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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.



E-1 Visa for Treaty Traders

The E-1 treaty trader visa is a nonimmigrant visa that grants permission to foreign nationals of treaty countries to enter the United States solely to run a company that is engaged in international trade between the United States and the foreign national’s home country.  Treaty countries are those with which the United States maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation or a bilateral agreement with the U.S.

E-2 Visa for Treaty Investors

The E-2 treaty investor visa is a nonimmigrant visa that grants permission to foreign nationals of treaty countries to enter the United States to run or work for a company which constitutes a substantial investment in the U.S. The company must be majority owned by foreign nationals from the treaty country.  Treaty countries are those with which the United States maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation or a bilateral agreement with the U.S. Managers and essential employees of the E-2 enterprise may also be eligible for E-2 visas, if they share the same nationality as the principal investor.

E-3 Visa for Certain Specialty Occupation Professionals from Australia

The E-3 visa is a nonimmigrant visa only applicable to Australian nationals who are specifically coming to the United States to work in a specialty occupation. E-3 visas are very similar to H-1b visas, except they are only available to Australian nationals. Minimum requirements include a bachelor’s degree (or comparable work experience) and a job offer that requires the specific degree (the “nexus” requirement”). Australians can apply for E-3s directly at U.S. consulates in Australia, rather than first applying with USCIS as is required for H-1b visas; however a certified labor condition (LCA) application from the Department of Labor is still required.

EB-1 (Employment-based Visa for Permanent Workers)

An EB-1 visa is an employment-based, first-preference and permanent work visa for individuals who fall under one of three occupational categories: Extraordinary ability; outstanding professors and researchers; and multinational executives or managers.

EB-2 (Employment-based Visa for Permanent Workers)

EB-2 is the second preference category for greencards. There are three different types of EB-2 petitions:

  • Professionals with an advanced degree (or its equivalent)
  • Foreign nationals with exceptional ability in the sciences, arts or business
  • Individuals furthering our national interests (a National Interest Waiver)

Petitioning for an EB-2 typically requires aliens to have a job offer as well as a labor certification issued by the Department of Labor (DOL), unless they are self-petitioning for a national interest waiver (NIW).

EB-3 (Employment-based Visa for Permanent Workers)

EB-3 is the third preference category for greencards. There are three different types of EB-3 petitions:

  • Skilled workers—Those whose jobs require at least 2 years of experience or training and are neither temporary nor seasonal.
  • Professionals—Members of a profession whose jobs require (and who also hold) either a U.S. bachelors degree or foreign degree equivalent. Such jobs must normally require this degree to get into the occupation.
  • Other workers—Those performing unskilled labor that requires fewer than 2 years of training or experience and whose jobs are neither temporary nor seasonal.

For all aforementioned categories, there must not be other qualified workers in the United States to perform such work. To meet this requirement, one must

Employment Immigration Law and Employment Based Greencards

Employment immigration law refers to the body of law that covers both temporary (nonimmigrant) and permanent (lawful permanent residency) immigration status based on employment, profession or work in the U.S. Most employment based greencard categories require a job offer and employer sponsorship during the immigration process, though some categories allow a foreign national to petition for a greencard without a job offer based on their extraordinary status (extraordinary ability and national interest waiver petitions).

Extraordinary Ability or Achievement

Extraordinary ability applies to both temporary and permanent workers. Extraordinary ability or achievement is a category associated with the nonimmigrant (temporary) O-1 visa applicable to two types of individuals: Those with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics and those who have demonstrated a record of extraordinary achievement in either film or TV and have also been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements. Extraordinary ability is also a greencard category contained within the most privileged EB-1 (employment based) category. EB-1 extraordinary ability greencard petitions can be filed with a job offer or as a self-petition as long as the foreign national assures USCIS that they intend to work in their area of extraordinary ability.


Family Immigration Law

Family immigration law refers to the body of immigration law that deals with sponsoring foreign national family members in order for them to immigrate to the U.S. Both U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) can petition to bring spouses and children to the U.S. U.S. citizens have the additional right to petition for their parents and siblings. In some cases, a U.S. citizen can petition for a family member to become a lawful permanent resident, even if that person already resides in the U.S. and is undocumented or fell out of proper immigration status. Several other types of immigration applications are also sometimes included in the general field of family immigration, such as DACA cases (deferred action for childhood arrivals), B-2 tourist visa applications (to come to the U.S. to visit family), I-601 and I-601A unlawful presence waivers (waivers required to complete the family immigration process when the foreign national has resided in the U.S. unlawfully), and other waivers for criminal convictions or fraud.


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.)


H-1B Portability

H-1b Portability allows an H-1b foreign national to transfer to a new H-1b employer upon the filing of a H-1b petition by the new employer. For more on this, visit our Immigration Law Tech Tip titled Changing H-1B Employers with H-1b Portability.

H-1B Visa

The H-1b visa is a nonimmigrant visa for foreign workers in specialty occupations as well as fashion models who are temporarily sponsored by a U.S. employer. Filing a petition for those who fall under the category H-1B Specialty Occupations and Fashion Models involves adhering to an H-1B deadline and visa cap.


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.





Multinational Managers and Executives

Multinational managers and executives is one of three occupational classifications contained within the EB-1 greencard category (employment-based, first preference). The other categories include persons of extraordinary ability and outstanding professors or researchers. The multinational manager and executive category is very similar to the L-1A nonimmigrant visa category. One notable difference is that specialized knowledge employees (L-1b nonimmigrant visa holders) are not included in this greencard category. To be eligible (and prior to petitioning), individuals must meet the following requirements regarding employment. They must:

  • Have been employed outside the U.S. during one of the three years preceding the petition (or since entering the U.S. as a nonimmigrant) by a foreign company that has a qualifying relationship (parent, subsidiary or affiliate) with the U.S. employer,
  • And have been employed in a managerial or executive role,
  • Will work for the U.S. entity as a manager or executive.


National Interest Waiver (NIW)

The national interest waiver is a employment based second preference (EB-2) green card category. To qualify, an applicant must show that:

  • They are conducting work that furthers our countries national interests and is in an area of substantial intrinsic merit;
  • The work is national (not merely regional) in scope;
  • You are substantially more capable of serving this national interest than the majority of your colleagues, and that you have a degree of influence on the field that distinguishes you from your colleagues.

One can self-petition for a national interest waiver, which means that no employer sponsorship is required. A NIW petition also waives the requirement for a labor certification, therefore, you do not have to first test the U.S. labor market (which is required for most other EB-2 and EB-3 categories.)

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.


O-1 Visa (for Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement)

An O-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa for individuals with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics. Also eligible to apply are those who have demonstrated a record of extraordinary achievement in either film or TV and have also been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements.

Outstanding Researchers and Professors

Outstanding Researchers and Professors is a employment based first preference greencard category (EB-1). While most commonly, outstanding researchers are employed by universities, they can also be employed by private companies that are committed to conducting novel research. The basic requirements for outstanding researchers and professors are:

  • International recognition for outstanding achievements in your field;
  • 3 years of teaching or research experience in your field;
  • For professors, have a tenured track job offer (unless working in private industry, which has its own unique requirements).






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