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Important U.S. Immigration Concepts,
Terms and Helpful Aids
The following information will assist in understanding some of the key terms utilized in U.S. immigration, explain the major documents issued to individuals in various stages of the immigration process (such as visas, arrival-departure cards, etc.) and the primary U.S. government agencies managing U.S. immigration.
*The Essential U.S. Immigration Documents
*Glossary of Immigration Terms
*Important Acronyms Utilized in U.S. Immigration
*U.S. Government Agencies Managing U.S. Immigration
*Section # descriptions.
The Essential U.S. Immigration Documents
The following are samples of critical U.S. immigration documents a person will need to understand when entering, working and living in the United States.
Form I-797, Approval Notice
Form I-797, Receipt Notice
Alien Registration Receipt (Green Card)
Employment Authorization Card (EAD Card)
Advanced Parole Travel Document
1. U.S. Visa
A United States visa is only a sticker placed in an individual’s passport. Nothing else is a visa. U.S. visas contain biographic and biometric information concerning the passport holder, the terms of the visa and coded data for law enforcement purposes. A visa also contains a photograph of the passport holder.
U.S. visas only enable an individual to board a plane bound for the United States and present him/herself for inspection and request admission into the United States. The validity period of a visa is not indicative of how long a person may remain in the United States. The length a person may remain in the U.S. is governed by a person’s Form I-94.
Visas can only be issued at U.S. Embassies or Consulates located outside the United States. Visas can only be renewed outside the U.S.
2. Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Card
A Form I-94 Arrival/Departure card is a form circulated by airline stewardess to air passengers bound for the United States. The form is either white for U.S. visa holders or green for Visa Waiver travelers. The form is completed and presented with a passport at a U.S. border to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Inspector upon arrival in the United States.
If an Inspector permits a person to enter the United States, the Inspector endorses the Form I-94, writes the admission classification and expiration date on the I-94 and staples the I-94 into the passport.
A Form I-94 IS NOT a visa. A Form I-94 indicates the date which a person is allowed to lawfully remain in the United States. The expiration date of a Form I-94 can differ from the expiration date of a visa. For this reason, it is critical to check the expiration date of a Form I-94 after every entry into the United States. The Form I-94 governs the terms of an individual's admission (i.e. employment, studies, etc.) in the United States.
When a person departs the United States, the Form I-94 is surrendered to the airline carrier which transfers the document to the U.S. government as proof of a person's departure from the United States.
3. The Form I-797, Approval Notice
A Form I-797, Approval Notice is a document issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). The Form I-797 serves many purposes. It documents that USCIS has approved the extension or change of a person’s legal status in the United States. It also serves as proof that a person is qualified to immigrate to the United States in one of the enumerated immigrant visa classifications.
The I-797 also serves as proof that the USCIS has approved an employer’s petition to classify a proposed employee in certain employment visa classifications (i.e. E-1, E-2, H-1B, L-1 O-1, P-1, etc.)
If a person changes or extends his/her status while legally in the United States, a Form I-797, Approval Notice will have a new Form I-94 located at the bottom of the notice. The Form I-94 number should match the Form I-94 issued to the person upon his/her last entry into the United States.
4. The Form I-797, Receipt Notice
Whenever a person files a petition or application with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), a Form I-797, Receipt Notice is issued. The document serves as proof the USCIS has received a person’s petition or application.
5. Alien Registration Receipt (Green Card)
When a person receives an Alien Registration Receipt Card, commonly known as a “Green Card” the card proves the holder is allowed to permanently reside, live and work in the United States.
6. Employment Authorization Card (EAD Card)
Employment Authorization Cards, commonly known as EAD Cards, are clear evidence a person has authorization to work in the United States.
7. Advanced Parole Travel Document (AP)
Advance Parole Travel Documents are evidence a person has received advance permission to re-enter the United States after a temporary trip outside the United States. Advance Paroles are most commonly issued to individuals with a pending adjustment of status application.
Glossary of Immigration Terms
The following are common terms that utilized in U.S. immigration:
Adjustment of Status
The process whereby a person holding a nonimmigrant or other temporary visa status is allowed to have the temporary visa status changed to an immigrant or lawful permanent while physically in the United States.
A document authorizing international travel from the United States under certain circumstances. This document is commonly issued to individuals who are in the adjustment of status process who must travel internationally.
The U.S. government's term for a person who is neither a national nor citizen of the United States.
Alien Registration Receipt Card
The official legal document title for a green card.
The foreign state of chargeability is a United States immigration concept – it is the country determined to be the applicant's origin. In general, the applicant's country of birth will determine their country of chargeability. For certain applicants born in oversubscribed countries such as India and China, approval to be chargeable to another country can significantly reduce the waiting time for their adjustment of status or consular processing of their green card application. If one of the family members is from a different country then it is possible to accomplish cross-chargeability (See more)
Conditional Permanent Residence Status
There are two types of Conditional Permanent Residence Status. One type is given to the spouse and/or children of a United States Citizen at the time of obtaining U.S. lawful permanent residence when the spouse is married to the United States Citizen for less than two years. The other type of Conditional Permanent Residence Status is given to an immigrant investor upon initial approval for lawful permanent residence.
A dependent is either a spouse or an unmarried children (natural, adopted, step) under 21 years old.
Direct v. Indirect Jobs Direct jobs are actual identifiable jobs for qualified employees located within the commercial enterprise into which the EB-5 investor has directly invested his or her capital. Indirect jobs are those jobs shown to have been created collaterally or as a result of capital invested in a commercial enterprise affiliated with a regional center by an EB-5 investor. The number of indirect jobs created through an EB-5 investor’s capital investment is based upon a business plan and a detailed economic analysis, which is evaluated and approved by USCIS during the approval and designation of a regional center for participation the Immigrant Investor Pilot Program.
Diversity Visa Lottery (commonly known as "The Green Card Lottery")
An annual lottery program whereby up to 55,000 individuals from historically low immigration countries are allowed to immigrate to the United States.
A person possessing more than one nationality or possessing a passport issued from more than one country. The United States government recognizes and allows dual nationality. Some countries do not recognize dual nationality.
The commonly known term for an Alien Registration Receipt Card. A green card proves that an individual has lawful permanent residence status in the United States. The card entitles a person to re-enter the United States after international travel and proves employment eligibility and identity. Green cards expire every ten years and must be renewed.
A green card cannot be taken away unless a person abandons its or it is ordered taken away by an immigration judge.
A spouse of a United States Citizen, a child under 21 years of age with one parent being a United States Citizen, or the parent of a United States Citizen over the age of 21 years. If a person is an Immediate Relative, he/she is eligible to immediately receive a green card.
A person who has violated a U.S. law and is not allowed to enter the United States or receive a green card. Individuals who are inadmissible usually have serious criminal records, are suspected terrorist, have communicable diseases or may become a financial burden to the United States government. Under certain circumstances, inadmissibility can be overcome.
Any person residing in the United States as a lawful permanent resident is an immigrant.
The process whereby a person is allowed to secure a green card through a job offer from a United States sponsoring employer. The employer must prove through a test of the local labor market there are no qualified U.S. workers available, ready, willing and able to assume the job.
National Interest Waiver. This waives the requirement for a job offer and labor certification. See more
The process whereby a foreign person becomes a United States Citizen.
A person coming to the United States for a temporary but specific purpose who does not intend to remain in the United States permanently.
A person is defined "out of status" if the person violates the terms and conditions of the person's immigration status in the United States. The following are examples of a violation of a person's immigration status: unauthorized employment; failure to attend classes without legal excuse; staying in the United States beyond the expiration date of a Form I-94.
A travel document issued by a government that enables a person to travel between countries.
Permanent Resident (also known as Lawful Permanent Resident)
A non-U.S. citizen with permission to live permanently in the United States. A green card is evidence of permanent residence in the United States.
A formal written request that an individual be given a certain type of nonimmigrant or immigrant visa classification.
Regional Center Pilot Program The Immigrant Investor Pilot Program (“Pilot Program”) was created by Section 610 of Public Law 102-395 (October 6, 1992), and was recently extended through September 30, 2012. EB-5 requirements for an investor under the Pilot Program are essentially the same as in the basic EB-5 investor program, except the Pilot Program provides for investments that are affiliated with an economic unit known as a “Regional Center”. These investments allow for a less restrictive job creation requirement based upon the creation of “indirect ” and “direct” jobs. Direct jobs are actual identifiable jobs for qualified employees located within the commercial enterprise into which the EB-5 investor has directly invested his or her capital
There are two separate preference categories established for permanent U.S. immigration:
he family-based categories require an immediate family relationship with a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
employment-based categories normally require sponsorship by a U.S. employer. A person is grouped into the appropriate preference category and given an opportunity to obtain a green card under the annual quota limitation.
This is a green card applicant's ticket in line. A priority date is given to a person on the date a petition is received by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services when a person applies for a green card in a specific preference category or the date a Labor Certification is filed if seeking to immigrate through certain employment-based categories. Since there are annual quotas for each preference category, a priority date establishes a person's place in line within that preference category.
The United States immigration system places limits (or quotas) on the number of certain green card applicants that can immigrate to the United States each year. Approximately 400,000 green cards can be issued each year under the quota system. Only 25,000 green cards may be given to nationals from a specific country each year.
Removal Proceedings (formerly known as Deportation Proceedings)
Legal process whereby the U.S. government seeks to physically remove a person from the United States for violating an immigration law. These proceedings are conducted in the presence of an Immigration Judge.
The retrogression date means the Visa Bulletin which comes out each month has retrogressed, in other words they are too full in this category so have issued a new date which is before the current date. The retrogression date is when you began your application (Form I-797) and the USCIS sent you a receipt Notice.
The terms of admission (rights, privileges and limitations) a person is given when he/she is admitted into the United States as either a permanent resident or as a nonimmigrant. A person is considered to have status as long as they are physically in the United States. For example, a person admitted into the United States with a student visa to attend school has student status.
U.S. Government Agencies Managing U.S. Immigration
There are three primary United States federal government agencies responsible for managing the majority of United States immigration:
U.S. Department of State;
U.S. Department of Homeland Security;
U.S. Department of Labor.
U.S. State Department
The U.S. Department of State (DOS) has jurisdictional authority over all U.S. embassies and consular posts located overseas. These U.S. offices are responsible for the issuance of nonimmigrant and immigrant visas to foreign nationals seeking admission into the United States.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created in 2003. Concurrent with the creation of the DHS, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was abolished and its functions merged into the DHS.
After merging into the DHS, the immigration functions of the INS were divided into three new U.S. federal agencies:
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services;
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement;
U.S. Border and Customs Protection.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is responsible for the review and adjudication of nonimmigrant and immigrant visa petitions and applications including changes of status, extensions of status, adjustment of status, asylum and refugee applications and applications for U.S. citizenship.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is responsible for the enforcement of U.S. immigration laws within the United States, including investigations, detention and removal (deportation) of nonimmigrants and immigrants.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is responsible for managing all airport and border inspections and customs enforcement at the border. When a person first arrives in the United States, the officer reviewing a person's passport to determine to allow the person to enter the U.S. is a CBP officer.
U.S. Department of Labor
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is responsible for managing and governing the employment of foreign nationals in the U.S. Specifically, the DOL is responsible for managing part of the H-1B visa program and the labor certification application process.
Other Federal and State Agencies
There are several other federal, state and local agencies with regulatory powers that impact foreign nationals present in the United States. Such agencies include:
Social Security Administration,
Internal Revenue Service,
Department of Motor Vehicles,
local school boards and others.
A U.S. visa is only a sticker placed in an individual's passport. Nothing else is a visa. U.S. visas contain biographic information concerning the passport holder, the terms of the visa and coded data for law enforcement purposes. A visa also contains a photograph of the passport holder
U.S. visas only enable an individual to board a plane bound for the United States and present him/herself for inspection and request admission into the United States. The validity period of a visa is not indicative of how long a person may remain in the United States. The length a person may remain in the U.S. is governed by a person's Form I-94.
Visas can only be issued at U.S. Embassies or Consulates located outside the United States.
The Visa Waiver Program
The Visa Waiver Program allows foreign nationals from certain enumerated countries to enter the U.S. for specific purposes and for a limited time without first obtaining a visa. A person entering the United States under the Visa Waiver Program may remain in the United States for no longer than ninety. A person entering under the Visa Waiver Program may only come to the United States as visitors for business (not employment) or pleasure.
Back to top of Glossary of Immigration Terms section
Important Acronyms Utilized in U.S. Immigration
AOS or 245 Adjustment of Status
CBP U.S. Customs and Border Protection
COS Change of Status
CSC California Service Center
DHS Department of Homeland Security
DOL U.S. Department of Labor
DOS Department of State
D/S Duration of Status
EAC Eastern Adjudication Center (now Vermont Service Center)
EAD Employment Authorization Document
EDD California Employment Development Department
EOS Extension of Status
I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant Visa – Form Number
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative – Form Number
I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker – Form Number
I-485 Application to Adjust Status to Lawful Permanent Resident
I-551 Alien Registration Receipt (Green Card)
I-765 Application for Employment Authorization
ICE U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
INA Immigration and Nationality Act (and amendments)
INS Immigration and Naturalization Service (dissolved)
IV Immigrant Visa
LC Labor Certification
LCA Labor Condition Application (for H-1B matters)
LIN Initials for Cases Filed at Lincoln Nebraska Service Center
LPR Legal Permanent Resident
NAFTA North American Free Trade Agreement
NBC National Benefits Center
NIV Nonimmigrant Visa
NSC Nebraska Service Center
RFE Request for Evidence
TSC Texas Service Center
U.S. United States
USCIS U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
USC United States Citizen
VSC Vermont Service Center
VWP Visa Waiver Program
WAC Western Adjudication Center (now California Service Center)
Section #200+ INA explanation
INA Section 203(e) provides that family-sponsored and employment-based (EB) preference visas be issued to eligible immigrants in the order in which a petition in behalf of each has been filed.
Section 203(d) provides that spouses and children of preference immigrants are entitled to the same status, and the same order of consideration, if accompanying or following to join the principal.
The visa prorating provisions of Section 202(e) apply to allocations for a foreign state or dependent area when visa demand exceeds the per-country limit. These provisions apply at present to the following oversubscribed chargeability areas: CHINA - mainland born, INDIA, MEXICO, and PHILIPPINES.
USCIS changes things from time to time. We will be happy to provide you with the latest when you contact us.
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