Glossary of Immigration Law Terms

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Glossary of Immigration Law Terms

Application

Specific forms and accompanying documents that request a green card or a visa.

Asylee

A foreign national who has been given permission to reside in the United States to avoid persecution in a home country. An asylee obtains his or her status after entering the United States.

Alien Registration Receipt Card

The formal name for a “green card”.

Accompanying relative

Immediate relatives (usually your spouse and children under age twenty-one who will be entering the United States at the same time that you do) who are eligible to receive the same immigration benefits as you based on your application.

Bona fides of a marriage

Documentation proving that a marriage is not entered into for immigration purposes.

Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS)

The U.S. government agency that in 2003 took over responsibility for the immigration service functions that used to be performed by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. BCIS is part of the new Department of Homeland Security.

Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE)

The U.S. government agency that in 2003 took over responsibility for the enforcement and investigative functions that used to be performed by the INS, the Customs Service, and the Federal Protective Service. BICE is part of the Department of Homeland Security Directorate of Border and Transportation Security.

Diversity Program

The “green card lottery”. A yearly lottery program designed to assure that immigrants come from a diversity of backgrounds.

Deportation

When an immigrant is forced to leave the United States as a result of a court proceeding.

Directorate of Border and Transportation Security (BTS)

The U.S. government agency that in 2003 took over responsibility for the immigration enforcement functions that used to be handled by the INS. The BTS is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Enforcement functions within the BTS are divided between two bureaus: the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE), and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (BCBP).

Excludable

The immigration laws deem certain individuals “excludable” and thus prohibited from obtaining visas or green cards. Excludability arises from prior criminal records, subversive activities, inability to support oneself, and various other circumstances.

Green card

The popular name for the Alien Registration Receipt Card. The card (which is not really green) is given to foreign nationals who are legal permanent residents.

I-94

A small card given to a non-immigrant upon entry to the United States. It proves lawful entry to the United States. The expiration date on the I-94 determines the amount of time a foreign national may legally stay here.

INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service)

The U.S. government agency that formerly had responsibility for matters concerning foreign nationals in the United States. In 2003, all of the, the INS ceased to exist. The INS' functions were transferred to the new Department of Homeland Security. Within the Department of Homeland Security, the immigration service functions that were formerly handled by the INS were taken over by the new Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS). Immigration enforcement functions that used to be handled by the INS were transferred to the new Directorate of Border and Transportation Security.

National Visa Center

A private company under contract with the Department of State that receives approved green card petitions and green card lottery registrations.

Naturalization

The legal process of becoming a U.S. citizen. Once naturalized, an individual has the same rights as a U.S. citizen who was born in the United States.

Non-immigrant visa

A visa obtained by a person who wishes to enter the United States for a particular purpose, but does not intend to permanently reside in the United States.

Permanent resident

A foreign national who has been granted permission to live permanently in the United States. Permanent residents are given green cards and are allowed to work in and travel in and out of the United States.

Petition

INS forms and accompanying documents that request recognition of your eligibility for permanent residence or some types of non-immigrant visas.

Public charge

Your status when the state assumes primary responsibility for your support. Being deemed a public charge can result in the loss of your green card.

Quota

Each year there are only a certain number of green cards available for particular categories of applicants. A greater number of applicants than the number of green cards available have created backlogs.

Refugee

A foreign national who has been given permission to reside in the United States to avoid persecution in a home country. A refugee obtains his or her status prior to entering the United States.

Registration

What you file when you are applying for a spot in the green card lottery.

Sham marriage

A marriage entered into for immigration purposes.

Special Registration

A procedure, applicable to noncitizens from certain designated countries and to other noncitizens deemed by consular officers to require closer monitoring, under which the noncitizens must be fingerprinted and photographed at U.S. ports of entry and must make subsequent reports to the U.S. government at certain specified times and upon certain events, such as changes of address, employment or school.

Status

The privileges you receive with your immigration benefits either as an immigrant or non-immigrant. For example, your status as a green card holder is that of a legal permanent resident.

U.S. Consulates

Branch offices of U.S. embassies. Most consulates process immigrant and non-immigrant visa applications.

U.S. Embassies

Worldwide U.S. State Department offices that represent the United States in foreign countries. Embassies process immigrant and non-immigrant visa applications.

Visa

A stamp placed in your passport at a U.S. embassy or consulate that allows you to enter the United States.

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