Common Immigration Terms

The final stage of the green card process involving the filing of paperwork with the USCIS within the U.S., rather than filing at an embassy or consulate abroad, known as consular processing. Applicants may only file for adjustment of status if they are inside the United States, a visa is immediately available, and they are not barred from doing so due to an immigration violation, entry without inspection, criminal conduct, or other reasons.

A formal request for a green card or nonimmigrant visa. In the case of most green cards and nonimmigrant visas, an application cannot be made until one obtains proof that one is qualified through an approved petition. In some cases, a petition is not required and only an application is needed.


The person who makes a formal request for a green card or nonimmigrant visa. In some cases, one cannot be an applicant until a petition is approved. Depending on where one is in the overall immigration process, one can be called an applicant or beneficiary.


The individual who benefits from a petition by becoming qualified to make an application for a green card or visa. 

The U.S. government agency involved with many types of employment-based green cards. The DOL receives applications for Labor Certifications and decides whether or not there is a shortage of American citizens available to fill a particular position in a U.S. company.

The U.S. government entity that operates U.S. embassies and consulates. It is the DOS that determines who is entitled to a visa or green card when the application is filed outside the U.S. at U.S. embassies or consulates. The USCIS under the Department of Justice regulates immigration processing inside the U.S.


The annual lottery program held for nationals of certain countries who want to immigrate to the U.S. It is called the diversity lottery program because this program is available to nationals of countries with low immigration rates to the U.S.

A popular term used to describe the Alien Registration Receipt Card, a card that proves one is a United States Permanent Resident. The green card (actually pink) allows you to re-enter the U.S. without a visa, work without a work permit, and allows you to permanently reside in the U.S. unless you abandon your U.S. residence or commit certain types of crimes.


A small green or white card given to all nonimmigrants when they enter the U.S.. The I-94 card serves as evidence that a nonimmigrant has entered the country legally and also governs the non-immigrant’s authorized period of stay in the U.S.

Refers to spouses of U.S. citizens, children under 21 with at least one U.S. parent, or parents of children over 21 who are U.S. citizens. If you are an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, you are eligible to receive a green card immediately.

A term that refers to potential immigrants who are disqualified from obtaining visas or green cards because they are judged by the U.S. government to be in some way undesirable. Inadmissibility is usually based on criminal, financial, or national security grounds. In many cases, inadmissibility can be overcome

A process that allows you to get a green card through a job offer from a U.S. Employer, if the U.S. Employer proves that there are no qualified U.S. workers available and willing to take the job. People who fall under the employment second and third preferences usually need labor certifications in order to get their green cards.

A private company under contract with the Department of State for the purpose of processing the final green card application process by sending forms and instructions to the applicant and forwarding the file to the appropriate U.S. consulate abroad.

Refers to foreign individuals who take legal action to become U.S. citizens. A naturalized U.S. citizen has virtually the same rights as a native-born American citizen. Almost everyone who goes through naturalization must first have held a green card for several years.

One who comes to the U.S. temporarily for some particular purpose but do not intend to remain permanently in the U.S.. An Immigrant is one who comes to the U.S. to take up permanent residency. There are many types of nonimmigrants. Students, temporary workers and visitors for instance. A nonimmigrant visa is a visa to allow a person to enter the U.S. temporarily for some particular purpose. An immigrant visa is a visa issued to a person who has been approved for a green card.

Allows a person, under certain circumstances, to enter or re-enter the United States for humanitarian purposes, even when he or she does not meet technical visa requirements.

A non-U.S. citizen who has been given permission to live permanently in the U.S. Permanent resident and green card holder refer to exactly the same thing.


Refers to a formal request that one be legally recognized as qualified for a green card or certain nonimmigrant visas.

The U.S. person or business who makes the formal request that one be legally recognized as qualified for a green card or nonimmigrant visa. The petitioner can be a U.S. citizen, green card holder, or U.S. business.

A humanitarian process whereby those in the United States who seek save haven from being returned to their home country for political, religious or other reasons, are allowed to stay in the United States. A refugee is one who seeks safe haven while outside the United States. A refugee or asylee can eventually get green cards.

Groups of people who fall into certain categories (or preferences) and who are given their chance at green cards under the annual quota system according to their respective preference category. Preference categories are broken into two broad groups: family preferences and employment preferences.

A green card applicant’s “ticket in line”. Those who are subject to the annual quota under the preference system are given priority dates The date on which one first makes a formal filing for a green card is the priority date. Each month the U.S. Department of State publishes a “Visa Bulletin” which tracks the progress of priority dates for each preference category.

Refers to qualified green card applicants who are allowed into the U.S. in limited numbers, while others are allowed to enter the U.S. in unlimited numbers.

A legal proceeding in a U.S. Immigration Court to decide whether or not an individual will be allowed to remain in the U.S. If an individual is found removable, he or she can then be forced to leave the U.S. Those who are removed or deported are barred from returning to the U.S. for at least five years unless a special waiver is granted by the USCIS.

Special groups of people (religious workers, former U.S. government workers, foreign doctors who have been practicing medicine in the U.S. for many years) who qualify for green cards under the annual quota.

Allows someone to temporarily stay in the U.S. if they come from certain countries designated by law as experiencing conditions of war or natural disasters. TPS allows someone to live and work in the U.S. temporarily, but does not lead to a green card.

Generally refers to either being present in the U.S. after entering without inspection (EWI) or after staying past the expiration date on an I-94 card, though there are other situations where unlawful presence accrues as well. 3 and 10 year bars: One who was unlawfully present for 180 days and then leaves voluntarily, before being placed into removal proceedings, is subject to a three-year bar on returning to the U.S. If the period of unlawful presence is a year or more, then the bar is for ten years. A Duration of Status (which usually occurs for F-1 or J-1 visa holders) overstay does not qualify as unlawful presence unless an actual determination is made by the USCIS or an Immigration Judge.

The U.S. government agency having responsibility for most immigration matters including border patrol and adjudicating immigrant and nonimmigrant visas.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
U.S Department of Justice (DOJ)
Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA)
Social Security Administration (SSA)