Common Immigration Terms


The person applying for the visa or green card petition. Often the employer sponsors the visa or green card for the foreign national. At times, this person is also called the petitioner.


A completed packet that is sent to USCIS or the DOS for processing. It often includes government forms, supporting evidence and fee payments.


A compliance check performed by a government agency to ensure all regulations and laws are followed.

The DOL audited 30 percent of PERM applications in fiscal year 2014, according to the Office of Foreign Labor Certification.


The individual benefiting from the nonimmigrant or immigrant visa status if the application is approved.


A limit on the number of visa applications processed for a particular category. A cap applies to H-1B visas, which limits the number of new applications processed annually to 85,000. 

Cap-Gap Extension

An F-1 OPT status extension granted to student visa holders waiting for their H-1B transfer of status to begin. Due to the H-1B cap season, a status gap occurs when the student’s F-1 OPT status ends on or after April 1st and the H-1B start date has yet to take effect.

The OPT employment authorization extension is granted through September 30 of the calendar year the H-1B petition is being filed, but only if the employment start date in H-1B status will begin on October 1.

Change Of Status

A request filed with USCIS stating an individual would like to officially change the purpose of his or her visit to the United States. For example, foreign students on F-1 visas often transfer to H-1B statuses to gain work authorization.

Consular Processing

The procedure beneficiaries of an immigration petition, who are outside of the United States, use to apply for a visa at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy overseas.

Curricular Practical Training

A program that allows active students to accept paid alternative work/study or any other required internship or practicum that employers offer though cooperative agreements with the school.

Dependent Visa

A special visa classification offered to spouses and unmarried children 21 years old and younger to allow them to travel and stay in the United States with a work visa holder, such as the H-1B and its H-4 dependent status.
Dependents can often study while living in the United States; however, they are only allowed to work under select classifications.

Domestic Worker

An individual who performs casual domestic services for families and homes, such as housekeeping and child caring.

Duration Of Status (D/S)

A notation on certain nonimmigrant forms (e.g., I-94) indicating that the individual, such as an F-1 student visa holder, is authorized to remain in the United States as long as he or she maintains the status.


Describes whether or not an FN meets the necessary visa requirements, such as five years of work experience or a four-year bachelor’s degree.

Employer Sanctions

A series of civil fines or criminal penalties imposed on employers for violating regulations, such as hiring or recruiting FNs without the proper work authorization documentation.


A Web-based system that compares information from an employee’s Form I-9 to data from DHS and Social Security Administration records to confirm employment authorization.

Exchange Visitor

An FN admitted temporarily to the United States in J-1 Exchange Visitor status to teach, instruct, observe, lecture, study, consult, demonstrate skills or receive training.

Executive Capacity

Refers to the employee’s ability to make senior-level decisions without much oversight. This term is often used in L-1A Intracompany Transferee Executive or Manager eligibility requirements.

Extension Of Status

The act of renewing a visa category to extend the length of stay in the current status. For example, H-1B visas can be renewed for up to three years at a time.

Extraordinary Ability Or Achievement

A term describing an individual who has risen to the very top of the eld of endeavor and is known internationally or nationally for his or her achievements. For example: O-1 visa holders are expected to have extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics.

Foreign National (FN)

A person who is not a citizen of the host country in which he or she is temporarily residing. All nonimmigrant visa holders, such as L-1A or TN recipients, are FNs.

Government Fees

Costs associated with the visa applications that are paid to government agencies such as USCIS or the DOS.

Immigrant Status

A term used for individuals living in the United States permanently. The majority of work visa holders have nonimmigrant status, denoting the temporary nature of their stay in the United States, while green card holders have immigrant status.

Job Description

An accurate written explanation of the job duties and requirements to be performed by the FN. For example, during the PERM application process, employers are required to write a detailed job description, which the DOL uses to determine the prevailing wage.

Labor Certification

DOL certification required for U.S. employers seeking to recruit individuals for, among other things, professional, skilled or unskilled positions for which there are no qualified, authorized workers available in the United States. PERM recruitment is a step of the green card application process that tests the labor market to ensure there are no qualified U.S. citizens available to perform the job duties for which an employer is seeking to sponsor an FN for legal permanent residency.

Lawful Permanent Resident

Any person who is not a citizen of the United States but is residing in the United States under a legal permanent status — also called green card holder.


In order to impart a fair visa approval process, the act of government agencies, such as USCIS, randomly selecting visas to process when the number of visas led surpasses the approval allotment.

Managerial Capacity

Refers to the ability of the employee to supervise and direct the work of other employees and to manage the organization, department, subdivision, function or another component of the organization.

This term often applies to the L-1 or E-2 Treaty Visa.

Max-Out Date

The maximum amount of time an FN is allowed to stay in the United States under a specific visa category. Not all classifications have max-out dates, but others — such as L-1As — have specific time frames (six years).

NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement)

An act established in 1993 that created special economic and trade relationships between the United States, Canada and Mexico. As a result, nationals from Canada and Mexico have the ability to apply for a special TN nonimmigrant classification to travel and stay in the United States to engage in business activities at a professional level.

NAFTA Professions

Accountant, engineer, scientist, healthcare professional, architect, lawyer, teacher, economist, social worker, mathematician, psychologist, computer systems analyst, industrial designer and more.

A full list of NAFTA designated professions can be found at:

National Of The United States

A person who, though not a citizen of the United States, has permanent allegiance to the United States (e.g., people born in American Samoa or Swains Island).


The manner in which a person not born in the United States voluntarily becomes a U.S. citizen. The citizenship process includes a biometrics appointment, applicant interview, English and civics test and oath ceremony.


An FN who is admitted to the United States for a specific, temporary period of time. Nonimmigrant visa categories include: H, L, O, P, J, F and TN.

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

A work authorization program available to foreign students with an F-1 student visa status so they may obtain employment while studying in the United States.

Out Of Status

Applies to an FN residing in the United States without a valid or legal status.


Wages or other remuneration. This term is often used during the prevailing wage process as part of PERM labor certification.

PERM Labor Certification

A step of the green card application process that tests the labor market to ensure there are no qualified U.S. citizens available to perform the job duties for which an employer is seeking to sponsor an FN for legal permanent residency.


A term used to describe a visa application. For example, Form I-129 is the standard immigrant petition establishing that an employer wishes to sponsor an FN for a H-1B temporary work visa.


Refers to the foreign national who is being sponsored for work authorization by an employer.

Premium Processing

This is an expedited adjudication process for an additional fee requiring USCIS to take action within 15 calendar days of receiving a petition for certain visas or certain parts of the green card application process.

Prevailing Wage

The hourly wage or salary paid to the majority of workers within a particular area. This is used during the green card application’s PERM requirement or in other non-immigrant work authorization categories to establish a fair working wage that doesn’t undercut U.S. workers in a given industry.

Priority Date

The date a PERM application is filed with a government agency, or the date which an employer or relative files form I-140 on the FN’s behalf. This date is often used as a placeholder to signify how long an FN has to wait until his or her green card application is filed.

Processing Time

The time it takes a visa or green card to complete processing. Once accepted for processing, a work visa may take months; however, green cards can span years due to backlogs.


Describes the actions required during the PERM process that tests the labor market within a given area to determine there are no qualified U.S. workers available to perform the job duties.

It usually requires placing a job order on the DOL’s website, employer’s website and in a Sunday print publication and other outlets.


Rules issued by an executive authority, such as a government department or agency in the executive branch, to carry out the intent of the law.

Request For Evidence (RFE)

A notice sent by USCIS informing visa applicants that there wasn’t enough information provided or that they need more clarification in the application in order to make a determination. Employers and FNs must resend the requested information to USCIS in order for their visa to be approved. Failure to do so may result in a visa denial.

Specialized Knowledge

Specialized knowledge relates to an individual possessing an advanced level of knowledge or specialized skill relating to the company’s product, services, research, equipment, techniques or management. The individual must be one of few employees with the same level of advanced knowledge.

Specialty Occupation

An occupation which requires theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge in architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, medicine and health, education, business specialties, accounting, law, theology or the arts. It also requires the attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree in a specific specialty, or its equivalent, as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States.


The act of a company petitioning the U.S. government on behalf of an FN for the purpose of requesting a work visa or green card. The employer must prove it has an available job position and the FN recruit has the necessary qualifications. This term is also used to refer to nonimmigrant visas.

Start Date

The date an FN recruit can start employment in the United States as stated on the visa approval notice.


An acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. FN students in F-1 statuses may apply for OPT authorization under a special STEM major requirement. These students are granted 12 months of work authorization while studying, and may be eligible for an additional 24 months of OPT with certain employers. These students may transfer to an H-1B after graduation.


The act of switching visa classifications. Foreign students in F-1 statuses often transfer to H-1Bs during their last year of schooling. Also known as a change of status.

Validity Period

A time period for which the visa remains valid. For example, a B-1 visa has a validity period of up to 10 years, depending on the FN’s country of citizenship. However, the traveler on a B-1 visa may only be admitted in six month increments.

Visa Bulletin

A monthly update issued by the DOS highlighting application filing dates and final action dates for specific family and employment-based green card categories. Certain countries have long backlogs due to the amount of green card petitions received each year and per-country allotments.

For example, if the final action date is 01SEP07 it means USCIS is processing applications that were led on September 1, 2007 or before. If the FN’s priority date is prior to the ling date, it is possible to move forward with the next step in the green card process — an adjustment of status (I-485) application.

Visa Status

A term used to measure the current state of a U.S. visa application (e.g., whether it’s been received, accepted for processing, approved, denied or rejected).

Work Authorization

Legal permission to work inside the United States. Forexample, individuals granted work authorization are often given an employment authorization card or an H-1B visa.

Work Experience

Skills or knowledge obtained on the job that can be used to substitute years of study at an academic institution.

Three years of work experience is equivalent to one year of study.

Work Location

A building or worksite address where the job duties described in the visa application will be performed.