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Immigration law dictionary
Shaftel Law’s immigration dictionary of law terms and legal definitions covers information specific to the US immigration policy and beyond. While making sense of the how the US immigration system works might not be easy, a few other great resources include our Immigration FAQs section, blog and the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) site.

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Adjustment of Status (AOS)

Adjustment of Status (or Adjustment to Immigrant Status) is the process of applying for a green card within the United States. In other words, if you are an eligible individual already in the United States, you can apply to adjust your status from a nonimmigrant status (or even from no status) to permanent resident status (a green card) without having to return to your home country to complete visa processing. If applying for a green card from outside of the United States, see Immigrant Visa Processing.


Asylum status is a form of protection those who meet the definition of refugee and are already in the United States or are seeking admission at a port of entry. This differs from refugee status (scroll down to Refugee below) which refers to refugees not on U.S. soil. A refugee must be designated as such by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR). Once determined to be a refugee, the UNHCR will determine where to re-settle you throughout the world.



Change of Status (COS)

Change of Status refers to filing an application with USCIS to change from one immigration status to another.

Consular Process

Consular process refers to applying for a visa at a consulate. For more on this, visit our page on obtaining a visa at a U.S Consulate or Embassy.


A consulate is a U.S. department of state office located in a foreign country. Consulates are satellite offices of the U.S. embassy in each country, which is the main DOS office (the “HQ”) in each country.





Green Card

A green card is the identification document provided to lawful permanent residents (LPR) to prove their status. LPRs are required to have and keep on their person their green card; however, losing your green card or letting it expire does not mean that you have lost your permanent resident status. The green card is only proof of this status (unless you are a conditional permanent resident, in which case you may lose your status if your two-year green card expires.)



I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status Form

Form I-485 is the application used for the adjustment of status to that of a permanent resident of the United States.


In the immigration law world, immigrant has a very specific meaning; namely, a person who has or intends to become a lawful permanent resident and therefore has the intent to permanently reside in the United States. Consequently, immigrant, green card holder, and lawful permanent resident all mean exactly the same thing.

Immigrant Visa Processing (IVP)

Immigrant Visa Processing is the process of applying for a green card from outside of the United States (in contrast to Adjustment of Status, the process within the United States). The IVP process generally begins with the filing of a I-130 (petition for family member) or a I-140 (petition for worker). After the initial petition is approved, a number of documents are sent to the National Visa Center, the agency responsible for reviewing documents and setting up final immigrant visa interviews at U.S. Consulate and Embassies abroad. The final step is an interview at an U.S. consulate or embassy.






National Visa Center

The National Visa Center is a Department of State agency responsible for collecting and reviewing all documents necessary for Immigrant Visa Processing, and setting up immigrant visa interviews at U.S. consulates and embassies abroad. If you apply for an immigrant visa abroad, you must go through the National Visa Center to complete the precursor steps to your immigrant interview.






Refugees are those outside the U.S. (and generally outside their own country) who fear serious harm on account of one of the five protected grounds: race, religion, nationality, political opinion and social group. In facing risk of persecution, refugees are unable or unwilling to return home. If you meet the definition of a refugee and are of special humanitarian concern to the United States, you may apply for refugee status.



T visa

A T visa a non-immigrant (temporary) visa granted to past and present victims of human trafficking. With the aim to protect these victims, it allows them to remain in the United States to assist in an investigation or prosecution of human trafficking.


U visa

A U visa is a non-immigrant (temporary) visa granted to victims of certain designated crimes. Additionally, you must meet several other requirements related to the severity of the crime and your helpfulness to the investigation and prosecution of the crime.

U.S. Embassy

the main U.S. DOS office located in each country. We have Embassies in all countries that we have diplomatic relations with. Currently, we have 294 consulates and embassies worldwide