Common Immigration Terms

Adjustment of Status

Adjustment of status is the term for the process of applying for and receiving lawful permanent residence within the United States. Presumably one who is in the U.S. already holds some type of status; this status is “adjusted” by U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services to that of a lawful permanent resident. The adjustment of status process lies in contrast to Consular Processing.

Civil Surgeon

A civil surgeon is simply a medical doctor who has been authorized by the Department of Homeland Security to perform the necessary medical examination for the adjustment of status process.

Consular Processing

Consular processing is the process of applying for an immigrant visa outside of the United States. Immigrant visa applications made outside of the U.S. are adjudicated by the Department of State at U.S. Embassies and Consulates around the world. Consular Processing lies in contrast to adjustment of status.

Department of Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security, also known as DHS, is an agency of the federal government whose purpose is provide for the security of the United States.  Most immigration functions of the federal government were placed into one of three sub-agencies of DHS:  U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (“USCIS” or “CIS”) whose role is adjudication of immigration benefits; U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (“USICE” or “ICE”) whose role is immigration enforcement activity; and U.S. Customs & Border Protection (“USCBP” or “CBP”) whose role is the monitoring and regulation of U.S. borders and ports of entry.

Green Card

A green card is the commonly used term for evidence of lawful permanent residence. The name comes from the historical color of the card.  Today’s cards are not green, but are sophisticated cards containing biometric information about the holder.

I-94 Arrival/Departure Record

The I-94 card is the document produced by U.S. Customs and Border Protection that records the terms of your admission:  the type of visa status under which your entry is classified, the authorized length of stay, and any conditions of stay. This document–not the visa–governs your actual immigration status while in the U.S.  The I-94 card may be either white or green and is typically placed in your passport.

Immigrant Visa

An immigrant visa is a visa that allows someone to reside and work in the U.S. permanently as a Lawful Permanent Resident. Immigrant visas are obtained in one of two ways: consular processing at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate for those outside of the U.S. and adjustment of status with the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services office for those inside the U.S.

Lawful Permanent Residence

Lawful permanent residence (“LPR”) is the immigration status of one who has been granted permission to live and work in the U.S. indefinitely. Lawful permanent residence is typically obtained via an but can also be obtained through other avenues such as asylum and cancellation of removal. In most cases a permanent resident becomes eligible for after five years. Exceptions to the five-year permanent residency requirement include continued marriage to the U.S. citizen through whom permanent residence was obtained (3 years) and active military servicemen and women.


Naturalization is the immigration process by which a non-U.S. citizen obtains U.S. citizenship. Eligibility criteria include residency requirements, good moral character, and an oath of allegiance. English language and U.S. history and government examinations must be passed or waived.

Non-Immigrant Visa

A non-immigrant visa is a type of visa that allows someone to enter the U.S. both for a temporary period of time and for a limited purpose. Unless subsequently changed or extended, a non-immigrant visa holder can only stay in the U.S. for the amount of time indicated on the I-94 card and can only perform activities that are appropriate for the visa classification under which he was admitted. Common examples of non-immigrant visas are tourist/visitor visas, student visas, and H1-B employment visas.


A U.S. visa simply grants the bearer permission to apply for entry to the U.S. at a U.S. port of entry and the information on the visa only relates to when an individual may apply for entry into the U.S. The Department of State is responsible for visa adjudication for those applying at U.S. Embassies and Consulates outside of the U.S. A visa does not grant the bearer the right to enter the United States; U.S. Customs and Border Protection determines admission into, length of stay, and conditions of stay in the U.S. at a port of entry. There are two types of visas: Immigrant Visas and Non-Immigrant Visas.