immigration webpage for more info.
Full and Final Adoption: A legal adoption in which the child receives all the rights of a natural born, legitimate child. For more adoptions information visit our Adoptions website.
Green card: Permanent Resident Card, Form I-551 (formerly called Alien Registration Card, also known as green card), is a wallet-sized card showing that the person is a lawful permanent resident (immigrant) in the United States. For more information visit the USCIS website.
Homeless: Persons from countries that do not have a U.S. Embassy or Consulate where they can apply for immigrant visas are “homeless”. For example, the U.S. government does not have an embassy in Iran. Residents of Iran are “homeless” for visa purposes.
Household Income: The income used to determine whether a sponsor meets the minimum income requirements under Section 213A of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) for some immigrant visa cases.
Household Member: A “household member” is an individual who is promising to make his or her income and/or assets available to the sponsor (signer of Form I-864) to help support the sponsored immigrant(s). Household members must complete Form I-864A, Contract Between Sponsor and Household Member.
A household member can be one of the following individuals:
- A relative who has the same principal residence as the sponsor and is related to the sponsor as a spouse, adult child (must be at least 18 years of age), parent, or sibling;
- A relative or other person who the sponsor has lawfully claimed as a dependent on the sponsor's most recent Federal income tax return even if that person does not live at the same residence as the sponsor; or
- The principal applicant, under either of the following circumstances:
- If the principal applicant has the same principal residence as the sponsor and the intending immigrant can establish that his or her income will continue from the same source, even after acquisition of permanent residence.
- If the principal applicant is the sponsor's spouse and can show that his or her income will continue from the same source after acquisition of permanent residence.
I-551 (Green Card): Permanent residence card or alien registration receipt card or "green card." See Lawful Permanent Resident.
Immediate Relative: Spouse, widow(er) and unmarried children under the age of 21 of a U.S. citizen. A parent is an immediate relative if the U.S. citizen is 21 years of age or older. There are no numerical limits to immigration of immediate relatives.
Immigrant Visa: A visa for a person who plans to live indefinitely and permanently in the United States. Visit our Immigrant Visa section of this website.
Immigration and Nationality Act (INA): U.S. immigration law. The Immigration and Nationality Act, or INA, was created in 1952, Public Law No. 82-414. The INA has been amended many times over the years, but is still the basic body of immigration law. See INA for additional information.
Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS): A branch of the Department of Justice that formerly existed and had responsibility for immigration and naturalization. INS was renamed and became part of DHS on March 1, 2003. To learn more, go to the DHS website.
INA: See Immigration and Nationality Act.
Ineligible/Ineligibility: Immigration law says that certain conditions and actions prevent a person from entering the United States. These conditions and activities are called ineligibilities, and the applicant is ineligible for (cannot get) a visa. Examples are selling drugs, active tuberculosis, being a terrorist, and using fraud to get a visa. Read our information on the Classes of Aliens Ineligible to Receive Visas to learn more.
In Status: It’s important to understand the concept of immigration status and the consequences of violating that status. Being aware of the requirements and possible consequences will make it more likely that you can avoid problems with maintaining your status. Every visa is issued for a particular purpose and for a specific class of visitor. Each visa classification has a set of requirements that the visa holder must follow and maintain. Those who follow the requirements maintain their status and ensure their ability to remain in the United States. Those who do not follow the requirements violate their status and are considered “out of status”. For more information see “Out of Status” below. In Status means you are in compliance with the requirements of your visa type under immigration law. For example, you are a foreign student who entered the United States on a student visa. If you are a full-time student and pursuing your course of study, and are not engaged in unauthorized employment, you are "in status". If you work full-time in your uncle's convenience store and do not study, you are "out of status". See the DHS, USCIS website Extension of Stay and Change of Status.
IV: Immigrant Visa
Joint Sponsor: A person who accepts legal responsibility for supporting an immigrant with an I-864 Affidavit of Support along with the sponsor. The joint sponsor must be at least 18 years of age, a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident and have a domicile in the United States. The joint sponsor and his/her household must meet the 125 percent income requirement for the immigrant that he/she sponsors.
Jurisdiction: Authority to apply the law in a given territory or region. For example, the DHS USCIS district office in the area where a person lives has jurisdiction or authority to decide on a fiancé(e) petition.
Kentucky Consular Center (KCC): A U.S. Department of State facility located in Williamsburg, Kentucky. It gives domestic (U.S.) support to the worldwide operations of the Bureau of Consular Affairs Visa Office. It manages the Diversity Visa (DV) Program.
Labor Certification: The initial stage of the process by which certain foreign workers get permission to work in the United States. The employer is responsible for getting the labor certification from the Department of Labor. In general, the process works to make sure that the work of foreign workers in the United States will not adversely affect job opportunities, wages and working conditions of U.S. workers.
Labor Condition Application (LCA): A request to the Department of Labor for a foreign worker to work in the United States.
Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR): A person who has immigrated legally, admitted to the United States by DHS as a permanent resident of the United States and has a Permanent Resident Card, Form I-551 (formerly called Alien Registration Card, also known as green card). Form I-551 is a wallet-sized card showing that the person is a lawful permanent resident (immigrant) in the United States. Permanent resident status is not the same as being a U.S. citizen. However, you have authority to live and work in the United States permanently, as well as other rights and responsibilities. Learn more about Lawful Permanent Residents, including how to replace or renew a Permanent Resident Card, on the USCIS Website. Learn about requirements for entry into the United States on the CBP website. This person may also be called a legal permanent resident, a green card holder, a permanent resident alien, a legal permanent resident alien (LPRA) and resident alien permit holder.
Lawful Permanent Resident Alien (LPRA): Lawful permanent resident.
Laws (immigration and visa related laws): The Code of Federal Regulations contains useful information on the laws regulating U.S. visa policy.
Legitimation: The legal process which a natural father can use to acknowledge legally his children who were born out of wedlock (outside of marriage). A legitimated child can be a "child" under immigration law under these conditions:
- the legitimation took place according to the law of the child's residence or the father's residence;
- the father proved (established) that he is the child's natural father;
- the child was under the age of 18; and
- the child was in the legal custody of the father who legitimated the child when the legal process of legitimation took place.
LIFE Act: Legal Immigration Family Equity (LIFE) Act and amendments. This act of Congress allows foreign spouses of U.S. citizens, the children of those foreign spouses, and spouses and children of certain lawful permanent residents (LPR) to come to the United States to complete the processing for their permanent residence. This Act became effective on December 21, 2000.
Lose Status: To stay in the United States longer than the period of time which DHS gave to a person when he/she entered the United States, or to fail to meet the requirements or violate the terms of the visa classification. The person becomes “out of status”. For example, you entered the United States on a student visa to study at a university. You work at your uncle's convenience store without authorization, and do not study. You have lost status. You are out of status.
Lottery: See diversity visa program.
LPR or LPRA: See lawful permanent resident (LPR).
Machine Readable Passport (MRP): A passport which has biographic information entered on the data page according to international specifications. A machine readable passport is required to travel without a visa on the Visa Waiver Program. See the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to learn more about the requirements.
Machine Readable Visa (MRV): A visa that contains biometric information about the passport holder. A visa that immigration officers read with special machines when the applicants enter the United States. It gives biographic information about the passport holder and tells the DHS information about the type of visa. It is also called MRV.
Means-tested Public Benefits: Assistance from a government unit. Benefits include food stamps, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and State Child Health Insurance Program.
Missionary Work: Work performed for a religious organization to spread the faith (religion) and advance the principles and doctrines of the religion. Such work may include religious instruction, help for the elderly and needy and proselytizing.
MRV: See Machine Readable Visa.
NAFTA: North American Free-Trade Agreement.
National Interest Waiver: This is for physicians and doctors who work in an area without adequate health care workers or who work in Veterans Affairs' facilities. These physicians and doctors can file immigrant visa petitions for themselves without first applying for a labor certification.
National Visa Center (NVC): A Department of State facility located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It supports the worldwide immigrant visa operations of the Bureau of Consular Affairs Visa Office. The NVC processes immigrant visa petitions from DHS for people who will apply for their immigrant visas at U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad. It also collects fees associated with immigrant visa processing. Go to the NVC webpage for more information.
Naturalization: A citizen who acquires nationality of a country after birth. That is, the person did not become a citizen by birth, but by a legal procedure. See the USCIS website for more information.
Nonimmigrant Visa (NIV): A U.S. visa allows the bearer, a foreign citizen, to apply to enter the United States temporarily for a specific purpose. Nonimmigrant visas are primarily classified according to the principal purpose of travel. With few exceptions, while in the United States, nonimmigrants are restricted to the activity or reason for which their visa was issued. Examples of persons who may receive nonimmigrant visas are tourists, students, diplomats and temporary workers. For more information, see Temporary Visitors to the U.S.
NSEERS: Effective April 28, 2011, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) no longer requires registration of foreign citizens entering and exiting the United States under the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), also known as Special Registration. More information is available in the Federal Register notice from DHS dated April 28, 2011.
NVC: See National Visa Center.
Original Document: An original document is the actual document that was issued when an authority recorded an event (e.g. birth, marriage, divorce, adoption, etc.).
Orphan: A child who has no parents because of death, disappearance, desertion or abandonment of the parents. A child may also be considered an orphan if the child has an unwed mother, or a single living parent who cannot care for the child and has released him/her irrevocably (permanently) for adoption and emigration. Adoptive parents must make sure that a child meets the legal definition of an “orphan” before adopting a child from another country. For more information visit our Adoptions website.
Orphan Petition: Form I-600.
Out of Status:A U.S. visa allows the bearer to apply for entry to the United States in a certain classification for a specific purpose, such as student (F), visitor (B), or temporary worker (H). Every visa is issued for a particular purpose and for a specific class of visitor. Each visa classification has a set of requirements that the visa holder must follow and maintain. When you arrive in the United States, a DHS CBP inspector determines whether you will be admitted, length of stay and conditions of stay, in the United States. When admitted you are given an admission stamp or paper Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record), which tells you when you must leave the United States. The date granted on the admission stamp or paper Form I-94 at the airport governs how long you may stay in the United States. You are considered out of status if you remain in the United States without authorization after the expiration date on your admission stamp or paper Form I-94. It is important to understand the concept of immigration status and the consequences of violating that status. Failure to maintain status can result in arrest, and violators may be required to leave the United States. Violation of status also can affect the prospect of readmission to the United States for a period of time, by making you ineligible for a visa. Most people who violate the terms of their status are barred from lawfully returning to the United States for years. See our Visa Expiration Date page for more information.
Overstay: An “overstay” occurs when a visitor stays longer than permitted as shown on his/her electric admission stamp or paper Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record. A violation of the CBP defined length of admission may make you ineligible for a visa in the future. See Out of Status.
Panel Physician: U.S. Embassies and Consulates which issue immigrant visas have selected certain doctors to do the medical examinations for immigrant visa applicants. Please visit our Medical Examination webpage to find your local Panel Physician.
Permanent Resident (correctly called Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR)): See Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR).
Photocopy: A photocopy is a mechanical reproduction of the original document that does not contain an original stamp, seal, or other endorsement from the issuing authority.
Note: A photocopy of a certified copy (i.e., the stamp, seal, endorsement, or security paper is not original) is considered a photocopy.
Physical Presence: The place where a person is actually, physically located.
Port-of-Entry: Place (often an airport) where a person requests admission to the U.S. by the DHS, CBP officer. Learn more on the CBP website.
Post: U.S. Embassy, Consulate or other diplomatic mission abroad. Not all U.S. Embassies, Consulates and Missions are visa-issuing posts. Visit a list of U.S. Embassies, Consulates, and Missions.
Poverty Guidelines: The Department of Health and Human Services publishes a list every year giving the lowest income acceptable for a family of a particular size so that the family does not live in poverty. Consular officers use these figures in immigrant visa cases to determine whether a sponsor’s income is sufficient to support a new immigrant, in accordance with U.S. immigration laws. Go to the Federal Poverty Guidelines to learn more.
Preference Immigration: A system for determining which and when people can immigrate to the U.S. within the limits of immigration set by Congress. In family immigration, preference is based on the status of the petitioner (U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident) and his/her relationship to the applicant. Visit our Family Based Immigration webpage for more info. In employment immigration, it is based on the qualifications of the applicant and labor needs in the U.S. Visit our Employment Based Immigration webpage for more info.
Principal Applicant: The person named in the petition. For example, a U.S. citizen may file a petition for his married daughter to immigrate to the United States. His daughter will be the principal applicant, and her family members will get visas from her position. They will get derivative status. Or a company may file a petition for a worker. The worker is the principal applicant. Family members get derivative status.
Priority Date: The priority date determines a person's turn to apply for an immigrant visa. In family immigration, the priority date is the date when the petition was filed at a DHS office or submitted to a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. In employment immigration, the priority date may be the date the labor certification application was received by the Department of Labor (DOL).
Public Charge: Refers to becoming dependent upon the government for the expenses of living (food, shelter, clothing, etc.). Following U.S. immigration law, an applicant is ineligible for a visa if he/she will be a public charge. For more information about Public Charge, see the USCIS website.
Rank Order Number: The number that Kentucky Consular Center gives to the entries of DV Program (lottery) as the computer selects them. The first entries chosen have the lowest numbers. The Visa Office of the Department of State gives winning entries a chance to apply for immigration according to their rank order number for their region. Visit our DV Program webpage for more information on the Diversity Visa Lottery Program.
Re-entry Permit: A travel document that DHS issues to lawful permanent residents (LPRs) who want to stay outside of the United States for more than one year and less than two years. LPRs who cannot get a passport from their country of nationality can also apply for a re-entry permit. You can put visas for foreign countries in a re-entry permit.
Refugee: A person who has a well-founded fear of persecution if he/she should return to his/her home country. He/she applies to come to the United States in another country and enters the United States as a refugee. See the DHS, USCIS website Refugee information to learn more. See Follow-to-Join Refugees & Asylees for information for the spouse or unmarried minor children abroad following to join a refugee or asylee in the United States.
Retrogression: Sometimes a case that is current one month will not be current the next month. This occurs when the annual numerical limit has been reached. This usually happens near the end of a fiscal year (October 1 to September 30 of the next year). When the new fiscal year begins, the Visa Office gets a new supply of visa numbers and usually brings back the cut-off dates to where they were before retrogression.
Returning Residents: Lawful permanent residents who want to return to the United States after staying abroad more than one year or beyond the expiration of their re-entry permits. For more information, visit our Returning Resident Visas webpage.
Revalidation or Renewal of a Visa: Nonimmigrant visa applicants who currently have a visa, and are seeking renewal or revalidation of their visa for future travel to the U.S. must apply abroad, generally in their country of residence. The exception is renewal or revalidation of A, G, and NATO diplomatic and official visas (except A-3, G-5 and NATO-7), which continue to be processed in Washington and at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York. See Visa Renewal to learn more.
SAW: See Special Agricultural Worker.
Schedule "A" Occupations: The Department of Labor (DOL) has given DHS, authority to approve labor certifications for these occupations. These occupations are physical therapists, professional nurses and people of exceptional ability in the sciences or arts.
Second Preference: A category of family immigration (F2) for spouses, children and unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents. Visit our Family Based Immigration webpage for more info.
Section 213A: A section of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) which establishes that sponsors have a legal duty to support immigrants they want to bring (sponsor) to the United States. They must complete Form I-864, Affidavit of Support.
Skills List: The Exchange Visitor Skills List (J Visas) is a list of fields of specialized knowledge and skills that are deemed necessary for the development of an exchange visitor's home country. When you agree to participate in an Exchange Visitor Program, if your skill is on your country’s Skills List you are subject to the two-year foreign residence (home-country physical presence) requirement, which requires you to return to your home country for two years at the end of your exchange visitor program, under U.S. law. Review the Exchange Visitor webpage to learn more.
Son/daughter (married/unmarried): In immigration law, a child becomes a son or daughter when he/she turns 21 or marries. A son or daughter must have once met the definition of a child. Under U.S. immigration law, an unmarried "son or daughter" is a person who was once a "child" but who is now 21 years of age or older. A "married son or daughter" is a person who also satisfied the definition of child, but who is also married, regardless of age.
Special Agricultural Worker: Farm workers in perishable products who worked for a specified period of time and were able to adjust status to lawful permanent resident according to the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.
Special Immigrant: A special category of immigrant visas (E-4) for persons who lost their citizenship by marriage; persons who lost citizenship by serving in foreign armed forces; certain foreign medical school graduates; Panama Canal immigrants; and certain others. Visit our Employment-based Visas webpage for more information.
- The petitioner (The petitioner must submit an I-864 or I-864EZ);
- A relative with a significant ownership interest in the petitioning entity (I-140s only); or
- A substitute in the case of a deceased petitioner. This person is approved as a substitute by USCIS only.
A sponsor is required to be at least 18 years old and domiciled in the United States, or its territories or possessions.
Note: A sponsor must be an individual and may not be an enterprise, business, or any other type of organization
Spouse: Legally married husband or wife. A co-habiting partner does not qualify as a spouse for immigration purposes. A common-law husband or wife may or may not qualify as a spouse for immigration purposes, depending on the laws of the country where the relationship occurs.
State Workforce Agency: The agency or bureau in each State that deals with employment and labor issues. For the address of workforce agency in each State go to the U.S. Department of Labor, Foreign Labor Certification site.
Stepchild: A spouse’s child from a previous marriage or other relationship. In order for a stepchild to be able to immigrate as a “child,” the marriage creating the stepchild/stepparent relationship must have happened before the stepchild was 18 years of age.
Substitute Sponsor: A substitute sponsor is a sponsor who is completing a Form I-864 on behalf of an intending immigrant whose original I-130 petitioner is deceased after USCIS approved the Form I-130. The substitute sponsor can only be approved by USCIS.
Successor Mission: The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan ended on December 31, 2014, and the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission (RSM) began on January 1, 2015. Section 1227 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2015 expanded the Afghan SIV program, authorized under section 602(b) of the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009, as amended, to certain Afghans who had been employed by ISAF, but did not provide for SIVs for Afghans employed by successor missions. Section 1216 of the NDAA for FY 2016 expands qualification to now include Afghans employed by ISAF successor missions. Certain Afghans employed by RSM, as well as any future successor missions to ISAF, may now qualify for the Afghan SIV program. Applicants who were employed by ISAF, RSM, or a successor mission, or a combination of these entities, must meet all of the SIV program requirements explained in Step 1 on the Afghan SIV Program webpage.
SWA: See State Workforce Agency.
Tax-exempt: A condition of the law in which an organization or people in some kinds of work do not have to pay taxes which regular citizens or businesses must pay. Religious organizations are often tax-exempt.
Temporary Worker: A foreign worker who will work in the United States for a limited period of time. Some visas classes for temporary workers are H, L, O, P, Q and R. If you are seeking to come to the United States for employment as a temporary worker in the United States (H, L, O, P, and Q visas), your prospective employer must file a petition with DHS, USCIS. This petition must be approved by USCIS before you can apply for a visa. Select temporary workers to visit the USCIS website and learn more. Select temporary worker visas to go to the Department of State website to learn more, and review information about NAFTA workers (TN visa) and treaty traders/investors (E visas).
Termination of a Case: If the applicant fails to reply to the inquiry correspondence sent by the U.S. Embassy or Consulate, or the National Visa Center (NVC), termination of their visa application will begin. The U.S. Embassy or Consulate, or NVC, will first send a Follow-up Letter and Instruction Package to the applicant. If the applicant does not answer within one year, a termination letter is sent. At this point the applicant has one more year to activate the immigrant visa case. If there is no answer in one year, the case is terminated. You can stop termination of a case by notifying the U.S. Embassy or Consulate, or NVC, before the prescribed time period has lapsed, that the applicant does not want the case to be closed (terminated).
Third Country National: Someone who is not a U.S. citizen and not a citizen of the country in which he or she is applying for a visa. Suppose you are a Kenyan visiting Mexico. If you apply for a visa to visit the United States while you are in Mexico, we will consider you a third country national.
Third Preference: A category of family immigration (F3) for married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their spouses and children. Before 1992 this was known as fourth preference (P-4). Visit our Family Based Immigration webpage for more info.
Two-Year Home-Country Physical Presence Requirement: This refers to (J) exchange visitors who are required to return to their home country for two years at the end of their exchange visitor program, under U.S. immigration law. To learn more review the Exchange Visitor webpage.
Upgrade a Petition: If you naturalize (become a U.S. citizen) you may ask to change the petitions you filed for family members when you were a lawful permanent resident (LPR) from one category to another. This is called upgrading. For example, a petition for a spouse will be changed/upgraded from F2 to IR1. That is, the petition changes from a preference category with numerical limits to an immediate relative category without numerical limits. The applicant no longer has to wait for her/his priority date to be reached.
Upgrading a petition sometimes has consequences. A preference petition for a spouse permits derivative status for children. An immediate relative petition does not. You, the petitioner, would need to file separate petitions for each of your children.
Visa: A citizen of a foreign country, wishing to enter the United States, generally must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay, or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. Visa applicants will need to apply overseas, at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate, generally in their country of permanent residence. The type of visa you must have is defined by immigration law, and relates to the purpose of your travel. A visa allows a foreign citizen to travel to the U.S. port-of entry, and request permission of the U.S. immigration inspector to enter the United States. Issuance of a visa does not guarantee entry to the United States. The CBP Officer at the port-of-entry determines whether you can be admitted and decides how long you can stay for any particular visit. Visit our What Is A Visa? webpage for more information.
Visa Expiration Date: The visa expiration date is shown on the visa. This means the visa is valid, or can be used, from the date it is issued until the date it expires, for travel for the same purpose, when the visa is issued for multiple entries. This time period from the visa issuance date to visa expiration date as shown on the visa, is called visa validity. If you travel frequently as a tourist for example, with a multiple entry visa, you do not have to apply for a new visa each time you want to travel to the United States. As an example of travel for the same purpose, if you have a visitor visa, it cannot be used to enter at a later time to study in the United States. The visa validity is the length of time you are permitted to travel to a port-of-entry in the United States to request permission of the U.S. immigration inspector to permit you to enter the United States. The visa does not guarantee entry to the United States. The Expiration Date for the visa should not be confused with the authorized length of your stay in the United States, given to you by the U.S. immigration inspector at port-of-entry, on the electronic I-94 admission stamp or paper Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record. The visa expiration date has nothing to do with the authorized length of your stay in the United States for any given visit.
There are circumstances which can serve to void or cancel the period of time your visa is valid. If you overstay the end date of your authorized stay, as provided by the DHS's U.S. immigration officer at port of entry, or USCIS, then this action on your part generally will automatically void or cancel your visa. However, if you have filed an application in a timely manner for extension of stay or a change of status, and that application is pending and not frivolous, and if you did not engage in unauthorized employment, then this normally does not automatically cancel your visa. If you have applied for adjustment of status to become a permanent resident alien (“green card” holder), you should contact USCIS regarding obtaining Advance Parole before leaving the United States.
Visa Numbers: Congress establishes the amount of immigration each year. Immigration for immediate relatives is unlimited; however, family and employment preference categories are limited. To distribute the visas fairly among all categories of immigration, the Visa Office in the Department of State distributes the visas by providing visa numbers according to preference and priority date. To learn more on how the numbers are created each month, review our Operation of the Immigrant Numerical Control System webpage.
Visa Validity: This generally means the visa is valid, or can be used, from the date it is issued until the date it expires, for travel for the same purpose for visas, when the visa is issued for multiple entries. The visa expiration date is shown on the visa. Depending on the alien’s nationality, visas can be issued for any number of entries, from as little as one entry to as many as multiple (unlimited) entries, for the same purpose of travel. If you travel frequently as a tourist for example, with a multiple entry visa, you do not have to apply for a new visa each time you want to travel to the United States. As an example of travel for the same purpose, if you have a visitor visa, it cannot be used to enter at a later time to study in the United States. The visa validity is the length of time you are permitted to travel to a port-of-entry in the United States to request permission of the U.S. immigration inspector to enter the United States. The visa does not guarantee entry to the United States. The Expiration Date for the visa should not be confused with the authorized length of your stay in the United States, given to you by the U.S. immigration inspector at port-of-entry, on the admission stamp or paper Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record.
The visa expiration date has nothing to do with the authorized length of your stay in the United States for any given visit.There are circumstances which can serve to void or cancel the period of time your visa is valid. If you overstay the end date of your authorized stay, as provided by the DHS's U.S. immigration officer at port of entry, or USCIS, then this action on your part generally will automatically void or cancel your visa. However, if you have filed an application in a timely manner for extension of stay or a change of status, and that application is pending and not frivolous, and if you did not engage in unauthorized employment, then this normally does not automatically cancel your visa. If you have applied for adjustment of status to become a permanent resident alien (“green card” holder), you should contact USCIS regarding obtaining Advance Parole before leaving the U.S. See Visa Expiration Date.
Visa Waiver Program (VWP): Citizens of participating countries meeting the Visa Waiver Program requirements may be allowed to enter the United States as visitors for pleasure or business without first getting a visa. Visitors can stay only 90 days and cannot extend their stay. Go to our information on the Visa Waiver Program to learn more, or visit the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) website.
Voluntary Service Program: An organized project that a religious or nonprofit charitable organization does to provide help to the poor or needy or to further a religious or charitable cause. Participants may be eligible for B visas.
Waiver of Ineligibility: In immigration law certain foreign nationals are ineligible for visas to enter the U.S. for medical, criminal, security or other conditions and activities. Some applicants for visas are able to apply for permission to enter the U.S. despite the ineligibility. The applicant must apply for permission to enter the U.S. (waiver). See Classes of Aliens Ineligible to Receive Visas for more information.
Work Authorization: If you are not a citizen or a lawful permanent resident, you may need to apply for an Employment Authorization Document to prove you may work in the U.S. To learn more visit USCIS’s webpage.