Important Visa Concepts 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 stamps, etc.) and the primary U.S. government agencies managing U.S. immigration.

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.

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 Admission Record.

Visas can only be issued and renewed at U.S. Embassies or Consulates located outside the United States.

Form I-94 (Now Electronic)

A Form I-94 is the official arrival/departure record of any individual entering the U.S.  Prior to 2014, the I-94 was a paper form completed by each traveler and endorsed by an Immigration Inspector when entering the U.S.  However, based on a person’s electronic travel record.  During the admission interview, the Immigration Inspector will place a stamp in a person’s passport to document the entry into the U.S. .  Almost immediately after entry, the official Form I-94 can be downloaded on the USCBP I-94 web site (

The I-94 contains important form information and governs the terms of a person’s admission such as the visa classification and expiration of admission.  A person is allowed to remain in the U.S. up to the expiration of the Form I-94.  It is critical to download and check the I-94 after every entry.  Errors in the I-94 record and conflicts between the I-94 record and the admission stamp are frequent.

The Form I-797, Approval Notice

A Form I-797, Approval Notice is a document issued by the USCIS. The Form I-797 serves many purposes. It documents that USCIS has approved an 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 paper Form I-94 located at the bottom of the notice.

Alien Registration Receipt (Green Card)

An Alien Registration Receipt Card, commonly known as a “Green Card,” proves the holder is allowed to permanently reside, live and work in the United States.

Employment Authorization Card (EAD Card)

Employment Authorization Cards, commonly known as EAD Cards, are evidence a person has authorization to work in the United States.

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.

Combo Card

A Combo Card is a combination of an Employment Authorization Card and an Advance Parole Travel Document combined into one card.  Combo Cards are most commonly issued to individuals with a pending adjustment of

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 resident while physically in the United States.

Alien: 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.

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.

Dependent: A dependent is either a spouse or an unmarried children (natural, adopted, step) under 21 years old.

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.

Dual National: 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.

Green Card: 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.

Immediate Relative: 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.

Inadmissible: 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.

Immigrant: Any person residing in the United States as a lawful permanent resident is an immigrant.

Labor Certification: 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.

Naturalization: The process whereby a foreign person becomes a United States Citizen.

Non-immigrant: A person coming to the United States for a temporary but specific purpose that does not intend to remain in the United States permanently.

Out-of-Status: 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.

Passport: 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.

Petition: A formal written request that an individual be given a certain type of nonimmigrant or immigrant visa classification.

Preference Categories: There are two separate preference categories established for permanent U.S. immigration: family-based and employment-based. The family-based categories require an immediate family relationship with a U.S. citizen or permanent resident while the 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.

Priority Date: 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 USCIS 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.

Quota: 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.

Status: 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.

The Visa Waiver Program (ETSA): 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.

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 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)

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: the U.S. Department of State; the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; and the 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; and 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 the Social Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service, Department of Motor Vehicles, local