Demystifying the Top 5 Most Confusing Immigration Terms

What steps can you take to make your immigration process simpler and easier? Preparation, mock interviews, and careful documentation may come to mind. Another relatively easy way to help yourself is to get clarity on some of the most commonly misunderstood immigration concepts. This is, in fact, one of our central goals at Sintsirmas & Mueller Co. L.P.A. Our attorneys want to help you make sense of confusing terms so you can fully understand the process ahead of you.

The following is a list of the top 5 most complicated immigration terms, along with a few clarifying points. As always, please get in touch with us if you have additional questions or are ready to get started on your case.

1. Visa

This term may seem simple, but it is often used interchangeably with “green card” despite their critical differences.

A visa is the document you use to enter the United States. Therefore, you only need a visa when you are applying for a type of status or benefit from another country. The process you use to obtain a visa is called consular processing because you will apply through (and attend an interview at) a U.S. Consulate or Embassy.

A green card, on the other hand, is the document that signifies your lawful permanent residence. You will not receive your green card until you have successfully entered the U.S. with an immigrant visa—a CBP officer will make the final decision as to whether you can enter the U.S. as a permanent resident.

2. Petition

A petition refers to the initial application for a visa. Typically, a sponsor (e.g. a family member or U.S. employer) will file this petition on your behalf. There are different petitions depending on what type of visa you are seeking. In some cases, you may be able to self-petition, meaning you can file without a sponsor.

If your petition is approved, you can then file the actual application for the visa once it becomes available in your category (as the U.S. only distributes a certain number of visas in each category per year).

3. Nonimmigrant

A nonimmigrant is a person who obtains temporary status in the United States. There are many different nonimmigrant visas, each with a different purpose (e.g. business, investment, work, tourism, etc.). To obtain a nonimmigrant visa, you must prove that you have nonimmigrant intent, meaning you fully intend to return to your country of origin at the end of your stay in the United States.

The term “nonimmigrant” can be confusing because nonimmigrants still obtain visas and come to the United States. The difference between a nonimmigrant and an immigrant is that an immigrant moves permanently to the United States.

4. Dual Intent

Normally, a foreign citizen will need to demonstrate nonimmigrant intent in order to qualify for a nonimmigrant visa.

However, some nonimmigrant visas allow you to possess dual intent, meaning you intend to:

  • Visit the U.S. temporarily and return to your country at the end of your authorized stay; AND
  • Become a lawful permanent resident.

Dual intent can be confusing, of course, because these two intentions directly contradict one another. Essentially, a dual intent visa allows you to obtain temporary status in the U.S. even though your ultimate goal is to obtain a green card. Some examples of dual intent visas are H-1B visas, L visas, O visas, and K visas.

5. Adjustment of Status

If you are living in the U.S. lawfully (but not as a permanent resident), you may be able to change your status in some way. For example, you might be able to extend your status, which allows you to continue your authorized activity but for a longer amount of time. This is common with temporary work visas. You might also be able to change your status to a different nonimmigrant category, such as from a student visa to a work visa.

Adjustment of status, however, refers specifically to obtaining lawful permanent residence. You might be living in the U.S. temporarily on a nonimmigrant visa, or you might have obtained lawful status through a humanitarian program, such as asylum.

Adjustment of status only occurs if you are obtaining a green card after living in the U.S. under another type of status. If you obtain an immigrant visa through consular processing abroad, you will not need to adjust your status—you will automatically receive your green card once you successfully enter the United States.

Let Us Provide the Information You Need

Do you have more questions about immigration terms, processes, and procedures? Let Sintsirmas & Mueller Co. L.P.A. provide the personalized answers you need. We will be more than happy to sit down with you and help you understand your rights and options. The immigration system can be overwhelming, but our goal is to make this process as straightforward and efficient as possible.

Call (888) 491-8770 or contact us online to get started today. We look forward to helping you achieve your immigration goals.