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Immigration Glossary



S visas

S visasare granted to aliens who the Attorney General determines are in possession of critical and reliable information concerning criminal/terrorist organizations or enterprises. An alien must bewilling to supply such information to federal or state courts.Also, the alien’s presence in the U.S.must be deemed essential to the success of an authorized criminal investigation or prosecution of an individual involved in the criminal organization or enterprise in question (S-5 visa). Being a willing supplier of reliable and critical information on terrorist activity is another way to be considered for an S-visa.If the Secretary of State and the Attorney General jointly determine that an alien is in possession of critical reliable information concerning a terrorist organization, enterprise, or operation, willing to supply or has supplied such information to Federal law enforcement authorities or a Federal court and will/has been placed in danger as a result of providing such information, the alien will be eligible for an S-visa. To be considered for the terrorist-related S visa an alien must beeligible to receive rewards from the Department of State for providing such information (S-6 visa). There are 200 S-5 visas available each year and 50 S-6 visas available each year. Since the S visa is based on cooperation with a law enforcement agency or court, an alien may not self-petition for this visa. The law enforcement agency or court must petition for the alien to receive an S visa. For S visa holders, a law enforcement agency may submit an application for permanent residence (a green card) on behalf of a witness or informant when the individual has completed the terms and conditions of his or her S classification (I-854). After the I-854 is approved, the S visa holder can apply for adjustment of status.

Safe Haven

Temporary refuge given to migrants who have fled their countries of origin to seek protection or relief from persecution or other hardships, until they can return to their countries safely or, if necessary until they can obtain permanent relief from the conditions they fled. The concept of safe haven is related to Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in which citizens of certain foreign countries are allowed to stay the U.S. since their foreign countries are deemed temporarily unable (due to violence or turmoil) to receive them. Safe Haven differs from Asylum in that, while asylum is based on an individual’s circumstances of discrimination, safe haven is based on all potential citizens of a foreign country experiencing deprivation or turmoil. Safe Haven itself is temporary in nature, but it is possible to become a permanent residence due to discrimination related to the country-specific reasons for entering the United States. However, safe haven is not meant to be equivalent to asylum, and an alien usually returns to their country of origin after conditions therehave improved.

Security checks

A security check, or name check, is a required step for aliens who are adjusting status. Security checksare conducted by the FBI. Currently, there are no solid guidelinesregarding how long this process will take. Based on our cases, it ranges from 1 week to 1 year, or even longer. An inquiry into the security check process is appropriate when the applicant has not heard from the USCIS in a long time. Please see Writ of Mandamus or contact our experienced attorneys for advice involving security checks and processing delays.

Service Centers

Service Centers are the four offices established to handle the filing, data entry, and adjudication of certain applications for immigration services and benefits. Service centers are located in Vermont (VSC), Nebraska (NSC), Texas (TSC) and California (CSC). Many applications are mailed to USCIS Service Centers, and applications mailed to Lockboxes are then sent to and adjudicated at Service Centers. Service Centers are not staffed to receive walk-in applications or questions. Please see our “USCIS Offices” and “Processing Times” pages for more information on the filing of USCIS forms and how long each service center usually takes to adjudicate them.

SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System)

The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is a database used to collect, track and monitor information of aliens who come to the United States mainly for student purposes, by the US Department of Homeland Security. Aliens in the United States with F, M or J visas have their information entered into the SEVIS database. Any school or program that hosts international students or scholars is required to use the SEVIS program to enter the information of such aliens in F, M, and J status. Before an alien canapply for a F-1, M-1 or J-1 visawith an I-20 or DS-2019 at a US consulate abroad, it is required that he/she pay the SEVIS fee first and include the receipt as part of their visa application documents.


Siblings are one’s brothers and sisters. See also “brothers and sisters.” A U.S. citizen who is at least 21 years old can file a green card petition for his/her siblings through Family-based immigration 4th preference. However, the waiting period for an available immigration visa can be more than 10 years. When filing a family-based immigration petition I-130 for an adopted child, a sibling of an adopted child is also considered a child for immigration purposes if the below requirements are met:

    • the same adoptive parent(s) also adopt the sibling while he/she is under age 18;
    • the original adopted child was adopted while under the age of 16;
    • the sibling has been in the custody of, and has resided with, the adoptive parent(s) for at least two years.

For more details about adoption issue, please refer to The qualified child

Skilled Workers

Skilled workers fall under the EB-3 preference category immigrant petitions. Under 8 C.F.R. §204.5(l)(2), for employment-based immigration purposes, a skilled worker “means an alien who is capable, at the time of petitioning for immigrant classification, of performing skilled labor (requiring at least two years training or experience), in employment not of a temporary or seasonal nature, for which qualified workers are not available in the United States. Relevant post-secondary education may be considered as training for the purposes of this provision.” The employer of the skilled worker can file a green card petition for him/her through Employment-Based Immigration 3rd preference (EB-3). Before the immigration petition, an approved PERM Labor Certification is required. For more information about the PERM Labor Certification application, please refer to Services that Z&A Provide for Labor Certification.

Social Security

Social Security is a U.S. federal social insurance program which is funded through payroll taxes. These payroll taxes will entrust into different funds in the Social Security program. After certain qualifications are met, such as reaching a certain age, retirement, disability, etc., the social security benefits will be paid on a regular basis. A worker must have paid payroll taxes prior to taking advantage of Social Security benefits. To be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits a worker must have been employed and paying payroll taxes for at least 10 years and be at least 62 years old. Social Security benefits are available to legal permanent residents (green card holders).

Special Handling

Special Handling cases are employer sponsored labor certification (LC) applications and are limited to teaching positions at qualified institutions of higher education. The main benefits of Special Handling cases are that the recruitment standards are much easier to comply with and the processing time is much shorter than regular LC cases. Special Handling allows universities and colleges to recruit for teaching positions as they traditionally do: with nationwide, competitive recruitment campaigns. This ensures that the best applicant for a teaching position receives the job offer, not just one who meets the minimum qualifications. If an alien is recruited for a teaching position through Special Handling and he/she is more qualified than all other applicants, then the Labor Certification can be approved regardless of there being minimally qualified U.S. applicants. For details of special handling petitions, please click Special Handling for University and College Teachers.

Special Naturalization Provisions

Special NaturalizationProvisions cover special classes of persons whom may be naturalized even though they do not meet all the general requirements for naturalization. Such special provisions allow: 1) wives or husbands of U.S. citizens to file for naturalization after three years of lawful permanent residence instead of the prescribed five years; 2) a surviving spouse of a U.S. citizen who served in the armed forces to file his or her naturalization application in any district instead of where he/she resides; and 3) children of U.S. citizen parents to be naturalized without meeting certain requirements or taking the oath, if too young to understand the meaning. Other classes of persons who may qualify for special consideration are former U.S. citizens, servicemen, seamen, and employees of organizations promoting U.S. interests abroad.

Specialty occupations

The H-1B visa is a nonimmigrant visa that is granted to aliens who are employed and work in specialty occupations in the US. Specialty occupations refer to those occupations requiring theoretical and practical application of a body of specialized knowledge. Examples of specialty occupations include: engineers, nurses, professors, researchers, and computer programmers. Positions that are normally considered professional positions would most likely qualify as a specialty occupation.For more information about H-1B visas please refer to H-1B Visa Requirements


For immigration purposes, a sponsor often means the individual or entity which brings the alien to the US or petitions for the alien. For example, a qualified relative of an alien in Family-based Immigration is the sponsor. The employer who fills out and submits the USCIS form I-140 for an alien’simmigrant or nonimmigrant petition is the sponsor. In certain contexts sponsors can also refer to the people who submit affidavits of support in a family-based immigration case.


In most cases, the spouse of a principal visa/immigration beneficiary can receive dependent/derivative benefits based on the application/petition for the principal beneficiary. Specifically, for nonimmigrant visas, a spouse can apply for F-2, M-2, L-2, H-4 etc. as the dependent of the principal visa holder. For immigration petitions, a spouse can receive derivative immigration benefits to adjust status together with the principal beneficiary, or after the approval of the adjustment of status of the principal beneficiary based on “following to join.” To enjoy the expedited benefits of being a derivative and accompanying or following a principal to the United States, the spouses must have been married before the issuance of the immigrant visa/status. If the spouses are not married at the time that the principal alien adjusts status/consular processes then a spouse may be eligible for a green card through the Family-based, second preference category (F-2A) which has around a two-year backlog for visa availability. For more information about “following to join”, please refer to General Information on Following-to-Join


When an alien holding a valid U.S. visa arrives at a U.S. port, the alien will be inspected by the USCIS. If entry is permitted, USCIS will authorize the alien’s stay in the U.S. by giving either immigrant or a nonimmigrant status, depending on the alien’s visa category. Usually USCIS will issue I-94 cards to nonimmigrant aliens, and will place a permanent residency stamp in immigrant aliens’ passports. A visa is permission to travel to the United States and seek admission, once legally admitted to the United States an alien has immigrant/nonimmigrant status. It is possible to change status inside of the United States as well. For instance, an F-1 status holder may change status to become an H-1B status holder. Status determines length of legal stay and restrictions (especially related to employment) placed on an alien while in the United States.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) student

Regarding the post-graduate OPT (Optional Practice Training) applicable to F-1 students, STEM student refers to those students who major/dual-major in science, technology, engineering or math. Having only a minor in a STEM area does not qualify one as a STEM student for OPT purposes. Compared to other F-1 students who can receive a maximum working permission of 12 months, the STEM student can receive another 17 months by application.Thus, an alien STEM student can extend time permitted forwork up to 29 months in total if his/her employer enrolled in the E-Verify program and agrees to report the student’s departure within 48 hours. Another difference is that while unemployment during the OPT can be accrued, it must be no more than 90 days for other students, but no more than 120 days for STEM students.

Summary judgment

Summary judgment is a judgment issued based on applying the law to the fact at hand without a trial. It can be requested by motion for summary judgment by either or both parties. If the court is satisfied that there is no dispute of material facts in the case and if in applying the law to those facts, one party is clearly entitled to judgment, then the summary judgment can be issued by the court. Currently, summary judgment is only applicable to civil cases, but is not applicable to criminal cases.


It means an alien coming to the United States surreptitiously on an airplane or vessel without legal status of admission. Such an alien is subject to denial of formal admission and return to the point of embarkation by the transportation carrier.


Sub offices (also known as local offices, or field offices) are found in some Districts that serve a portion of the District's jurisdiction. A Suboffice, headed by an Officer-in-Charge, provides many services and enforcement functions. Their locations are determined, in part, to increase convenience to USCIScustomers.

Subject to the Numerical Limit

Categories of legal immigrants subject to annual limits under the provisions of the flexible numerical limit of 675,000 set by the Immigration Act of 1990. The largest categories are: family-sponsored preferences (~226,000); employment-based preferences (~145,000); and diversity immigrants(50,000).

Substantial Intrinsic Merit

Substantial intrinsic merit is one requirement of EB-2 employment-based immigration for National Interest Waiver (NIW) petitions.In order to be eligible for an NIW petition, the alien must be able to demonstrate that, among other things, he is seeking work in an area of substantial intrinsic merit to the US. Substantial intrinsic merit is one of the hardest criteria to prove for an NIW case. A project may be national in scope (interstate highway construction and maintenance) and in itself may have intrinsic national merit without an alien qualifying for an NIW. The alien must show that he/she is a crucial element of any employment that will have intrinsic national merit. For details of NIW petitions, please click NIWand NIW Requirements.


T visas

A T visa is granted to those aliens who are or have been victims of human trafficking and are willing to assist U.S. law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of those responsible for human trafficking.

Targeted Employment Area (TEA)

The Targeted Employment Area, or TEA, is (1) a rural area which is any area outside a metropolitan statistical area (as decided by the Office of Management and Budget) or outside the boundary of any city or town having a population of 20,000 or more according to the decennial census; or (2) an area experiencing unemployment of at least 150% of the national average unemployment rate. Regarding the EB-5 immigrant investor category, the investment threshold for an investment in the Targeted Employment Area is no less than $500,000, compared to no less than $1,000,000 in other areas.  EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program Visa

Tax Returns

A tax return is the tax form which is filed with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to declare liability for taxation in the United States. In certain immigration processes, signed former tax returns or even more formally, the tax transcripts issued by the IRS, if applicable, will be required to be submitted with supporting documents.

Temporary Protected Status (TPS)

TPS establishes a legislative basis for allowing a group of persons temporary refuge in the United States. Under a provision of the Immigration Act of 1990, the Attorney General may designate nationals of a foreign state to be eligible for TPS with a finding that conditions in that country pose a danger to personal safety due to ongoing armed conflict or an environmental disaster. Grants of TPS are initially made for periods of 6 to 18 months and may be extended depending on the situation. Removal proceedings are suspended against aliens while they are in Temporary Protected Status.

Temporary Worker

A temporary worker is an alien coming to the United States to work for a temporary period of time. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and the Immigration Act of 1990, as well as other legislation, revised existing classes and created new classes of nonimmigrant admission. Nonimmigrant temporary worker classes of admission are as follows:

  1. H-1A - registered nurses, valid from 10/1/1990 through 9/30/1995;
  2. H-1B - workers with "specialty occupations" admitted on the basis of professional education, skills, and/or equivalent experience;
  3. H-1C - registered nurses going to work in areas with a shortage of health professionals under the Nursing Relief for Disadvantaged Areas Act of 1999. This classification expired as of December 20, 2009;
  4. H-2A - temporary agricultural workers coming to the United States to perform agricultural services or labor of a temporary or seasonal nature when authorized workers are unavailable in the United States;
  5. H-2B - temporary non-agricultural workers coming to the United States to perform temporary services or labor if unemployed persons capable of performing the service or labor cannot be found in the United States;
  6. H-3 - aliens coming temporarily to the United States as trainees, other than to receive graduate medical education or training, or as special education exchange visitors to participate in a training program for children with disabilities;
  7. O-1, O-2, O-3 - temporary workers with extraordinary ability or achievement in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics; those entering solely for the purpose of accompanying and assisting such workers; and their spouses and children;
  8. P-1, P-2, P-3, P-4 - athletes and entertainers at an internationally recognized level of performance; artists and entertainers under a reciprocal exchange program; artists and entertainers under a program that is "culturally unique"; and their spouses and children;
  9. Q-1, Q-2, Q-3 - participants in international cultural exchange programs; participants in the Irish Peace Process Cultural and Training Program; and spouses and children of Irish Peace Process participants;
  10. R-1, R-2 - temporary workers to perform work in religious occupations and their spouses and children.

See other sections of this Glossary for definitions of Exchange Visitor, Intracompany Transferee, and U.S.-Canada or North American Free-Trade Agreement classes of nonimmigrant admission.

Ten-Year Bar

Under U.S. immigration law, an alien who has illegally stayed in the U.S. for more than 360 days would be barred from reentering the U.S. for 10 years. Section 245(i) of the LIFE Act, however, lifted the ten-year bar for qualified aliens who applied for adjustment of status and were physically present in the United States on or before December 21, 2000, and whose immigration petition or a labor certificate application for the benefit of the alien was filed on or before April 30, 2001. The I-601 Waiver can be used to lift the Ten-Year Bar if the applicant is able to prove that their absence from the U.S. would cause a U.S. citizen extreme and undue hardship. For more information about the ten-year bar, 245(i) requirements, and the 601 Waiver, please click Requirements of 245(i), 601 Waiver

Third Country Visa

A Third Country Visa refers to a visa application or visa obtained from a U.S. Consulate in a country other than the alien’s home country. Usually the U.S. Consulate is located in Canada or Mexico. For more information about third country visas, please click Third-Country Visa: Frequently Asked Questions.

Three-Year Bar

Under U.S. immigration law, an alien who has illegally stayed in the U.S. for more than 180 days would be barred from reentering the U.S. for at least 3 years. Section 245(i) of the LIFE Act, however, lifted the three-year bar for qualified aliens who applied for adjustment of status and were physically present in the United States on or before December 21, 2000, and whose immigration petition or a labor certificate application was filed on the alien’s behalf on or before April 30, 2001. The I-601 Waiver can be used to lift the Ten-Year Bar if the applicant is able to prove that their absence from the U.S. would cause a U.S. citizen extreme and undue hardship. For more information about the three-year bar,245(i) requirements, and the 601 Waiver, please click Requirements of 245(i), 601 Waiver

Timely Filing

An extension of status or change of status application must be filed within the period during which the alien is in an authorized nonimmigrant status, i.e., within an authorized period of admission. The failure to file timely may be excused by USCIS if the failure was due to “extraordinary circumstances” beyond the applicant’s control, the delay was commensurate with the circumstances, and if the applicant is a bona fide nonimmigrant not in removal proceedings and has not otherwise violated his or her nonimmigrant status. For more information about extension of or change to F status, please click F-1 Visa and Status. For more information about extension of or change to H status, please click H-1B Visa.


The TN category is a special visa category created under NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) for qualifying professionals who are nationals of Canada or Mexico. Aliens qualified to enter the U.S. under this category may work for a company located in the U.S. for a temporary period. Moreover, they may also work for a Canadian or Mexican company in the U.S. when those companies are engaged in projects with U.S.-based companies. The initial time limit for a TN professional to work in the U.S. is three years with possible extensions of stay for another three years. For more information on the TN visa and status, please visit our TN web page.

Transportation Letter:

A Transportation Letter can be issued by U.S. embassies and consulates for lawful permanent residents (Green Card holders) whose green cards are either lost or expired when they are overseas. It can also be issued for a child who is born overseas to an LPR mother. A transportation Letter can get the holders on a plane flying back to the U.S. without a Green Card or immigrant visa.

Treaty Trader or Investor

An alien coming to the United States, under the provisions of a treaty of commerce and navigation between the United States and the alien’s foreign state, to carry out substantial trade or to direct the operations of an enterprise in which he/she has invested a substantial amount of capital, qualifies. This class of admission can include the alien's spouse and unmarried minor children.


TSC stands for the Texas Service Center. The USCIS Service Centers were established to handle the mail, filing, data entry, and adjudication of most applications for immigration services and benefits. The TSC has jurisdiction over certain applications and petitions from individuals residing in the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas.

Two-Year Residence Requirement for J-1

Certain classes of J-1 "Exchange Visitors" require that the alien return to his/her home country or country of last permanent residency for a period of two (2) years after the completion of their J-1 status. Until this two-year foreign residency requirement has been fulfilled or waived, the alien will not be eligible for H or L status and cannot adjust to permanent resident status. For more information, please see our articles on the  Foreign Residency Requirement, J-1 Visa, J-1 Waiver.



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