Know Your Immigration Vocabulary: 21 Key Terms

In the United States, immigration law changes on a regular basis. Because this legal terrain is in constant flux, understanding the countless terms and concepts can be a serious challenge.

At US Legal Group, APC, our goal is not just to counsel and represent our clients—we want to empower them with the knowledge they need to make the best possible decisions. To help you learn what you need to know about the U.S. immigration system, we have compiled the following 21 key terms. Keep in mind that these are general definitions, and each concept becomes much more complex in practice. If you have any questions about how the laws may affect you, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our team.

1. Lawful Permanent Resident

A lawful permanent resident (LPR) is someone who can live and work permanently in the United States. Otherwise known as a green card holder, an LPR can eventually apply for citizenship through the naturalization process.

2. Green Card

A green card is what signifies a person’s lawful permanent resident status. These individuals must replace their green cards every ten years.

3. Preference

Both family-based and employment-based immigration applications are divided into preference categories. This is an organizational system in which each preference category is allotted a certain number of visas per year.

4. Priority Date

A green card applicant’s priority date is the date their petition is filed with USCIS. Applicants will use their priority date and the visa bulletin to determine when they can apply for a visa (or adjust their status).

5. Acquisition

Acquisition is when children are born abroad, but they become U.S. citizens because their parents are U.S. citizens. Alternatively, children may obtain citizenship through acquisition if their parents naturalize before the children turn 18.

6. Naturalization

Naturalization is the process of becoming a citizen after a certain number of years spent in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident. This process involves an application, interview, exam, and naturalization ceremony.

7. Continuous Residence

When you apply for citizenship through naturalization, you will need to meet the continuous residence requirement. Specifically, you must show that you have lived continuously in the U.S. for five years (or three if you are married to a U.S. citizen).

8. Physical Presence

Like continuous residence, physical presence is another requirement of citizenship through naturalization. Specifically, you must be physically present in the U.S. for 30 months out of your five years of continuous residence (or 18 months out of your three years of continuous residence, if you are married to a U.S. citizen).

9. Visa

A visa is what a person usually needs to enter the U.S. If you obtain an immigrant visa, you will receive a green card once you enter the United States. If you obtain a nonimmigrant visa, you will be granted temporary status that ends after a certain amount of time or once you have completed certain activities.

10. Dual Intent

Usually, an adjudicating officer will reject a nonimmigrant visa application if they believe the applicant intends to stay in the U.S. permanently. Some nonimmigrant visas, however, allow for dual intent, which means the beneficiary can obtain temporary status even though their ultimate goal is to become a lawful permanent resident. Examples include K-1, H-1B, L-1, and O-1 visas.

11. Consular Processing

If you are attempting to visit or move to the U.S., you will most likely need to apply for a visa abroad through consular processing. You will apply, attend an interview, and complete other required steps at a U.S. consulate or embassy abroad.

12. Adjustment of Status

If you are in the U.S. lawfully but don’t have a green card, you may be able to adjust your status to permanent residence. This is similar to applying for a visa through consular processing, but you won’t need to leave the United States to complete the process.

13. Biometrics

Biometrics refers to an individual’s fingerprints, photograph, and signature. Most immigration processes require applicants to attend a biometrics interview.

14. Sponsor

In most cases, individuals applying for a green card will need someone to sponsor them (i.e. file an immigrant petition on their behalf). The sponsor is usually a U.S. employer or a family member who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.

15. Immediate Relative

In immigration, an immediate relative refers to a U.S. citizen’s spouse, child (unmarried and under 21), or parent (if the U.S. citizen is 21 or older). Because the U.S. government grants an unlimited number of visas and green cards to immediate relatives each year, these family members don’t need to wait in line for their green cards.

16. Conditional Residence

Normally, when you obtain an immigrant visa or adjust your status, the result is a green card that must be replaced every ten years. If, however, you come to the United States as an immigrant investor, the fiancé(e) of a U.S. citizen, or the newly married spouse of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, USCIS will likely give you a conditional green card. After two years, you will need to apply to remove conditions on your permanent resident status.

17. Derivative Status

Many visas allow beneficiaries to obtain derivative status for their spouse and/or children. When a family member obtains derivative status, they can accompany the principal beneficiary to the United States.

18. Advance Parole

If you are undergoing an immigration application process in the United States, you may not be able to return if you leave the U.S. You can, however, obtain advance parole, which is a travel document that allows you to leave and successfully return.

19. Inadmissibility

Inadmissibility refers to a person’s inability to obtain a green card or another immigration benefit because of a certain factor (e.g. having a criminal history, committing an immigration violation, abusing drugs, having a communicable disease, being a public charge, etc.). Some of these grounds of inadmissibility can be excused if the individual obtains a waiver.

20. Public Charge

A public charge is a person who relies on public assistance to make ends meet, and the U.S. government generally rejects immigration applications from those who appear to be public charges. Visit here for the latest rule regarding public charge grounds of inadmissibility.

21. Out of Status

If you are out of status, you are overstaying your visa or otherwise violating the terms of your status. Time spent out of status will typically prevent you from qualifying for a visa or immigration benefit in the future.

Retain Informative Legal Support Today

Are you ready to get started on your immigration process? Have you already begun, but you need a seasoned professional to step in and assist you with an unanticipated challenge? At US Legal Group, APC, we provide comprehensive immigration services for individuals, families, and businesses. We look forward to using our years of experience to help you accomplish your immigration goals as efficiently as possible.

Call (714) 266-3277 or contact us online today for a complimentary consultation.

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