Terms, Definitions, And Explanations
This listing of immigration terms on this page covers definitions and explanations for the most common terms, rules, procedures asked about by immigration clients.
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Acquisition Of Citizenship – Under acquisition of citizenship, if you were born in another country, and at least one of your parents was a United States citizen, you may qualify for automatic U. S. citizenship by birth.
Adjustment of Status – This is the final step of the green card process taken by an immigrant living inside the United States to apply for lawful permanent resident status. This is in contrast to consular processing, which requires having to go abroad and apply for an immigrant visa.
Affidavit of Support – An Affidavit of Support is a contract between an immigrant’s financial sponsor and the U.S. government. This is required when an immigrant is seeking permanent residence status through a family member. Normally, the financial sponsor is the petitioner, the family member who has filed to immigrate his or her relative. In some cases, due to the petitioner’s inability to meet the financial requirements, a joint sponsor may be needed.
Alien – An individual, living in the United States, who is not a U.S. citizen.
Alien Registration Receipt Card – The official name for a green card.
Appeal – A formal request to a higher court or agency to change a decision made by a lower court or agency. For example, if an immigrant loses his case at Immigration Court, he can ask a higher court, like the Board of Immigration Appeals, to reverse the Immigration Court’s decision.
Asylum – Protection granted by a nation to an immigrant who has left their native country as a refugee. To qualify for asylum, individuals must prove they have a legitimate fear of persecution in their home country based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.
Birthright Citizenship – Birthright Citizenship is the legal right to citizenship for all persons born in the United States, regardless of the parents’ immigration status. This concept is often attacked by immigration reform opponents under the anchor babies rhetoric.
Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) – If a person loses their case at Immigration Court, and they want to challenge the decision, the usual course is to file a challenge (an “appeal”) of the decision with the next higher authority, the BIA. The Board of Immigration Appeals is the highest administrative body for interpreting and applying immigration laws.
Bond – A bond is money which a detained immigrant must post with the Department of Homeland Security in order to be permitted to be released from detention while removal proceedings are pending.
Cancellation of Removal – Cancellation of Removal is a form of relief for immigrants placed in proceedings at Immigration Court to face removal charges. There are three forms – (a) lawful permanent residents, (b) non-lawful permanent residents, and (c) victims of domestic violence.
Child Citizenship Act – The Child Citizenship Act allows certain foreign-born, biological and adopted children of United States citizens to acquire United States citizenship. They do not gain U.S. citizenship at birth, but they are granted citizenship automatically if they meet certain requirements.
Citizenship – A nation grants certain rights and privileges to immigrants if they meet certain legal requirements. In the United States, there are four roads to gaining citizenship status. There are four roads to citizenship. (1) Birth in the United States. (2) Birth in another country, but one parent is a U.S. citizen. (3) Born in another country but you naturalize after meeting various requirements. (4) You derive citizenship when your parent becomes a citizen.
Consular Processing – This refers to the process for a person, applying for lawful permanent resident, that involves the submission of forms and documents to a U.S. embassy or consulate in his or her home country, and attending an interview there.
Convention Against Torture (CAT) – CAT stands for the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. For short, CAT is usually referred to as the Convention Against Torture. A a human rights treaty, CAT allows immigrants to remain in the U.S. indefinitely if they can prove that they would be likely to face torture by their government if returned to their home country.
Coyote – The term coyote is a Spanish word which refers to the practice of guiding immigrants for a fee across the Mexico-United States border.
Crimmigration – In the past 30 years, there has been a convergence, a blurring of the lines between criminal defense and immigration law for immigrants charged with having committed crimes. Because some offenses carry the potential for permanent exclusion from the United States, CrImmigration Defense Law has emerged as one of the important and specialized areas of deportation and removal defense.
Cross-Chargeability – When immigrant couples seek permanent residence, their visas are based on the principal applicant’s country of birth. Yet, when husband and wife are filing at the same time, they are allowed to use a visa from the dependent immigrant’s country of birth if one is unavailable from the principal immigrant’s home nation.
Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA) – The Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA) of 1966 is one of our nation’s most unique immigration programs. The CAA was passed to help Cubans fleeing their country due to political dissension. Under the Act, Cuban immigrants may apply to become lawful permanent residents once they have been present in the U.S. for at least one year after they were admitted or paroled into the country. This is dubbed the “one year and a day” rule.
Deferred Action – Deferred action is a humanitarian status which the Department of Homeland Security can grant in cases of compelling circumstances or under administrative policies. The status permits immigrants to remain in the United States for a limited period of time. Deferred action is sometimes renewable. The grant of a U Visa is one such example.
Department of State – The government agency which oversees U.S. embassies and consulates in other countries. The Department of States decides who is entitled to a green card or visa when the person files outside the United States.
Deportation Defense – Deportation Defense is the act of defending an immigrant, usually in Immigration Court, who is facing deportation – the expulsion from a country for violating certain rules. In some areas of immigration law, the term “deportation” has been replaced by “removal”. If the immigration judge orders an immigrant’s deportation, he or she is then forced to leave the United States.
Diversity Visa Lottery – D is for Diversity Visa Lottery. This is an annual lottery by which immigrants from countries which are under-represented in the United States may apply for an immigrant visa to the U.S. and become a permanent resident.
DREAM Act – The DREAM Act is short for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, a legislative proposal which has stalled in Congress. The DREAM Act would enable undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as children to gain lawful permanent resident status upon the fulfillment of certain requirements.
Employment Authorization Card – Employment Authorization is the permission granted to immigrants to work legally in the United States. Upon USCIS approval, a card is issued certifying this permission. The employment authorization (EAD) card is often referred to as a work permit.
Entry Without Inspection – Entry Without Inspection (EWI) is the phrase used to indicate an immigrant who has entered the U.S. without being inspected by an immigration official. In general, immigrants who enter as EWIs are not allowed to apply for legal status from within the United States.
Extreme Hardship – Extreme Hardship is the most commonly used legal formula for granting relief in cases involving deportable immigrants. However, the extreme hardship standard changes often, and its precise meaning varies from program to program. Under cancellation of removal, the hardship standard is now deemed to be exceptional and extremely unusual hardship.
Family-Based Visas – The filing of Family-Based Visas is the most common way to obtain permanent resident status. It requires the sponsorship of close family relatives, including spouses, children, parents, and siblings. The rules are different depending on the sponsor’s immigration status: permanent residency versus U.S. citizenship
Family Unity Waivers – Family Unity Waivers are one of the most important waivers for immigrants. It is also known as an I-601 Family Unity Inadmissibility Waiver, so named in an attempt to allow immigrant families to avoid separation due to entering and living in the U.S. without permission.
Fiancé(e) Visas – A Fiancé(e) Visa is also known as a K-1 Visa. This type of visa is issued to the immigrant fiancé or fiancée of a United States citizen to enter the United States to get married. The couple is required to get married within 90 days of the immigrant’s entry, or the immigrant has to return to his or her home country. Once the marriage has taken place, the immigrant can apply to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States.
Filipino World War II Veterans Parole – The Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program (FWVP) was implemented to assist the reunification of Filipinos veterans with their older children. The program is an attempt to honor the commitment of Filipino veterans who with the U.S. forces in World War II.
Good Moral Character – Good moral character is one of the major requirements for naturalization. Applicants must show that their character measures up to the moral standards of average members of the community in which they reside.
Green Card – This refers to the document given to persons who have become lawful permanent residents. This is a not the formal name, but it is still used – even though the card is not green. The formal government name for the card is Alien Registration Receipt Card.
Hardship – See Extreme Hardship above.
Human Trafficking – Human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery. A person is recruited to be controlled and held captive for the purpose of exploitation. It involves the use of coercion, deception, or force to place men, women, and children in slavery or slavery-like conditions. 14,500 to 17,500 immigrants are trafficked into the U.S. per year. Of this total, 70% are women, 50% are children.
Humanitarian Parole – Under Humanitarian Parole, an immigrant may be allowed into the U.S. for a temporary period of time due to urgent humanitarian reasons (like medical reasons, a compelling emergency, or judicial proceedings) or where a grant would result in a significant public benefit. The period of parole is limited to the time needed to deal with the emergency or humanitarian situation.
IIRAIRA – IIRAIRA, which stands for the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, is one of the most widespread changes ever made to immigration law. Enacted in 1996, it greatly reduced the ability of immigrants to defend themselves against deportation and tightened the rules for seeking permanent residence.
Immediate Relatives – An Immediate Relative is the spouse, parent, or unmarried child under age 21 of a U.S. citizen. Immediate relatives can apply for permanent residence “immediately” – at the same time an immigrant relative petition is filed on their behalf – without having to go through waiting periods.
Immigrant – In the normal use of the word, a person born in another country is considered an immigrant. However, the United States government only considers individuals who have become permanent residents to be immigrants.
Immigration Court – The Immigration Court, also known as the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), is is an administrative court responsible for removal and deportation hearings. Immigration judges have authority to grant immigrants legal status in the United States as well as to order them deported.
Immigration Fraud – Immigration Fraud is a silent social disease that destroys the dreams of many hard-working immigrants. Immigrants are victimized by legal assistants, notarios, paralegals, and lawyers who take advantage of their general lack of knowledge by either deliberately falsifying information or not performing the services required
I-94 Card – A card given to all non-immigrants when they are allowed to enter the United States. It serves as evidence that the person has entered the country legally. It also includes a stamp with a date indicating how long that person may stay here.
I-130 Petition – An Immigrant Relative Petition is the first document filed as part of the family-based permanent resident process. Known as the I-130, the petition is filed by a spouse, parent, child, or sibling, and depends on their status as either a lawful permanent resident or U.S. citizen.
I-751 Waivers – When immigrants seek to remove the conditions on their residence, they are required to submit a joint I-751 petition with their U.S. citizen spouses. Under certain circumstances, the immigrant spouses can file a waiver, enabling them to proceed without their husbands or wives.
Joseph Hearing – When immigrants are detained, the government may charge them with a crime that results in mandatory detention. Immigration Judges cannot release a person subject to mandatory detention, but they can hold a “Joseph Hearing” to determine whether immigrants’ convictions properly fall the mandatory detention provisions.
K Visas – A K-1 Visa is also known as a Fiancé(e) Visa. This type of visa is issued to the immigrant fiancé or fiancée of a United States citizen to enter the United States to get married. The couple is required to get married within 90 days of the immigrant’s entry, or the immigrant has to return to his or her home country. Once the marriage has taken place, the immigrant can apply to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States.
Lawful Permanent Resident – This is a person born in another country who has been granted permission to live permanently in the United States, usually on the basis of ties to a family member or a U.S. employer. The immigrant is provided a document, referred to as a Green Card.
Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act – The Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act is a legalization program passed by Congress on December 20, 2020. It has a one-year windown during which time Liberians immigrants who have been present in the U.S. since November 20, 2014 are eligible to become permanent residents, without having to return to their country of origin.
Lozada Motion – A Lozada motion is normally filed after an adverse decision has been issued against immigrants, who allege the loss was caused by their legal representative’s actions (or lack of actions).
Mandatory Detention – When an immigrant is arrested, one of the first things an immigration officer will do is determine whether or not to grant a bond. But some immigrants do not qualify for release, even if they would be willing to pay a bond. If this happens, immigrants must remain in detained custody while their immigration court proceedings are pending.
Merits Hearing – The merits hearing is the equivalent of a trial at immigration court. It is sometimes referred to as individual hearing. Immigrants facing deportation are allowed their case to an immigration judge why they should be allowed to live in the United States.
Motions To Reconsider – In general, a motion to reconsider is filed after an immigrant has lost his case, but errors of fact or law are discovered. This may allow an immigrant to ask the government to reweigh their decision based on the corrected facts or legal interpretations.
Motions To Reopen – In general, a motion to reopen is filed after an immigrant has lost his case, but new facts and information emerge. This evidence may enable an immigrant to seek relief which did not exist at the time of the decision against him or her.
NACARA – The Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) was passed in 1997. It provides both immigration benefits and relief from deportation to Nicaraguans, Cubans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, nationals of former Soviet bloc countries who had arrived as asylees and they meet certain requirements.
NAFTA – The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a trilateral agreement signed by Canada, Mexico, and the United States, creating a trilateral trade bloc in North America. The impact of NAFTA also displaced many U.S. and Mexico workers.
Naturalization – This refers to the process taken by individuals, born in other countries, who have taken steps to become U.S. citizens. Naturalization is the most common path to U.S. citizenship status. Immigrants who earn lawful permanent residency are allowed to naturalize if they meet certain requirements, generally after five years.
Non-Immigrants – This term is used by the U.S. government to describe individuals who come to the United States legally for a short time. This includes students and visitors from other countries.
Notice To Appear – Often referred to as an NTA, this is the document which begins the legal process to deport an immigrant from the United States. Once the NTA is served on an immigrant, he is required to attend a hearing at Immigration Court to address charges of removability lodged against them by the U.S. government.
Out-Of-Status – Being out of status pertains to circumstances when individuals have lost their immigration status due to a violation of their visa terms.
Overstay – When an immigrant enters the U.S. with a visa to stay for a limited period of time, but fails to leave when the authorized period expires, the immigrant is considered to be an overstay and subject to deportation or removal.
Passport – A travel document allowing an individual to gain admission into a different country.
Priority Date – A priority date is like an invisible ticket. Once a person applies for green card, they are given a date when the filing is received by immigration authorities, When visas are available for cases with that date, the immigrant can file documents to complete adjustment of status or consular processing.
Qualifying Relatives – Various forms of relief from deportation, removal, or family separation are dependent on the hardship to qualifying relatives. Although the requirements differ from program to program, in general, qualifying relatives include spouses, children, and parents who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents,
Quotas – The use of quotas are common in various areas of immigration law. For example, U.S. deportation policy supports an unofficial detention bed quota. The bed quota requires U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house an average of 34,000 individuals in detention on a daily basis. 62% of these immigrants are detained in private, for-profit detention centers.
Registry – Registry is an immigration law that enables certain individuals who have been present in the United States since January 1, 1972 the ability to apply for a green card (permanent residence), even if they are in the United States unlawfully.
Removal Of Conditions – If you and your spouse were married less than two years when his green card was approved, it was granted on a conditional basis. Both of you must apply together to remove the conditions on his green card during the 90 days before his second anniversary as a conditional resident. This allows him to convert to regular permanent residence status.
Removal Proceedings – Removal is the term now used in place of the term Deportation. Normally, this refers to the process taken by the government in Immigration Court to decide whether a person is entitled to remain in the United States. If the judge decides a person is removable, the person will be forced to leave the country.
Request For Evidence – A Request For Evidence is sometimes referred to an RFE. The request for evidence is served by the government where the applicant or petitioner has filed documents and paid the proper fees, but has failed to demonstrate eligibility for the benefit sought.
SAW – The Special Agricultural Workers (SAW) program allowed immigrants who performed labor in perishable agricultural commodities to seek lawful temporary residence, after which they could apply for lawful permanent residence. SAW was a critical part of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, passed under the Reagan Administration.
Special Immigrant Juvenile – The Special Immigration Juvenile (SIJ) program was created to help undocumented children who are in the state juvenile system obtain lawful permanent resident status. These are children who cannot reunify with their parents due to abuse, abandonment or neglect.
Status – This refers to the specific privileges you gain when you are granted immigration benefits as a lawful permanent resident or as a non-immigrant.
Stop-Time Rule – The Stop-Time Rule defines how time living in the United States is calculated for continuous residence or continuous physical presence in cancellation of removal cases.
Suspension of Deportation – Suspension of Deportation was a primary defense for undocumented immigrants placed in immigration court proceedings to face charges of deportation. IIRAIRA replaced it with Cancellation of Removal, a more restrictive form of relief.
T Visa – The T Visa is a special temporary status for those victims of human trafficking. It offers protection for victims and allows them to remain in the United States to assist in an investigation or prosecution of human trafficking.
Temporary Protected Status – Also known as TPS, this is a special immigration program that allows immigrants from countries in turmoil to live and work temporarily in the United States. The turmoil may be caused by a natural disaster, widespread civil war, or other severe conditions. When the situation improves, the right to stay in the U.S. ends.
Translator Visas – Translator Visas are a category of Special Immigrant Visas (SIV), which allow Iraqi and Afghan interpreters to earn lawful permanent residence status based on the assistance and services provided to U.S. Armed Forces.
U Visa – The U Visa is a special 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.
Unlawful Presence – Unlawful presence refers to an immigrant who is physically present and living in the United States without authorization.
USCIS – This stands for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. This government agency has responsibility for deciding whether to grant or deny immigration benefits (Green Cards, Work Permits, etc.) for persons who have applied while living in the United States.
Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) – Also known as VAWA, this law provides protection of immigrant spouses and children from the physical, mental, and financial abuse and harm of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.
Visa – This is the stamp which is placed in a passport by a United States consulate office, normally in another country, which serves to allow immigrants to enter the United States.
Visa Waiver Program (VWP) – Under the Visa Waiver Program, immigrants of certain countries, mostly Western European, may seek entry into the United States for up to 90 days without first obtaining a visa. Visa waiver entrants generally cannot change their immigration status from within the United States.
Voluntary Departure – Voluntary Departure refers to an immigrant’s departure from the U.S. without a formal order of removal or deportation. In immigration court cases, the judge grants an immigrant the right to leave voluntarily by a specific date at his or her own expense instead of being deported by the government.
Waiver – A request for a waiver is is a request to forgive a characteristic or action that would otherwise lead to a denial of an immigrant’s application for benefits. Reasons that trigger the need to seek waivers include certain criminal convictions and having lived in the U.S. without permission.
Widow(er)s Surviving Spouse Rights – Even after an immigrant’s spouse passes away, he or she may still be eligible for permanent residency. This is an area of immigration law known as surviving spouse green card rights.
Work Permit – See Employment Authorization Card above.
Xenophobia – Xenophobia is the fear and dislike of people from other countries. My parents did not teach me to hate. They taught me to love all people, no matter how different we may be. Xenophobia is not a sentiment worth embracing.
Youth Refugees – The issue of Youth Refugees became an issue in the summer of 2014 when young children from three Central American nations – Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador – began to arrive at the U.S. southwestern borders seeking asylum. Like all individuals in our legal system, Youth Refugees deserve due process and fairness in their judicial proceedings.