Immigration Terms


U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS)

Previously known as Immigration & Naturalization Services (INS), the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services is an a agency that works under the Department of Homeland Security. The USCIS is in charge of immigration in the U.S.


An immigrant is someone from another county who applied for and was given permanent residence or a green card, and that person is entering into the United States to settle here.


A nonimmigrant is someone who comes to the United States on a category of visa that permits the person to stay in the U.S. for a limited period of time.

Green Card

Also known as permanent residence, a green card is an immigration card showing that a person has permanent residence or conditional residence in the United States.

Conditional Residence

In some circumstances, a person who is getting a green card through marriage is granted a green card or residence, but there is a condition attached to it for a period of time. In this case, the person has a conditional green card or conditional residence.


A visa is a stamp that a U.S. Embassy or consular office that is based in another country puts in a person’s passport. That stamp allows a person to enter into the United States as an immigrant or as a nonimmigrant.  A person who is not a U.S. citizen but has a visa or a green card and who wishes to travel to a country outside of the United States must obtain a visa so the person can return to the United States.

Adjustment of Status

To obtain a green card or permanent residence in the United States, a person must meet the requirement to do so and must follow a process called Adjustment of status. If the person is eligible, then he or she is allowed to adjust his or her status (in the United States).

Consular Processing

When a person is seeking permanent residence or a green card at a U.S. embassy or consular office in another country, this process is called consular processing. Consular processing applies when a person who wants to obtain the green card is living outside of the United States or if the person is in the United States but is not eligible to adjust his or her status or the person is in the United States but simply does not choose to adjust his or her status.


Status refers to the category of visa or immigration benefit a person has while the person is in the United States.

Immigrant Fee

Immigrant Fee is a fee that a person who is entering into the United States as an immigrant must pay for the processing of that person’s permanent residence or green card. This fee should be paid before the person travels to the United States.

Employment Authorization

Employment authorization is a card that is issued by Immigration that authorizes a person to work in the United States.

U.S. Citizenship & Naturalization

Citizenship – if a person was born outside of the United States and at least one parent is a U.S. citizen at the time of that person’s birth, then that person automatically becomes a U.S. citizen. There are instances where certain requirements must first be met before someone can acquire U.S. citizenship by birth.

Naturalization – this is a process by which a citizen of another country can become a U.S. citizen. However, certain requirements must be met for a person to be eligible to apply for naturalization.

I-94 Card

The immigration officer who is checking a nonimmigrant’s passport to allow the person to enter into the United States used to give a white card to the person. This card should be kept in the person’s passport and stored in a safe place. This card has important information, such as the date a person entered into the United States, the person’s current status, and how long the person is allowed to remain in the United States.

Immigration has changed the process. A person who enters into the United States must go online and print his or her own I-94 for each trip made to the United States.

Department of Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the Department in the United States that is in charge of the U.S. immigration procedures. There are 3 agencies under the Department of Homeland Security: United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Customs & Border Protection (CBP).

The Department of State

The Department of State (DOS) is the Department that controls the number of immigrant visas. This Department issues the Visa Bulletin every month. The Visa Bulletin contains the availability of immigrant visas for the upcoming month.

United States Consular Offices or Embassies

Under the directives of the Department of State, U.S. consular offices or embassies have the duties to process and grant visas to immigrants and nonimmigrant.

Priority Date

Priority date refers to the date an application for immigration benefits was filed, and that date determines when a visa number becomes available for the applicant or for the person to benefit from this application.

Request for Evidence

The immigration officer who is working on a case will send a request for evidence (RFE) to the person who sent out an application for immigration benefits if some information or documents are missing from the packet that was sent to immigration.

Visa Waiver

Visa Waiver is a program that allows people from certain countries to travel to the United States without having to first obtain a stamp or visa in their passport. Under this program, people from the qualified countries can travel to the United States either to conduct business or as tourists. These visitors can remain in the United States for up to 90 days. However, visitors under this program cannot change their status or extend the length of time they can remain in the U.S. In addition, they cannot apply for other immigration benefits. Furthermore, prior to traveling to the United States, these visitors must register with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).


DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. If someone took you to the United States when you were a child and you are undocumented (you don’t have “papers” to be in the U.S.), you may be eligible to apply for “deferred action.” Deferred action means immigration will not attempt to deport a person for the period of time the person is granted this action.

You have to meet certain requirements. If you are granted deferred action, you will be able to work in the U.S. and enjoy some other benefits for a period of time. And you may be able to renew deferred action when it expires.


Temporary Protected Status (TPS) allows people from countries that have been hit by natural disasters, such as earthquake, hurricanes, or tsunamis to remain in the United States until the conditions of the country in question change.


The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allows both women &  men who have been victims of abuse or domestic violence in the hands of their husband or wife to obtain a green card or permanent residence without the help of the abusing husband or wife.


American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) is an association based in the United States for immigration lawyers. AILA provides ongoing support to its members and help them deal with tough cases.