Definitons of immigration terms

A word that means one thing in every day language can mean something quite different in immigration law. Here’s a list of the most commonly used terms on our website and their definitions when used in immigration law.

Admissibility / Inadmissibility: In most cases, you must be admissible to enter the United States on a temporary visa or to get your Green Card. Certain actions or circumstances can make you inadmissible, meaning you would be barred from entering the United States and from getting a Green Card. Some grounds of inadmissibility can be fixed by getting a Waiver approved.

Applicant: The person applying for the immigration benefit, such as a Waiver or Employment Authorization.

Beneficiary: The person who will receive the benefit of the immigration application, such as a Green Card.

CBP: Customs and Border Protection, a part of the Department of Homeland Security that provides agents at land borders and airports. Sometimes called Border Patrol.

Child: For immigration law, a child means a son, step-son, daughter, or step-daughter who is under 21 years old.

Conditional Permanent Resident: The status of someone who has a Green Card for only two years. Usually this is someone who got their Green Card based on marriage, and was married for less than two years at the time the Green Card was approved. Conditional Permanent Residents must file an I-751 application before their two-year Green Card expires, in order to remove the conditions of their permanent residence.

DACA: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. A program put into place by President Obama, giving certain individuals “Deferred Action” and Employment Authorization for a temporary period of time.

DAPA: Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents. A program proposed by President Obama, which would have given certain individuals “Deferred Action” and Employment Authorization for a temporary period of time. This program was challenged by a number of state governments and it is not yet clear if it will go into effect.

Daughter / son: For immigration law, this means someone who is a son, step-son, daughter, or step-daughter who is 21 years or older.

Deferred Action: Temporary relief from removal from the country that usually provides Employment Authorization. It is a determination made by the Department of Homeland Security to defer the deportation/removal of an individual on a discretionary basis. It is not a legal status and can be revoked at any time.

DHS: Department of Homeland Security. A branch of the government established after the September 11th attacks to centralize security and immigration agencies into one department. It includes United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), as well as the Coast Guard and the Secret Service. The Immigration Court (Executive Office for Immigration Review) is not a part of DHS.

Discretion: The power of an official or an agency to use their own judgement to decide what should be done in a particular situation.

DOS: Department of State. It decides on whether to issue immigrant and non-immigrant visas through the U.S. Embassies and Consulates, with the assistance of the National Visa Center and the Kentucky Consular Center.

EWI: Entry Without Inspection. This acronym refers to the status of someone who entered the United States without passing through an immigration checkpoint at the border or in an airport.

I-94 Card: A document issued to someone entering the United States temporarily showing the period that they are authorized to stay. In the past it was a small white card often times stapled into the person’s passport. More recently, CBP has stopped giving a paper copy, and instead provides access to it on their website.

ICE: Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A part of the Department of Homeland Security that arrests people they suspect of being in the country illegally. This agency also provides the government prosecutors for the Immigration Court.

Immigrant Visa: The type of visa given to someone who is outside the U.S. who will enter the U.S. to be a Permanent Resident and receive a Green Card.

INA: Immigration and Nationality Act. This is the part of U.S. law that is about immigration.

Inadmissibility / Admissibility: In most cases, you must be admissible to enter the United States on a temporary visa or to get your Green Card. Certain actions or circumstances can make you inadmissible, meaning you would be barred from entering the United States and from getting a Green Card. Some grounds of inadmissibility can be fixed by getting a Waiver approved.

LPR: Lawful Permanent Resident (sometimes called Legal Permanent Resident). The status of someone who has a Green Card.

Non-Immigrant Visa: A visa issued to someone entering the U.S. for a temporary purpose, such as tourism, studying, or working temporarily.

NVC: National Visa Center. Part of the Department of State that assists in preparing the files of individuals who will be applying for Immigrant Visas at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Petitioner: The individual who is applying for an immigrant relative. Usually this is a US citizen or LPR spouse, parent or child who is applying for their relative.

Qualifying Relative: A US citizen or LPR spouse or parent of an immigrant who is applying for a waiver. This relative makes the immigrant eligible to seek a waiver. (In certain cases other relatives may also be able to serve as the Qualifying Relative)

Son / daughter: For immigration law, this means someone who is a son, step-son, daughter, or step-daughter who is 21 years or older.

U Visa: A visa and temporary status for victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity. This status can be obtained for certain members of the victim’s family, and can provide a basis for obtaining a Green Card in the future.

Unlawful Presence: The number of days that a person spends in the United States after his/her authorized stay expires. It also includes time that a person is in the United States after entering EWI. There are exceptions to the amount of time counted, such as being a minor or having a pending Adjustment of Status application.

USCIS: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. A part of the Department of Homeland Security. USCIS makes decisions on many different types of immigration benefits, such as work authorization, Green Cards, and citizenship applications, among others.

Waiver: An application made by an individual who is otherwise inadmissible, to allow them to apply to enter the United States. A Waiver essentially fixes the problem of being inadmissible, if it is approved.