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Immigration Glossary



U Visas

A U visa is a nonimmigrant visa which is granted to victims of certain crimes and admits him/her to temporarily stay and work in the United States for up to 4 years. Unlike other nonimmigrant visa, families of the visa holder, including parents, can receive benefits as dependents. Form I-918 will be used for U visa petitions.

Unauthorized Employment

Aliens in the United States with certain statuses, under which they have no employment authorization, have to apply for working permission (EAD) before engaging in any employment. There are some nonimmigrant statuses (such as H-4) which do not allow an alien to work at all. Aliens in H-4 status are not allowed to obtain an EAD and will have to change status in order to legally work in the United States. Unauthorized employment may result in falling out of current status or inadmissibility to adjustment of status.

Unpaid Leave

Unpaid leave is a situation that used to come up a lot in relation to H-1B visas. “Benching” was a situation where an employ would force an alien to take unpaid leave when business slowed or there was no work for the H-1B alien to perform. Thus, an employee would maintain an alien in H-1B status but only pay him/her when it felt necessary. According to the Department of Labor, benching of H-1B employees is not allowed. If business is slowing down or the H-1B employees have no work to do, the employer must continue to pay the H-1B employee for his/her wages or terminate the employment. However, H-1B employees may take voluntary long unpaid leave without having their status affected. Such leave is not related to the benching issue. However, to maintain H-1B status, such unpaid leave must be due to family or medical reasons, which are specified in the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Unlawful Presence

Unlawful presence is a period of stay not authorized by the U.S. Attorney General. Usually it occurs when an alien enters without inspection, or when a lawfully admitted alien stays past the expiration date on his/her I-94 card without authorization by the U.S. Attorney General. Under U.S. immigration law, an alien who has illegally stayed in the U.S. for more than 180 days may be barred from reentering the U.S. for at least 3 years. An alien who has illegally stayed in the U.S. for more than a yearmay be barred from reentering the U.S. for 10 years. This bar is triggered by an alien leaving the United States. An alien may be “out of status” and not be accruing unlawful presence. Accruing unlawful presence means an alien is out of status, but being out of status does not mean that an alien is accruing unlawful presence (which only begins after the alien has remained in the U.S. past his/her duration of status as listed on the form I-94. Section 245(i) of the LIFE Act, however, lifts the three-year and ten-year bar for qualified aliens who apply 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 is filed for the benefit of the Alien on or before April 30, 2001. For more information about unlawful stay and 245(i) requirements, please click Requirements of 245(i)

U.S. Citizenship by Birth

A person is a U.S. citizen if born on U.S. soil, and a birth certificate is proof of citizenship. U.S. soil encompasses all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and outlying U.S. commonwealths.A person is also a U.S. citizen if born to U.S. parents abroad under certain circumstances.For more information about U.S. citizenship by birth, please click Citizenship by Birth


USCIS stands for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. It is the agency of the U.S. government principally responsible in matters dealing with aliens in the United States. This includes giving it jurisdiction over immigrant petitions and applications, such as EB-1. EB-2, NIW, and I-485 adjustment of status. Prior to March of 2003, the government agency in charge of immigration concerns was the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). For a brief period the USCIS was known as the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS). It is also sometimes simply called CIS. For purposes of this web site, we use the current accepted name of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or USCIS. For more information about USCIS, please see theofficial USCISwebsite

USCIS Local Offices

Some immigration benefit applications must be filed with one of the CIS local offices, e.g. a local District or Sub office in the applicant’s area. There are 86 LocalOffices in the United States. Each LocalOffice, headed by a Director, has a specified service area that may include part of a state or territory, an entire state, or many states. District Offices are where most immigration field personnel are located. LocalOffices are responsible for enforcing immigration laws in that jurisdiction. Certain applications are filed directly with Local Offices, many kinds of interviews are conducted at these Offices, and immigration personnelare available to answer questions, provide forms, etc.


V Visa

In order to address the severe backlogs on the availability of visas for families, the Legal Immigration Family Equity (LIFE) Act provides a new V visa to allow the spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents, who have been waiting more than 3 years for a Green Card, to enter the United States and be granted work authorization. Because these individuals are intending immigrants, there is no way for them to legally come to the United States, even for a short visit. By creating a new V visa, the law grants those immediate family members a legal status and work authorization in the United States. The V visa is a sunset visa category because only those whose immigration petition was filed for 3 years and  filed before December 21, 2000 may benefit from the V visa category .For details on the V visa and status, please click V Visa

Vermont Service Center (VSC)

The USCIS Service Centers were established to handle the mail, filing, data entry, and adjudication of most applications for immigration services and benefits. The VSC has jurisdiction over certain applications and petitions from people residing in the following states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland*, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.


A U.S. visa allows the bearer to apply for entry into the U.S. in a certain classification (e.g. student (F), visitor (B), temporary worker (H)). A visa does not grant the bearer the right to enter the United States. The Department of State (DOS) is responsible for visa adjudication at its U.S. embassies and consulates outside of the U.S. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Bureau of Custom and Border Protection (CBP) immigration inspectors determine admission into, length of stay, and conditions of stay in the U.S. at a port of entry. The information on a nonimmigrant visa only relates to when an individual may apply for entry into the U.S. DHS immigration inspectors will record the terms of your admission on your Arrival/Departure Record (I-94 white or I-94W green) and in your passport.

Visa Lottery

The visa lottery is also known as the Diversity Visa Lottery Program. By way of a random computerized lottery, the State Department annually makes a total of 50,000 immigrant visas available to aliens who come from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. Every year, the National Visa Center holds this lottery and chooses winners randomly from all qualified applicants. If an alien is selected from the random draw, s/he will have an opportunity to apply for permanent residence either through consular processing or adjustment of status. For details on the visa lottery, please see the Diversity Visa Lottery Program.

VisaScreen™ Certificate

A VisaScreen™ Certificate is a document that can be presented to a U.S. consular officer or, in the case of adjustment of status, the attorney general, as part of a visa application. The Visa Screen Certificate evidences that the holder has completed a required screening program for health care professionals, other than physicians, in order to qualify for certain occupational visas. Screening includes an assessment of the applicant's education to ensure it is comparable to a U.S. graduate in the same profession; verification that licenses are valid and unencumbered; English language proficiency; and, in the case of nurses, verification that the nurse has either earned a CGFNS Certificate or passed the NCLEX-RN® Examination. For more information about the VisaScreen™ certificate, please click Nurses Requirements.

Visa Waiver Program (VWP)

Under U.S. immigration law, travelers from certain countries are allowed to visit the U.S. for business or leisure for up to ninety days without a visa. The list of countries changes periodically. A VWP traveler is not allowed to extend her/his stay or change status in the U.S. For details on the Visa Waiver Program, please click Visa Waiver Pilot Program (VWPP).

Voluntary Departure

The departure of an alien from the United States without an order of removal. The departure may or may not have been preceded by a hearing before an immigration judge. An alien allowed to voluntarily depart concedes removability but does not have a bar to seeking admission at a port-of-entry at any time. Failure to depart within the time granted results in a fine and a three or ten-year bar on entry or re-entry into the United States.



Regarding certain visas or immigration processes, if the applicant or beneficiary can satisfy the USCIS with proper evidence that he/she meets specific qualifications, he/she might be granted exemption from certain pre/post-requirements of the visa or immigration benefit. For example, there is a J-1 2-year home country physical presence waiver, and an EB-2 under National Interest Waiver (of employer sponsorship and Labor Certification). Please refer to J-1 Waiver for more information about J-1 waivers, or NIW for more information about National Interest Waivers.


A writ is a formal order issued by a governmental administrative body or a court.

Writ of Mandamus

A Writ of Mandamus is a court order that mandates a lower court, government official, public body, corporation, or individual to fulfill their official duties or correct an abuse of discretion. Also called a “writ of mandate,” the writ of mandamus has rules that vary between jurisdictions, but it is generally most used when a party has no alternative forms of review. In an immigration process, a Writ of Mandamus is a technique that is adopted to push forward cases which are delayed by the USCIS. Please refer to WOM Pushes I-485 Approval to get detailed information about how a “Notice of Intention to File for a Writ of Mandamus and Declaratory Judgment” can be used to push forward a delayed case. More information on the writ of mandamus can be found here.


An arriving alien’s voluntary retraction of an application for admission to the United States in lieu of a removal hearing before an immigration judge or an expedited removal. Withdrawals are not included in nonimmigrant admission data.

Withholding of Removal

Withholding of Removal is a form of relief to prevent removal to a country where the alien has a clear probability to suffer persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Withholding of Removal is only for those who are placed in removal proceedings. If USCIS is not trying to deport you, exclude you, or otherwise remove you from the United States, Withholding of Removal is not an available remedy. For details of Withholding of Removal, please click Asylum and Withholding of Removal.

(Updated 10/2/2012 by A.G.)


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