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Immigration law has a number of highly technical terms that may not mean the same thing to the average reader.To inform USCIS.gov users, we provide this glossary of immigration terms and acronyms. This glossary is designed to help you better understand the information provided on this website. The terms described in it do not replace statutory, regulatory, or other definitions provided by law or Department of Homeland Security’s official policies and interpretations of law.
Admission Number or I-94 Number — An 11-digit number found on the Form I-94 or Form I-94A Arrival-Departure Record.
Alien — Any person not a citizen or national of the United States.
Alien Registration Number or Alien Number(A Number or A#) — A unique seven-, eight- or nine-digit number assigned to a noncitizen by the Department of Homeland Security. Also see “USCIS Number.”
Arrival-Departure Record (Form I-94/I-94A) — A small white card placed in the passport of an alien when they are admitted or paroled to the United States. This form is also issued to aliens in connection with the approval of an immigration benefit granted from within the United States. The card indicates parole or the immigration status under which the alien was admitted, and, if applicable, how long the alien is authorized to stay in the United States, either with a specific date, or with a notation such as D/S (Duration of Status). See also Duration of Status.
Asylee — An alien in the United States or at a port of entry who is found to be unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality, or to seek the protection of that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution. Persecution or the fear thereof must be based on the alien’s race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
Au Pair Program — A Department of State J-1 cultural exchange program that provides exchange visitors between 18 and 26 years old the chance to participate in the home life of a U.S. host family. All au pair participants provide child care services to the host family and attend a U.S. post-secondary educational institution.
CBP— An abbreviation for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security.
Cap-Gap Extension — Allows foreign students seeking to change to H-1B status to extend their status and employment authorization through Sept. 30 of the calendar year for which the H-1B petition is being filed, but only if the employment start date in H-1B status will begin on Oct. 1. The extension is automatically terminated if the petition is rejected, denied or revoked.
Casual domestic employment — Sporadic, irregular or intermittent domestic service provided by an individual in a private home.
Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status (Form DS-2019) — A Department of State-controlled document required to support an application for an exchange visitor visa (J-1) prepared by the program sponsor which can only be produced through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status — For Academic and Language School (Form I-20)– A Department of Homeland Security-controlled document required to support an application for a student visa (F-1 or M-1) prepared by the sponsoring school which can only be produced through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
Civil Surgeon - A medically trained, licensed and experienced doctor practicing in the U.S. who is certified by USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service). These medical professionals receive U.S. immigration-focused training in order to provide examinations as required by the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) and USCIS. For medical examinations given overseas, please see Panel Physician.
CFR — An abbreviation for the Code of Federal Regulations.
Generally, an unmarried person under 21 years of age who is: a child born in wedlock; a child born through Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) to a non-genetic gestational mother who is also the legal mother under the law of the relevant jurisdiction at the time of birth; a stepchild, provided that the child was under 18 years of age at the time that the marriage creating the stepchild relationship occurred; a legitimated child, provided that the child was legitimated while in the legal custody of the legitimating parent; a child born out of wedlock, when a benefit is sought on the basis of its relationship with its mother, or to its father if the father has or had a bona fide relationship with the child; a child adopted while under 16 years of age who has resided with the adopting parent for at least 2 years and has been in the legal custody of the adopting parent for at least 2 years ; or an orphan, under 16 years of age, who has been adopted abroad by a U.S. citizen or has an immediate-relative visa petition submitted in his/her behalf and is coming to the United States for adoption by a U.S. citizen.
Code of Federal Regulations — A codification of rules published in the Federal Register by the Executive departments and agencies of the federal government. See also Regulations.
Conditional resident — Any alien granted permanent resident status on a conditional basis (for example, a spouse of a U.S. citizen or an immigrant investor) who must petition to remove the conditions of his or her status before the second anniversary of the approval date of his or her conditional status.
Continuous residence - For a detailed explanation, go to the USCIS Policy Manual, Chapter 3: Continuous Residence.
Curricular Practical Training — A program that allows students to accept paid alternative work/study, internships, cooperative education or any other type of required internship or practicum that employers offer though cooperative agreements with the school.
(U.S.) Customs and Border Protection (CBP) — An agency of the Department of Homeland Security that is responsible for securing the homeland by preventing the illegal entry of people and goods while facilitating legitimate travel and trade.
DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program launched in 2012. For more information, go to the Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) page.
Deferred action — A use of prosecutorial discretion to not remove an individual from the country for a set period of time, unless the deferred action is terminated for some reason. Deferred action is determined on a case-by-case basis and only establishes lawful presence but does not provide immigration status or benefits of any kind. DACA is one type of deferred action.
DHS — An abbreviation for the Department of Homeland Security
DOJ — An abbreviation for the U.S. Department of Justice
DOL — An abbreviation for the U.S. Department of Labor
DS-2019 — See Certificateof Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status.
Department of Homeland Security — Department of the Executive Branch of the U.S. government charged with homeland security: preventing terrorism and managing risks to critical infrastructure; securing and managing the border; enforcing and administering immigration laws; safeguarding and securing cyberspace; and ensuring resilience to disasters.
Department of Justice — Department of the Executive Branch of the U.S. government with the primary responsibilities to enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States according to the law; to ensure public safety against threats foreign and domestic; to provide federal leadership in preventing and controlling crime; to seek just punishment for those guilty of unlawful behavior; and to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.
Department of Labor — Department of the Executive Branch of the U.S. government that fosters and promotes the welfare of the job seekers, wage earners, and retirees of the United States by improving their working conditions, advancing their opportunities for profitable employment, protecting their retirement and health care benefits, helping employers find workers, strengthening free collective bargaining, and tracking changes in employment, prices, and other national economic measurements. In carrying out this mission, the Department administers a variety of Federal labor laws including those that guarantee workers’ rights to safe and healthful working conditions; a minimum hourly wage and overtime pay; freedom from employment discrimination; unemployment insurance; and other income support.
Designated School Official (DSO) — The person designated by the head of a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-approved school to support the Principal Designated School Official and maintain SEVIS records
Disabilities, Employees/Individuals with —Iindividuals with physical or mental impairments that substantially limit one or more of their major life activities, have a record of such impairments, or are regarded as having such impairments.
Discrimination — Unfair treatment because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), citizenship or immigration status, national origin, disability, age (age 40 or older) or genetic information in the workplace or other protected characteristic or activity
Domestic worker— An individual who performs casual domestic employment.
Duration of Status (D/S)- Notation on certain nonimmigrant Forms I-94 indicating that the individual, such as an F-1 nonimmigrant student, is authorized to remain in the United States as long as he or she maintains a valid status,.
EEOC— An abbreviation for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Employee— An individual who provides services or labor for an employer for wages or other remuneration (does not include an independent contractor or those engaged in casual domestic employment, as defined)
Employer— A person or entity, including an agent or anyone acting directly or indirectly in the interest thereof, who engages the services or labor of an employee for wages or other remuneration to perform work in the United States. The term employer includes agricultural recruiters and/or referrers for a fee.In the case of an independent contractor or contract labor or services, the term employer means the independent contractor or contractor and not the person or entity using the contract labor.
Employer sanctions— Series of civil fines or criminal penaltiesfor violation of regulations that prohibit employers from hiring, recruiting or referring for a fee aliens known to be unauthorized to work in the United States, or continuing to employ aliens knowing them to be unauthorized, or hiring an individual without completing Form I-9.
Employment — Any service or labor performed by an employee for an employer within the United States, but not including casual domestic employment or duties performed by nonimmigrant crewmen (D-1 or D-2).
Employment Authorization Document (Form I-766/EAD) — A general term used to describe a card issued by USCIS on Form I-766 with the title “Employment Authorization Card” to aliens who are authorized to work in theUnited States in order to evidence their employment authorization. The card contains a photograph of the individual and sometimes his or her fingerprint. An alien who has been issued this card usually has open-market employment authorization, but there are exceptions.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)— Agency that enforces federal laws that prohibit discrimination against a job applicant or employee because of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information
E-Verify — An Internet-based system that compares information from an employee's Form I-9 to data from Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records to confirm employment authorization.
Exchange visitor - &mbsp;An alien admitted temporarily to the United States in J-1 status as a participant in a program approved by the Secretary of State for the purpose of teaching, instructing or lecturing, studying, observing, conducting research, consulting, demonstrating special skills, or receiving training.
Field office— Offices found in some USCIS Districts that serve a portion of the District’s jurisdiction, providing services and enforcement functions
Foreign Student– Either:
F-1 Nonimmigrant Student— A student in F-1 nonimmigrant status (Academic Student) is an alien who has been admitted to the United States as a full-time student at an accredited college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or in a language training program. The student must be enrolled in a program or course of study that culminates in a degree, diploma, or certificate and the school must be authorized by the U.S. government to accept international students; OR
M-1 Nonimmigrant Student &mbsp;-An individual in M-1 nonimmigrant status (Vocational Student) is an alien who has been admitted to the United States to participate in vocational or other nonacademic programs, other than language training.
Hire— The actual commencement of employment of an employee for wages or other remuneration.
I-20— See Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status – For Academic and Language School.
I-94– See Arrival-Departure Record.
ICE — An abbreviation for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security
(U.S.) Immigration and Customs Enforcement — The principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, ICE's primary mission is to promote homeland security and public safety through the criminal and civil enforcement of federal laws governing border control, customs, trade, and immigration.
Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA),Public Law 99-603, 100 Stat. 3359 (enacted November 6, 1986) — An Act of Congress passed into law in order to control and deter illegal immigration to the United States. Its major provisions stipulate legalization of undocumented aliens who had been continuously unlawfully present since 1982, legalization of certain agricultural workers, sanctions for employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers, and increased enforcement at U.S. borders.
Immigration and Nationality Act(INA) — An Act of Congress that, along with other immigration laws, treaties, and conventions of the United States, relates to the immigration, temporary admission, naturalization and removal of aliens
INA — An abbreviation for the Immigration and Nationality Act
INS — An abbreviation of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which was abolished in 2003. Its functions are now performed by three agencies of the Department of Homeland Security– U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), ICE and CBP.
Intermittent — Something that does not occur continuously but is coming and going at intervals.
IRCA– An abbreviation for the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, Public Law 99-603, 100 Stat. 3359 (enacted Nov. 6, 1986).
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Irregular — An occurrence or activity that lacks in continuity or regularity
LPR — An abbreviation for lawful permanent resident
Labor certification— Department of Labor certification required for U.S. employers seeking to employ individuals whose immigration to the United States is based on job skills or nonimmigrant temporary workers coming to perform services for which qualified authorized workers are unavailable in the United States. Labor certification is issued by the Secretary of Labor and contains attestations by U.S. employers of the numbers of U.S. workers available to undertake the employment sought by an applicant, and the effect of the alien’s employment on the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers similarly employed. Determination of labor availability in the United States is made at the time of a visa application and at the location where the applicant wishes to work.
Last Name— Family name or surname
Lawful permanent resident — Any person not a citizen of the United States who is residing the in the U.S. under legally recognized and lawfully recorded permanent residence as an immigrant. Also known as "Permanent Resident Alien," "Resident Alien Permit Holder," and "Green Card Holder."
Maiden name —A woman’s last name or family name at birth, before she married
Middle initial –The first letter of the second given name
National of the United States— A national of the United States or a person who, though not a citizen of the United States, owes permanent allegiance to the United States (e.g., persons born in American Samoa or Swains Island).
Nonimmigrant — An alien who is admitted to the United States for a specific temporary period of time. There are clear conditions on their stay. There are a large variety of nonimmigrant categories, each exists for a specific purpose and has specific terms and conditions. Nonimmigrant classifications include: foreign government officials, visitors for business and for pleasure, aliens in transit through the United States, treaty traders and investors, students, international representatives, temporary workers and trainees, representatives of foreign information media, exchange visitors, fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens, intracompany transferees, NATO officials, religious workers and some others. Most nonimmigrants can be accompanied or joined by spouses and unmarried minor (or dependent) children.
North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) — Public Law 103-182 (Act of December 8, 1993), created special economic and trade relationships for the United States, Canada and Mexico. The TN nonimmigrant classification permits qualified Canadian and Mexican citizens to seek temporary entry into the United States to engage in business activities at a professional level. Among the types of professionals who are eligible to seek admission as TN nonimmigrants are accountants, engineers, lawyers, pharmacists, scientists, and teachers.
OSC— An abbreviation for the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices, Department of Justice
Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices— A section within the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice that enforces the anti-discrimination provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1324b, which protects U.S. citizens and employment-authorized individuals from employment discrimination based on citizenship or immigration status, or based on national origin with respect to hiring, firing and recruitment or referral for a fee, and discrimination during the employment verification process.
Panel Physician - A medically trained, licensed and experienced doctor practicing overseas who is appointed by the local U.S. Embassy or Consulate. These medical professionals receive U.S. immigration-focused training in order to provide examinations as required by the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) and USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services). For medical examinations given in the U.S., please see "Civil Surgeon."
Parole in place — Immigration and Nationality Act section 212(d)(5)(A) gives the Secretary the discretion, on a case-by-case basis, to “parole” for “urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit” an alien applying for admission to the United States. Although it is most frequently used to permit an alien who is outside the United States to come into U.S. territory, parole may also be granted to aliens who are already physically present in the U.S. without inspection or admission. This latter use of parole is sometimes called “parole in place.”
Pattern or Practice— Regular, repeated and intentional acts, but does not include isolated, sporadic or accidental acts
Pay —wages or other remuneration
Permanent Resident — See Lawful permanent resident.
Permanent Resident Alien — See Lawful permanent resident.
Permanent Resident Card (Form I-551)— Also known as the green card or alien registration card, this card is issued by USCIS to aliens as evidence of their lawful permanent resident status in the United States. For Form I-9, it is acceptable as proof of both identity and employment authorization. Although some Permanent Resident Cards contain no expiration date, most are valid for 10 years. Cards held by individuals with conditional permanent resident status are valid for two years.
Port of entry — Any location in the United States or its territories that is designated as a point of entry for aliens and U.S. citizens. All district offices and service centers are also considered ports, because they become locations of entry for aliens adjusting to immigrant status.
PrincipalDesignated SchoolOfficial (PDSO) — An individual designated by the head of an SEVP-approved school to have primary responsibility for students in that program and maintaining SEVIS records
Prosecutorial discretion —The legal authority to choose whether or not to take action against an individual for committing an offense.
Provisional waiver — Waiver for individuals who are otherwise inadmissible due to more than 180 days of unlawful presence in the United States, based on a showing of extreme hardship to certain U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident family members, which allows the individual to return after departure for an immigrant visa interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate. For more information, go to the Provisional Unlawful Presence Waivers page.
Refugee— Generally, any person outside his or her country of nationality who is unable or unwilling to return to that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution. Persecution or the fear must be based on the person’s race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. For a legal definition of refugee, see section 101(a)(42) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
Regulations—Rules issued by an executive authority, such as a government department or agency in the Executive Branch, to carry out the intent of the law. Regulations issued by the Federal Government are first published in the Federal Register, then arranged in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Immigration regulations issued by the Department of Homeland Security are codified in Title 8 CFR, Aliens and Nationality
Remuneration — Anything of value given in exchange for labor or services, including food and lodging.
Responsible Officer (RO) or Alternate Responsible Officer (ARO) — An official authorized to issue Form DS-2019.
SEVIS ID number — Unique identifier printed on each Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 in the top right corner, which consists of an alpha character (N) and up to 11 numbers (e.g., N0002123457).
Specialty occupation— an occupation which requires theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge in fields of human endeavor including, but not limited to, architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, medicine and health, education, business specialties, accounting, law, theology, and the arts, and which requires the attainment of a bachelor’s degree or higher in a specific specialty, or its equivalent, as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States.
Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) — A Department of Homeland Security database developed to collect information on the F, M and J visa holders.
Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)— A government program that collects, maintains and provides information that allows legitimate foreign students or exchange visitors to gain entry into the United States. SEVP uses Web-based technology, known as the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), to track and monitor schools and programs, students, exchange visitors and their dependents throughout the duration of approved participation within the U.S. education system.
Sporadic — Occurring occasionally, singly, or in irregular or random instances
Temporary protected status (TPS) — The Secretary of Homeland Security may designate a foreign country for TPS due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country's nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately. USCIS may grant TPS to eligible nationals of certain countries (or parts of countries), who are already in the United States. Eligible individuals without nationality who last resided in the designated country may also be granted TPS. The Secretary may designate a country for TPS due to the following temporary conditions in the country: ongoing armed conflict (such as civil war); an environmental disaster (such as earthquake or hurricane); or other extraordinary and temporary conditions. Grants of TPS are initially made for periods of six to 18 months and may be extended.
USCIS — An abbreviation for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security.
USCIS Number— A unique, 9-digit number assigned to a noncitizen by the Department of Homeland Securitythat is listed on the front of Permanent Resident Cards (Form I-551) issued after May 10, 2010. See also Alien Registration Number or Alien Number.
U.S.Citizenship and Immigration Services— A federal agency that oversees lawful immigration to the United States. Its functions include, but are not limited to, granting employment authorization to eligible aliens, issuing documentation of alien employment authorization, maintaining Form I-9, and administering the E-Verify employment eligibility verification program
United States — the continental United States (including the District of Columbia), Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Visa - A U.S. visa allows the bearer to apply for entry to the U.S. in a certain classification (e.g. student (F), visitor (B), temporary worker (H)). A visa does not grant the bearer the right to enter the United States. The Department of State (DOS) is responsible for visa adjudication at U.S. Embassies and Consulates outside of the U.S. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) immigration inspectors determine admission into, length of stay and conditions of stay in, the U.S. at a port of entry. The information on a nonimmigrant visa only relates to when an individual may apply for entry into the U.S. DHS immigration inspectors will record the terms of your admission on your Arrival/Departure Record (I-94 white or I-94W green) and in your passport.
Last Reviewed/Updated: 11/24/2014