Glossary of Immigration Terms


The below information is provided for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice.

Adjustment of Status (AOS): The process by which a qualified individual may become a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) of the United States without having to leave the country to apply for an immigrant visa.

Affidavit of Support: A document an individual signs to accept financial responsibility for another person, usually a relative, who is coming to the United States to live permanently. The person who signs the affidavit of support becomes the sponsor of the relative (or other individual) coming to live in the United States. The sponsor is usually the petitioner of an immigrant petition for a family member.

Biometrics: After filing for naturalization or adjustment of status with USCIS, you will generally be called prior to your interview to have your photograph and fingerprints taken at your local USCIS field office. The appointment is usually very quick and simple, but it is  extremely important that you not miss it.

Conditional Permanent Residency: If you become a U.S. resident based on your marriage to a U.S. citizen and the marriage is less than two years old, you will initially be granted “conditional” permanent residency for a period of two years, at which point you must file a petition to remove conditions (form I-751).

Consular Processing: When an intending immigrant is overseas (or is not able to adjust status), that individual must complete the application process for an immigrant visa and green card at a United States consulate overseas. The intending immigrant must attend an interview at the consulate prior to being granted an immigrant visa and green card.

Derivative Beneficiary: If you are the beneficiary of an immigrant visa petition in one of the family preference categories, your spouse or minor children (under the age of 21 and unmarried) generally can immigrate and adjust status at the same time as you. You will be known as the “lead beneficiary” and your spouse/child as the “derivative beneficiary.” Petitions filed for “immediate relatives” do not allow for derivative beneficiaries and thus a separate petition must be file for a child to immigrate at the same time as his/her parent.

Family Preference Categories: For family members other than immediate relatives, the United States sets numerical limits on the number of immigrant visas that can be issued in a given year. This means there may be a long wait before a visa becomes available. Visas are issued based on the order in which the petitions are filed, and the wait time will vary based on the foreign national’s country of origin and the preference category involved.

I-94: The arrival/departure record issued by customs and border patrol when someone arrives in the U.S. on a non-immigrant visa. The I-94 will include the admission date and, in most cases, the date on which you must depart the United States. Keep in mind that the expiration date on your visa and the I-94 departure date are two separate things. It is the I-94 that governs how long you may stay in the United States. Most I-94s are now issued in electronic form and can be accessed online.

Immediate Relative: For U.S. immigration purposes, an immediate relative is the spouse, parent (if the child is over the age of 21), or unmarried child under the age of 21 of a United States Citizen. Immediate Relatives are not subject to annual numerical limits and therefore do not need to wait for their priority date to become current.

Legal Permanent Resident (LPR): A foreign national who has been granted the right to reside permanently in the United States. Also known as a “green card” holder.

Naturalization: The process by which U.S. citizenship is granted to a foreign national who fulfills certain requirements. Generally a LPR who has resided in the U.S. for 5 years (or 3 years in certain cases) is eligible to naturalize. The process includes submitting an application for naturalization (form N-400) and related documentation as well as attending an interview and finally taking an oath of allegiance.

National Visa Center (NVC): After USCIS approves your petition, it will be sent to the National Visa Center for processing. If necessary, the NVC will forward your petition to the appropriate consulate overseas. In some cases you will be requested to send certain additional documents and forms to the NVC.

Notice of Action (NOA): When USCIS takes action on your petition, for example receiving it (NOA-1) or forwarding it to the National Visa Center (NOA-2) you will receive a notice by mail indicating what action has been taken.

Petitioner: A U.S. citizen or permanent resident who files a petition to bring a foreign national (e.g.,. a family member or employee) to the U.S. The foreign national is referred to as the “beneficiary” of the petition.

Priority Date: For purpose of family preference category petitions, visas are issued in the order in which the petition was filed. The filing date serves as the petition’s “priority date” and a visa cannot be issued until the priority date is “current,” meaning applicants with petitions filed on that date are currently being issued visas. USCIS publishes a “visa bulletin” which lists the priority dates that are now current for each category.

USCIS: United States Customs and Immigration Services is the government body responsible for processing visa petitions as well as applications for adjustment of status and naturalization. It is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Visa: A document allowing a foreign national to enter and remain in the United States for a specified period of time. A visa can be either an immigrant visa (if the person intends to stay in the country as a permanent resident) or a non-immigrant visa (if the person is only intending to stay temporarily for purposes of tourism, business, studying, or working). Visas can be granted for a specific duration (e.g. 90 days) or for as long as a person maintains a certain status (such as a student).


I-130: Immigrant Visa Petition for Alien Relative

I-129F: Visa Petition for Alien Fiancé(e)

I-485: Application to Adjust Status to that of a Permanent Resident

I-864: Affidavit of  Support

N-400: Application for Naturalization

I-751: Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence