Immigration Terms Glossary

Here is a glossary of important terms to help you understand U.S. Immigration Laws:

Affidavit of Support
An affidavit of support is an oath made in writing by an individual, usually a U.S. permanent resident, indicating that he or she has the capability and willingness to support another individual. An official Immigration affidavit of support form may be found at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Bureau website.

This word is a legal term used in U.S. Immigration and Nationality laws to describe persons born in a country other than the U.S. who have not obtained U.S. citizenship.

Individuals who believe that they will be persecuted because of race, religion, national origin, political opinion or membership in social group if forced to return to their home country may apply to remain in the US for protection from this persecution. Asylum is the word used to describe this protection. A person granted asylum may reside in the U.S. until conditions are better for them to return. Individuals granted asylum may apply for permanent residence.

Consular Officer
Consular Officer refers to any official working in U.S. Consulates who have the authority to issue non-immigrant visas and immigrant visas.

A Consulate is an office of the U.S. government in a foreign country. It is a part of the United States Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and located at a U.S. Embassy. Most consulates issue visas and provide information to individuals about coming to the U.S. Find a listing of US consulates worldwide at

Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
Functions of several border and security agencies including the U.S. Customs Service, Federal Protective Service (FPS), and former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) were transferred into the Directorate of Border and Transportation Security within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Within the Department of Homeland Security, there are two primary agencies that are concerned with F-1 students. These include the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Visit and for more information.

This is the spouse or child of the principal alien.

Designated School Official (DSO), Principal Designated School Official (PDSO), Foreign Student Advisor (FSA) and International Student Advisor (ISA)
At every college and university accredited by the Department of Homeland Security to accept foreign students, there must be a PDSO (there is also often a DS0). They are college employees who are designated by the Immigration authorities to assist students in obtaining and maintaining visa status. They are sometimes called the International Student Advisor (ISA) or Foreign Student Advisor. They explain the benefits available to F-1 visa/status holders and assist with the application procedures. They also issue university employment verification in compliance with DHS regulations. It is the responsibility of these persons to provide programs and services for international students.

Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
The EAD is a card that is used to prove that a person has permission to work in the US. For example, students with F-1 status must have an EAD if they are working off-campus unless they have permission for curricular practical training (CPT). The EAD is the size of a driver's license, has the person's photo on it and gives the beginning and ending dates of the employment. Not every person authorized to work in the U.S. is required to have an EAD.

F-1 Student Visa and Status
F-1 visas and F-1 status may be granted to individuals who are bona fide students qualified to pursue a full course of study at an academic or language institution in the U.S.

Form I-20
This form (also called Certificate of Eligibility for F-1 status) is used for the following purposes: by students to obtain an F-1 visa to enter the U.S. to study, to change to student status if the student is within the US, to verify employment eligibility, and to help verify status. It is also sometimes used to obtain a social security card and official State issued ID or drivers license. Students Individuals must obtain the Form I-20 from the institution that admitted them as students.

Form I-94, Arrival and Departure Record
The I-94 (example on dd. 21) is a small white card given to every individual who enters the United States for a temporary stay and whom a U.S. Immigration Official officially inspects. The I-94 may be a different color if sent to you by authorities if you are already in the US. The document indicates the status and amount of time the individual can legally remain in the U.S. It is also used for the following purposes: to help verify status, to obtain a social security card, and official State issued ID or drivers license.

Green Card
The green card is a slang term for the alien registration card issued to a permanent resident (immigrant). The card includes the individual's photograph, fingerprint and signature.

J-1 Non-immigrant classification
J-1 visa category is used by international students, research scholars, professors, experts, medical interns and residents, international visitors, and trainees to enter the U.S. as exchange visitors for the purpose of gaining experience, studying or doing research in their respective fields.

Naturalization is a process by which permanent residents become U.S. citizens. Naturalization permits individuals to obtain a U.S. passport and to vote in U.S. elections.

An immigration term used to describe individuals who come to the U.S. for specific purposes and for a limited period of time.

This is a document issued by a government that allows its citizens to travel abroad. In some cases, students may have a Certificate of Identity (CI) instead of a passport. The passport identifies the individuals and their citizenship. A valid passport or CI is usually required to obtain a U.S. Visa to enter the U.S. You must keep your passport valid at all times. Consult your country's consulate or embassy in the US to renew your passport. Locate embassy information at

Permanent Resident
This term refers to individuals authorized to live and work indefinitely in the U.S. Individuals are given alien registration cards (also called a green card) upon approval of their applications for permanent residence. The word 'immigrant' is another name for permanent resident alien.

Reinstatement to Student Status (Regaining F-1 Legal Status)
If a student loses their status, they might be able to regain their legal status. Two ways a student may be able to regain legal F-1 status are: a written application for reinstatement of legal status that is sent to the USCIS and reentry into the U.S. with a new "initial admit" I-20. It is important that students discuss legal status issues with an international student advisor (ISA). Students who are reinstated by USCIS or who reenter with an "initial admit" I-20, will be required to enroll as a full-time student for at least 9 months before they are able to apply for off-campus work permission and curricular or optional practical training.

SEVIS, which stands for; Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, is an Internet database reporting system. Schools that enroll F-1, M-1 or J-1 students must electronically transmit current data through SEVIS to the Department of Homeland Security and/or the Department of State throughout the student's stay. This reporting is done on a regular basis. All schools are required to enter information for all their current F-1 or M-1 non-immigrants students, to report their enrollment, and other information in SEVIS.

SEVIS Reporting Requirements
No later than 30 days following the deadline for registering for classes, the school is required to report that the student failed to register. Furthermore, during each term or session, and no later than 30 days after the deadline for registering for classes, schools are required to report the following registration information:
  • Whether the student has enrolled at the school, dropped below a full course of study without prior authorization by the DSO or failed to enroll;
  • The current address of each enrolled student;
  • The start date of the student's next session, term, semester, trimester or quarter.
  • Within 21 days of a change of any information, schools are be required to report the following information:
  • Any student who has failed to maintain status or complete his or her program;
  • A change of the student's or dependent's legal name or U.S. address;
  • Any student who has graduated early or prior to the program end date;
  • Any disciplinary action taken by the school against the student as a result of the student being convicted of a crime; and any other notification request made by SEVIS with respect to the current student.
Status and Duration of Status (D/S)
Duration of status refers to a designation given to F-1 and J-1 visa holders and their dependents upon entry to the U.S. DHS authorities will stamp or write D/S on the I-94. This indicates that F-1 visa holders can remain in the U.S. throughout their program of study. F-1 students who have maintained status have 60 days to depart the US after completion of their studies. J-1 visa holders have 30 days they may remain in the U.S. after their programs are completed.

Unlawful Presence (DHS Declaration of Unlawful Presence)
If a DHS official or an immigration judge declares an individual to be unlawfully present in the United States, the unlawful presence will begin on the date of the DHS decision - not the date the individual violated his/her status. Unlawful presence will have an effect on future eligibility for entry into the United States in the following ways: Individuals who have been unlawfully present in the U.S. for more than 180 continuous days but less than one year are prohibited from reentering the U.S. (under any visa type) for a period of 3 years from the date of departure, and individuals who have been unlawfully present in the U.S. for one year or longer are prohibited from reentering the US (under any visa type) for a period of 10 years.

Acronym for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services which is a part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This agency is responsible for the administration of benefits and immigration services available under the DHS. Some of the services provided to F-1 students include adjudicating employment application, providing forms, and adjudicating change of status application. Learn more at

Violation of Legal Status
A person who does not follow the requirements of their visa loses their legal status. If you lose your legal status, you also lose the following privileges: ability to work on campus, ability to obtain permission or continue to work off campus, to receive a transfer recommendation to attend a new school, to apply to DHS for a change of status or to remain in the US. More serious consequences are also possible from the loss of status.

Individuals wishing to travel to the United States from most countries as non-immigrants must apply for entry permission at an American Consulate outside the U.S. The visa is a stamp placed in the passport, which permits individuals to come to the U.S. The stamp contains the visa category, a visa number, the location and date that it was issued, the number of entries that will be permitted into the U.S., and the expiration date. The issuance of a visa does not guarantee that individuals will be admitted into the United States. The visa stamp cannot be renewed in the United States. It may expire while the individual is in the United States. As long as the I-94 has not expired and the visa recipient is following the regulations concerning their status, that person is considered in legal status.

Visa vs. Status
It is very important to clarify two legal terms to fully understand how to maintain your legal status in the US. People are often confused about the terms "visa" and "immigration status." Visa refers to the stamp in your passport that was necessary to have to enter the US. Status refers to the immigration classification that the immigration authorities assigned to you when you entered the US. The immigration authority wrote the status on your form I-94. A person's status may be different than their visa. (See: Duration of Status)

Visa Waiver (W/T)
Nationals from designated countries may enter the U.S for business or tourism without obtaining a visa, provided certain conditions are met. Persons meet these conditions and enter the US without a visa enters with a visa waiver. Persons who enter the US with a visa waiver will be allowed to remain in the US for no more than 90 days and cannot extend the period or change to another visa category.