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Immigration Glossary



B-1 Visa

The B-1 visa is a temporary nonimmigrant business visa intended for individuals carrying out legitimate commercial or professional activity in the United States. To qualify for this visa, applicants must not engage in “hands-on” work or work involving gainful employment in the United States. Examples of permissible work include contract negotiations, attending professional conventions, employee training, international hauling, or athletes competing solely for tournament earnings. To be eligible, applicants must intend on continuing a foreign residence and work for a foreign employer whose profits accrue abroad as a result of the work performed in the United States. This visa can be petitioned for single or multiple entries with the latter option granted over a 10 year period. Each entry is valid for 1-6 months or 1 year after filing Form I-539 for an extension of stay. Please see B-1 Visa for more details.

B-2 Visa

The B-2 nonimmigrant visa (NIV) covers those visiting the United States for pleasure, which is defined broadly as activities of a recreational nature. This includes tourism, social visits of any kind, medical treatment, participation in amateur events, or marriage in the United States with a USC or nonimmigrant. Trips to the United States under this visa may not involve employment or financial compensation of any kind. This visa is not intended for academic study programs but can be used to visit prospective academic institutions prior to undertaking a study program. This visa can be petitioned for single or multiple entries with the latter option granted over a 10 year period. Each entry is valid for 1-6 months or 1 year after filing Form I-539 for an extension of stay. Aliens under the B-2 nonimmigrant visa may not change their status.For details of B-2 visa and status, please click B-2 Visa.

Back Pay

Back pay is the court ordered compensation to individuals discriminated against by their employers based on their immigration status. The compensation is remedy for lost work due to unfair labor practices. Employers who violate the law regarding the employment of immigrants may be subject to pay fines and penalties in the form of back pay. According to the latest laws regarding immigration and employment, the Immigration Act of 1990 and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, employers have the responsibility of verifying the identity of each person they hire and of maintaining an I-9 form for each employee. Employers may not discriminate against individuals on the basis of national origin, citizenship, or immigration status, nor are they allowed to hire individuals unauthorized to work in the United States.  Those with complaints must appeal to the appropriate government agency. For example, when bringing a grievance against a union, the National Labor Relations Board should be contacted. For examples of back pay situations, see our article on Benching and Back Pay for H1-B nonimmigrant workers.

Battered Persons

Under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), battered spouses, children, and parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents can file for an immigrant visa petition independent of the abuser and without the abuser’s knowledge. Rules and restrictions apply for those applying for the I-360 petition for special immigrants. Those restrictions can be found on the USCIS website and generally include evidence of abuse along with certain time restrictions.


A beneficiary is an alien who is sponsored by a relative or a business or has self-petitioned for an immigration benefit from the USCIS. A beneficiary can either be the principal beneficiary or a derivative beneficiary who can include the spouse or children of the principal beneficiary.For more information about petitioner and beneficiary in immigration petitions, please see Immigration Petition.


The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) is the appellate body within the Department of Justice appointed to review removal decisions from immigration judges and by district directors of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The BIA hears appeals from proceedings in which the Government of the United States is one party and the other party is an alien, citizen, or business firm. The BIA’s goal is to interpret and administer the nation’s immigration laws quickly and uniformly. For more information about BIA and EOIR, please see the Board of Immigration Appeals’ homepage.

Biometric Identification

Generally done after filing an Adjustment of Status, biometric identification involves fingerprints taken electronically at a USCIS Application Support Centers (ASC) or taken from hard copy fingerprint cards (FD- 258) and submitted for those applicants who are unable to go to an ASC. Then ten-print fingerprints are captured for the purpose of conducting a criminal background check and are processed for applicants between the ages of 14 and 79. The fingerprints are then stored in the Benefit Biometric Support System (BBSS). As of July 2008, Form I-131 (re-entry permits and refugee travel documents) applicants are required to provide biometrics before departing from the U.S.

Birth Certificates

Copies of birth certificates, or other records of birth, are required for many USCIS applications, such as consular processing, and adjustment of status (I-485) cases. This copy must meet the provisions outlined in Title 8, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), 103.2(b)(2). USCIS will also require a translation of any birth certificate not in English to be submitted alongside the document. Regarding translations, 8 CFR Sec. 1003.33 states: “any foreign language document offered by a party in a proceeding shall be accompanied by an English language translation and a certification signed by the translator that must be printed legibly or typed.” Such certification must include a statement that the translator is competent to translate the document, and that the translation is true and accurate to the best of the translator's abilities.”

Birth in the United States

Under the Fourteenth Amendment, “all persons born or naturalized in the United States…are citizens of the United States.” Citizenship by birth also includes persons born in certain territories under U.S. control. All such persons will receive a birth certificate, which is proof of United States citizenship. Persons born in U.S. registered vessels or aircraft outside of U.S. airspace or internal waters do not automatically acquire U.S. citizenship. For more information on U.S. Citizenship by Birth, please click one of these links: Citizenship by Birth; Frequently Asked Questions about Citizenship.

Blood Tests

Blood tests, as part of a medical examination, are required for those filing for Adjustment of Status (I-485 applicants). Blood testing is a method for screening applicants for tuberculosis and other communicable diseases or disorders and can also be used to determine drug use and drug addiction. Additionally, blood tests can also determine if an applicant requires any of the additional vaccinations made mandatory by the immigration laws of the United States. When proving a biological paternal relationship, blood tests are the sole manner of establishing paternity when primary evidence of paternity is unavailable or insufficient.

Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals

Generally, the Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals (BALCA) reviews denials and revocations of labor certifications such as Program Electronic Review Management process (PERM) cases. Employers must request BALCA in their appeal to the Department of Labor if they want the Department to add their request to the appropriate appeals queue. See our site for more information about appeals with BALCA.

Border Crosser

A border crosser is a Mexican or Canadian national who enters the United States after an absence of less than six months for short stays which can include a daily commute to work. Mexican nationals who are not permanent residents must present either a Border Crosser Card or valid passport and a nonimmigrant visa, generally B1 or B2, issued at a consulate abroad. Canadians and certain other residents of Canada are not required to present a visa but must present documentation of any waivers of inadmissibility. Border crossers from Canada may not stay more than 6 months in the United States while Mexican border crossers are given 72 hours.

Bringing Alien to the U.S.

Bringing a person to the United States is broadly defined as leading or causing an alien to come to the United States. There are several methods for bringing aliens to the United States legally. United States citizens (USC) and permanent residents can petition for immediate family members to become permanent residents, though the rules vary between USC and permanent resident petitions. U.S citizens, unlike permanent residents, also have the option to bring in siblings as permanent residents to the United States. Employers in the United States are also able to bring aliens to the United States through various work visas. However, a violation of the “bringing in” provision is illegal and an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Brothers and Sisters

Siblings, one’s biological brothers and sisters, may petition for one another if they share one or both parents. However, the waiting period for an available immigration visa can be more than 10 years through family-based immigration 4th Preference. Step siblings and adopted siblings can also be sponsored for permanent residence with the proper documentation and if certain requirements are met. Only U.S. citizens over the age of 21 may file a green card petition for their sibling.For more details about the adoption issue, please refer to adopted child.

Burden of Proof

When petitioning to gain admission into the United States, the burden of proof falls on the person attempting to establish that he or she is eligible for whatever document that will allow him or her to enter the United States. If the petitioner fails to establish eligibility, no document can be issued to that person, nor can he or she lawfully enter the United States.  The documents or evidence required to prove eligibility vary from case to case. The standard of proof in most immigration cases is by a preponderance of evidence, meaning the petitioner must submit relevant, probative, and credibleevidence which would lead whoever reviews the application to believe that the claim asserted by the petitioner is “probably true” or “more likely than not true.” In an Adjustment of Status based on marriage after a removal preceding, the standard of evidence is set higher, requiring “clear and convincing” evidence to overturn any presumptions of a fraudulent marriage.

Business Necessity

In labor certification (PERM) cases, business necessities are the duties and requirements related to an occupation in the context of the employer’s business and are essential to successfully performing the jobs and duties outlined by the employer in a reasonable manner. These necessities may include, but are not limited to, foreign language requirements, addition education or experience, knowledge requirements, and other special skills.

Business Nonimmigrant

A business nonimmigrant is an alien coming temporarily to the United States to engage in commercial transactions which do not involve gainful employment in the United States. Business nonimmigrants, for example, may engage in international commerce on behalf of a foreign firm but are not employed in the U.S. labor market and receive no salary from U.S. sources. Business nonimmigrants can work under different visa types, such as a B-1.


C Visas (Alien in Transit)

A C visa, otherwise known as a Transit Visa, is a visa for an alien travelling through the United States en route to a third country. According to the Department of State, the traveler must intend to pass in immediate and continuous transit through the U.S. and have permission to enter another country upon departure from the U.S. This could include, according to the USCIS, 1) aliens who qualify as persons entitled to pass in transit to and from the United Nations Headquarters District and foreign countries and 2) foreign government officials and their spouses and unmarried minor (or dependent) children in transit.” The C visa could also apply to those embarking foreign vessels and travelling through the U.S. or travelers wishing to visit the United States on a layover. Aliens in the United States on a C visa are not allowed to apply for Change of Status to another non-immigrant visa.


Canadian citizens fall under certain special rules and privileges regarding US immigration law. For example, Canadians may not enter the U.S. through a Visa Waiver Program (for more information, please click here). However, Canadian citizens are exempt from the US visa requirements for the purposes of tourism, limited business activity, and work activity under certain provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Canadian citizens who are admitted into the U.S. without a visa are allowed to remain for 180 days; however, those who enter the United States under a B-1/B-2 visa are allowed to stay in the U.S. for 1 year. Canadian citizens are also eligible for a special non-immigrant visa called the TN visaand those admitted under a TN visa are allowed to stay in the U.S for three years. The TN visa is a category open only to Canadian and Mexican professionals who want to come to work in the United States temporarily.  For more information about this visa category, visit our TN page.

Cancellation of Removal

Cancellation of removal is a legal act of allowing an alien who is in removal proceedings to retain lawful permanent resident status. An application for cancellation of removal is made during the course of a hearing before an immigration judge. If cancellation is granted, it is granted indefinitely. For more information on cancellation of removal, please click here.

Cancellation of Visa

According to 22 CFR 41.122 a visa can be cancelled at a port of entry by an immigration officer for a variety of reasons, including “if the officer finds that the alien was not, or has ceased to be, entitled to the non-immigrant classification under INA 101(a)(15) specified in the visa or that the alien was at the time the visa was issued, or has since become, ineligible under INA 212(a) to receive a visa, or was issued a visa in contravention of INA 222(g).” The alien will receive notification from the consular officer considering the action and the alien or his or her attorney can then submit a request for reconsideration of the revocation of a visa to a consular office.

Certificate of Citizenship

A certificate of citizenship is an identity document proving U.S. citizenship (Form N-560 or N-561). Certificates of citizenship are issued by the USCIS to derivative citizens and to persons who acquired U.S. citizenship. Persons who acquired U.S. citizenship are those who were born abroad to U.S. citizen parents and had their citizenship conferred at birth or those who became citizens through the naturalization of their parents. A certificate of citizenship is most often issued to newly naturalized citizens. Citizens who were born in the United States do not need to obtain a certificate of citizenship. For more information on the naturalization process, please click here.

Certificate of Translation

A certificate of translation is a formal statement in which a translator shows that he or she has accurately translated a foreign-language document into English.

Change of Circumstance

A change in circumstance can affect non-immigrant and immigrant visa applications in various ways, particularly regarding the beneficiary’s perceived “immigrant intent.” USCIS takes the laws regarding immigrant intent per immigrant visa very seriously. An alien should follow the guidelines for their particular visa or status category to minimize the risk of changed circumstances negatively affecting their petition or application. USCIS should be informed of any change of circumstance that could affect their petition. An example of a change of circumstance would be if an alien came to the United States on an F-1 student, but more than 30 days after enrolling in school financial problems at home meant that they were no longer able to support their education in the United States. They need to change to some other kind of visa that allows for employment. Since this change of circumstance occurred more than 30 days after their entry into the United States, it does not pose an intent issue.  See our website for more details regarding changed circumstances and the various visa applications/petitions.

Change of Status (COS)

When the alien is already in the U.S. in a non-immigrant status, he or she may change their current non-immigrant status to another non-immigrant status. This process is not to be confused with adjustment of status (AOS), which is when an alien adjusts their non-immigrant status to permanent resident status. To change status, the alien must submit Form I-539 (Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status) to the USCIS. An alien may also petition for COS on an I-129 (Petition for an Alien Worker) application, which when filed by an employer functions as a COS application. The most common types of non-immigrant statuses include B, F, H, J, K, L, M, O, P, Q, TN, etc.


Visa “chargeability” refers to the regulations which are used to determine which country a beneficiary is considered to be from when applying for a green card.  No more than 7 percent of the family-sponsored and employment-based visas may be issued to natives of any one independent country in a fiscal year. The visa is generally “charged” to the country in which the beneficiary was born, although sometimes it can be their country of last permanent residence. Exceptions are generally made to keep families together when the quota for their country of birth has already been met. Cross chargeability is an exception to the general rule that allows the visa number for a principal applicant to be charged to the country of birth of the accompanying spouse. See our page on visa chargeability and cross chargeability for more details.


According to 8 U.S.C. 1101(b)(1), a child, for immigration purposes, is defined as an “unmarried person under 21 years of age who is a:

  • Child born in wedlock (formerly called legitimate child)
  • Step-child, whether legitimate or not, as long as the child was under 18 when step-relationship was created
  • Child legally legitimated before 18 if in custody of father at the time of legitimation.
  • Child born out of wedlock where relationship is either with the mother or with the father if, in the case of the father, a bona fide parent-child relationship exists.
  • Children adopted before 16, and having 2 years legal custody and residence with adopting parents. However, if the family has already adopted a sibling, the second brother or sister who is adopted may be under 18 at time of adoption.
  • Certain orphans

Please refer to our page on the Definition of a Child for more details.

Child Citizenship Act

The Child Citizenship Act was enacted on October 17, 2000 and became effective on February 27, 2001. Under the act, children of a U.S. citizen parent (whether natural or adopted) become U.S. citizens if they meet certain requirements. This represents a significant change in the law because prior to the act, these children had to go through the naturalization process to become citizens. Now, however, children no longer have to go through a relatively lengthy naturalization process to become citizens but may be granted citizenship by meeting the less stringent Child Citizenship Act requirements. Please see our page on the Child Citizenship Act for more information.

Child Status Protection Act (CSPA)

On August 6, 2002, the Child Status Protection Act ("CSPA") (Pub. L. No. 107-208) was signed by President Bush into law, effective immediately. The purpose of CSPA is to preserve child status for certain alien children beneficiaries who may have “aged-out,” particularly due to delays in USCIS processing times. The CSPA radically changes the process for determining whether or not a child has "aged out" for the purpose of adjustment of status or the issuance of an immigrant visas in most immigrant categories. The CSPA protects the children of a US Citizen (USC) parent, children of Legal Permanent Residents (LPR), as well as children of asylum and refugee applicants. Prior to the enactment of CSPA, the child's age was determined at the time of adjudicating the grant of permanent residence. The CSPA changes the definition of who is considered a “child" for the purposes of adjustment of status of aliens by the USCIS and the issuance of visas by U.S. Consulates abroad. The CSPA defines certain earlier points of time when the child's age is determined, after which it does not matter if the child turns 21 years of age. See our web page on the Child Status Protection Act for more details.


There are three ways a person may become a citizen of the United States. The first way is by birth. One is automatically a citizen if he or she was born in the United States. One is also a citizen if he or she was born outside the U.S. and is the offspring of at least one U.S. citizen and certain conditions apply. The second way one can become a citizen is by meeting the requirements for citizenship set forth in the Child Citizenship Act, which has been in effect since February 27, 2001. If the child meets these requirements, then he or she is automatically a U.S. citizen even though he or she was not born a U.S. citizen and did not go through the naturalization process to become a U.S. citizen. The third way one can become a citizen is through a process called naturalization. Naturalization enables a person who was not born a citizen of the United States to become a United States citizen. For more information on the naturalization process, please click here. For more information on the different ways to gain U.S. Citizenship, please visit our citizenship web page.

Civil Surgeon

A civil surgeon is a medically trained, licensed, and experienced doctor practicing in the U.S. who is certified by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). These medical professionals receive U.S. immigration-focused training in order to provide examinations as required by the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) and USCIS. For medical examinations given overseas, please see Panel Physician. IMPORTANT: medical examinations will not be recognized if they are given by a doctor in the U.S. who is not a Civil Surgeon. Please make sure that your appointment is with a Civil Surgeon or your results and documents will be invalid. For a list of civil surgeons who are authorized by the USCIS to perform medical exams, please click here.

Clear and Convincing Evidence Standard

Generally, clear and convincing evidence standard means that whoever is trying the case must be persuaded that the claim being made is highly probable. The clear and convincing evidence standard is less strict than an evidence standard that is beyond a reasonable doubt. The standard for clear and convincing evidence depends on the specific type of immigration case. The clear and convincing evidence standard often comes up in regards to immigration based on marriage. According to 8 C.F.R. § 245.1(c)(9)(v), “ certain visa petitions based upon marriages entered into during deportation, exclusion or related judicial proceedings may be approved only if the petitioner provides clear and convincing evidence that the marriage is bona fide.”

Code of Federal Regulations

Code of Federal Regulations (or CFR) is the official interpretation of laws passed by Congress. These interpretations are known as "regulations." Regulations are first published in a government publication called the Federal Register. After publication in the Federal Register, regulations can be found in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Most immigration regulations are in Title 8 CFR, Aliens and Nationality. To see the CFR online, please click here.

Common Law Marriage

In some states, a man and a woman can become legally married without a license or ceremony. This type of marriage is known as common law marriage. In order to have a valid common law marriage, the couple must live together for a significant period of time, intend to be married, and hold themselves accountable as husband and wife. However, a common law marriage will not be accepted for immigration purposes unless it is recognized as legal in the jurisdiction of residence or last residence. For more information about marriage and immigration, please click Marriage and Immigration.

Conditional Permanent Resident

A conditional permanent resident is also known as a conditional green card. It can be issued either based on marriage or investments (EB-5). If an alien is the spouse of a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident and the marriage occurred less than two years before the alien spouse is admitted as a U.S. permanent resident, or, if an investor acquires permanent residence through investment, the permanent residence status is conditional. The alien spouse and the investor are given conditional resident status on the day they are lawfully admitted to the United States on an immigrant visa or receive adjustment of status. They will stay in the U.S. as conditional permanent resident and must file a petition to remove their conditional status during the 90 days before their card expires. The conditional card cannot be renewed. The conditions must be removed or the resident will lose their permanent resident status.

Consular Processing

Consular processing is the process by which beneficiaries of an immigration petition (family based, employment based, or other category based) who are outside of the U.S., or choose consular processing for convenience reasons, apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate overseas. The process involves two different government entities: the National Visa Center and a Consular Office abroad under the Department of State. Consular processing will commence only when the underlying immigration petition is approved by the USCIS and visa numbers for the prospective immigrants are available. If the beneficiary is outside of the United States, they may then apply for an immigrant visa through the National Visa Center and at a U.S. Consular Office in their home country or country of permanent residence. If the beneficiary is in the U.S., he or she may choose to immigrate via consular processing abroad or through adjustment of status (AOS).  For more information on this topic, please visit our consular processing page.

Country of Birth

A country of birth is the country in which a person was born. The USCIS uses country of birth, except under rare circumstances, to determine visa “chargeability.” In other words, an alien’s country of birththe country an alien’s visa number will be counted toward. Demand for visas vary based on the country the alien is immigrating from. However, Hong Kong would be an exception to the general rule. For those aliens born in Hong Kong, visa chargeability goes to Hong Kong rather than China.

Country of Chargeability

Country of chargeability is also known as “foreign state of chargeability,” the independent country to which an immigrant entering under the preference system is accredited. No more than 7 percent of the family-sponsored and employment-based visas may be issued to natives of any one independent country in a fiscal year. No one dependency of any independent country may receive more than 2 percent of the family-sponsored and employment-based visas issued. Since these limits are based on visa issuance rather than entries into the United States and immigrant visas are valid for 6 months, there is not total correspondence between these two occurrences. Chargeability is usually determined by country of birth. Exceptions are made to prevent the separation of family members when the limitation for the country of birth has been met.

Country of Citizenship

The country in which a person is born (and has not renounced or lost citizenship) or naturalized and to which that person owes allegiance and by which he or she is entitled to be protected.

Country of Former Allegiance

The previous country of citizenship of a naturalized U.S. citizen or of a person who derived U.S. citizenship.

Country of Last Residence

The country in which an alien habitually resided prior to entering the United States. Except under certain circumstances, for the purpose of U.S. immigration, visas will be “charged” to an alien’s country of birth, not country of last residence. For more information see “Chargeability.”

Country of Nationality

The country of a person’s citizenship or country in which the person is deemed a national.

CPT (Curricular Practical Training)

Curricular practical training is an alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum that is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school. An F-1 student may be authorized by a Designated School Official (DSO) to participate in a curricular practical training program that is an integral part of an established curriculum. To grant authorization for a student to engage in CPT, a DSO at a Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVIS) school will update the student's record in SEVIS as being authorized for curricular practical training that is directly related to the student's major area of study. The DSO will indicate whether the training is full-time or part-time, the employer and location, and the employment start and end date. The DSO will then print a copy of the employment page of the SEVIS Form I-20 indicating that curricular practical training has been approved. The DSO must sign, date, and return the SEVIS Form I-20 to the student prior to the student's commencement of employment. For more information, please click Curricular Practical Training.


A crewman is a foreign national serving in a capacity required for normal operations and service on board a vessel or aircraft. For example, Crewmen are admitted for twenty-nine days, with no extensions. Two categories of crewmen are defined in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA): D1, departing from the United States with the vessel or aircraft on which they arrived or some other vessel or aircraft and D2, departing from Guam with the vessel on which they arrived.

Crime of Moral Turpitude

Under U.S. immigration law, an alien or a lawful permanent resident who was convicted of a crime of moral turpitude on which a sentence of one year or longer may be imposed is barred from admission into the United States. There is no exact definition of a crime of moral turpitude but it is often related to moral issues. They may include a broad range of crimes, including prostitution, theft, aggravated assault, sexual offenses, child abuse, aggravated driving while under the influence of drug or alcohol, illegal use of a credit card, stealing cellular air time, larceny, malicious trespass, willful tax evasion, possession of stolen mail, counterfeiting, and perjury.  Because of the broad implication of crimes of moral turpitude most crimes will fall under this category. Essentially, any act which is by itself considered morally reprehensible and intrinsically wrong or evil by its nature will render such an act a crime of moral turpitude even without statutory prohibition. For more information about crimes of moral turpitude and their impact on immigration, please click here.


CSC stands for the California Service Center. The USCIS Service Centers were established to handle the mail, file, data entry, and adjudication of most applications for immigration services and benefits. The CSC processes mostly working visa petitions such as I-129 (Petition for a Non-immigrant Worker), I-140 (Immigrant Petition for an Alien Worker) and Employment Authorization Documents (EADs). For information about the California Service Center please click here.

Customary Marriage

A marriage not performed according to legal proceedings of local civil authorities, but rather, according to local custom, is called a customary marriage. A customary marriage is valid for immigration purposes if the marriage is recognized by the civil authorities in the place where the marriage is performed. For more information about marriage and immigration, please visit our page on marriage and immigration.


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