A Number

An eight digit number (or nine digit, if the first number is a zero) beginning with the letter “A” that the DHS gives to some non-citizens.

Adjustment of status

The process of applying for legal permanent residence from within the United States as opposed to applying from abroad which is called “consular processing”.


The decision of the DHS to allow a non-citizen at the United States border or international airport or seaport to enter the United States.


A non-citizen who may enter the U.S. because s/he is not excludable for any reason or has a waiver of excludability.

Aggravated Felon

One convicted of numerous crimes set forth at INA § 101(a)(43). An aggravated felony includes many crimes, but the most common are: (1) drug trafficking–any crime involving distribution, importation or sale of drugs, no matter the amount or the sentence; (2) the crime of theft, robbery or burglary with one year sentence whether imposed or suspended; and (3) the crime of violence with a one year sentence whether imposed or suspended.


Someone physically present in the U.S. who is not a U.S. citizen. Among others, the term includes: temporary visitors, legal permanent residents, and undocumented individuals. Many advocates feel this term has a negative connotation.

Alien Registration Receipt Card

The technical name for a “green card,” which identifies an immigrant as having permanent resident status.

Aliens Previously Removed

Ground of inadmissibility, for persons previously removed for anywhere from five years to twenty years depending on prior circumstances.


An individual who has won a claim for asylum. Asylees are eligible to work in the United States and may be able to travel internationally. One year after winning asylum, an asylee may apply for legal permanent residence.


A form of relief for which nationals of other countries can apply if they have suffered persecution in their home countries or if they have a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of certain protected characteristics. Persecution on account of sexual orientation, transgender identity and HIV-positive status have been found to be grounds for asylum.

Asylum Office/Asylum Officer

This is the first level at which applications for asylum are heard. The asylum officer conducts an asylum interview and either recommends approval, issues a notice of intent to deny, or places the applicant in removal proceedings. If an applicant wins at this stage, he or she never has to go to Immigration Court.

Authorized stay

The amount of time an Immigration official allows a foreign national to remain in the U.S. The date is stamped on the foreign national’s I-94. This is the date by which the foreign national must leave the U.S. or he or she will begin to accumulate unlawful presence here.

B1/B2 visa

The most common type of non-immigrant (temporary) visa to the United States. It is meant to be used for short term tourism or business (but not for working.) To qualify for this visa, an applicant must overcome a presumption of “immigrant intent” meaning that he or she must prove to the U.S. Consulate that he or she intends to return to his or her country after completing the tourism or business visit.


In most applications for permanent, immigrant visas (family-based and employment based), the visa applicant is actually the family member or employer, not the foreign national. Instead, the foreign national is the beneficiary of the application. It is important to be aware that receiving immigration status in the United States is considered a benefit, not a right.

Board of Immigration Appeals or BIA

BIA is the administrative body that hears appeals from decisions of Immigration Judges in Immigration Court. While an appeal before the BIA is pending, the foreign national is permitted to remain in the U.S. even if he or she was ordered removed by the Immigration Court.


A sum of money which a detained foreign national posts with DHS in order to be permitted to be free from detention while his or her removal proceeding is pending.

Cancellation of Removal

Discretionary remedy for an LPR who has been a permanent resident for at least five years and has resided continuously in the United States for at least seven years after having been admitted in any status and has not been convicted of an aggravated felony, or anyone physically present in the United States for a continuous period of not less than ten years immediately preceding the date of such application, who has been a person of good moral character during such period, has not been convicted of certain offenses and who establishes that removal would result in extreme hardship to the U.S. citizen or LPR spouse, parent, or child.

Change of status

The process by which a foreign national applies to change from one non-immigrant status (such as tourist) to another non-immigrant status (such as student.)


The term “child” means an unmarried person under twenty-one years of age who is: (1) a legitimated child; (2) a stepchild; (3) a child legitimated under the law of the child’s residence or domicile, or under the law of the father’s residence or domicile; (4) an illegitimate child; (5) a child adopted while under the age of sixteen; and (6) a child who is an orphan. There is a significant amount of case law interpreting these categories.

Citizen/U.S. Citizen

A person holds U.S. citizenship if she or he was born in the United States, Guam, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands regardless of the immigration status here of her or his parents. A non-citizen who becomes a lawful permanent resident may acquire citizenship through a legal process called naturalization. Children born to U.S. citizens abroad may also be U.S. citizens. Legal permanent resident children may obtain citizenship if their parents naturalize while they are minors. Citizens, even naturalized citizens, cannot be deported unless they committed fraud during the naturalization process.

Citizenship and Immigration Services or CIS

This is the “service” division of the newly created Department of Homeland Security. CIS handles applications for visas, legal permanent residence, employment authorization, and naturalization. Its website is very useful.

Conditional Permanent Resident Status

A person who received lawful permanent residency based on a marriage to a U.S. citizen who was less than two years old at the time. Conditional residents must file a second petition with the U.S. within two years of receiving their conditional resident status in order to retain their U.S. residency.

Consular Processing

The process by which a person outside the United States obtains an immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate in order to travel to the U.S. and enter as a lawful permanent resident.

Convention against Torture relief, or CAT

Allows foreign nationals to remain in the U.S. indefinitely if they can prove that they would be likely to face torture by their government if returned to their home country.


Formal judgment of guilt entered by a court or, if adjudication of guilt was withheld, if a judge or jury has found the person guilty or the person has entered a plea of guilty or nolo contendere and has admitted sufficient facts to warrant a finding of guilt and the judge has ordered some form of punishment, penalty or restraint.

Court of Appeals

Federal appeals court which has the authority to review decisions by the BIA.

Credible Fear Interview

An interview which takes place if an alien who arrives in the United States with false documents or no documents, and is therefore subject to expedited removal, expresses a fear of persecution or a desire for asylum. The purpose of the interview is to determine if the alien can show that there is a significant possibility that she can satisfy the qualifications for asylum.

Customs and Border Protection or CBP

The division of the Department of Homeland Security which patrols the U.S. borders.

Deferred Action

A minimal humanitarian status which The Department of Homeland Security can grant in cases of extremely compelling humanitarian facts (such as a life-threatening illness). The status permits an individual to remain in the United States for a limited period of time (generally two years) after which point he or she must re-apply.

Department of Homeland Security or DHS

A Department, newly created in 2003 primarily to deal with the threat of terrorism. Most of the functions of the former INS were reorganized within CBP, CIS, and ICE within DHS.

Department of Justice or DOJ

Headed by the Attorney General, this Department oversees the BIA and Immigration Courts.

Department of State or DOS

A Department which runs consular offices abroad, which make decisions about non-immigrant visas and immigrant visas which are processed through U.S. consulates. DOS also administers the annual Diversity Visa Lottery.


Being subject to ejection from the U.S. for violating an immigration law, such as entering without inspection, overstaying a temporary visa, or being convicted of certain crimes.


Removal, formerly called deportation, is a legal proceeding through which immigration officials seek to remove a foreign national from the United States for violating an immigration law or other U.S. law. These proceedings generally take place in Immigration Court before an Immigration Judge. A non-citizen cannot be deported without a hearing, unless he has been convicted of certain crimes, and is not an LPR.


The process by which the U.S. government holds foreign nationals in Immigration facilities, prisons, or jails while their removal proceedings are pending. Asylum seekers who enter the U.S. without documentation may be detained at an DHS detention facility until they pass a credible fear interview or until the completion of their asylum hearing.

Duration of Status or D/S

Indication on I-94 for certain types of non-immigrants including students and certain individuals with work visas. This means that the foreign national can legally remain in the U.S. as long as she or he maintains the status (such as student or worker) which authorized the visa issuance.

Employment authorization document or EAD

EAD is the card issued by the Citizenship and Immigration Services which permits a foreign national to work legally in the U.S. EADs are a benefit which accompany another status, such as a work visa, or a pending asylum or “green card” application, they cannot be applied for without some underlying immigration status.


Being physically present in the U.S. after inspection by the DHS or after entering without inspection.

Entry Without Inspection (EWI)

Entering the Untied States without being inspected by the DHS, such as a person who crosses the border between the U.S. and Mexico or Canada. This is a violation of the immigration laws.


Being inadmissible to the U.S. for violating an immigration law, such as for not possessing a valid passport or visa, or for having HIV, or for having been convicted of certain crimes.


The ejection of a non-citizen who has never gained legal admission to the U.S. (however, the person may have been physically present in the U.S.). Exclusion cannot happen without a hearing unless the non-citizen waives the right, and prevents reentry for one year unless the DHS grants an exception.

Executive Office of Immigration Review or EOIR

EIOR is the department which oversees Immigration Judges in Immigration Court. This is a part of the Department of Justice.

Expedited Removal

An abbreviated removal procedure applied to aliens who arrive in the United States with false documents or no documents.

Green Card

This is the informal term for “an alien registration card” or Form I-551. It is proof that its holder has legal permanent resident status.

HIV exclusion (Ban ended January 2010)

In general, foreign nationals who are HIV-positive are forbidden to visit or immigrate to the United States unless they are eligible for certain narrow categories of waiver for this harsh rule. (Ban ended January of 2010.)


The small white card placed in the passport of foreign nationals when they visit the U.S. The card indicates how long the foreign national is authorized to stay in the U.S., either with a specific date by which the foreign national is supposed to leave, or with a notation such as D/S (duration of status) which means the person is permitted to remain in the U.S. as long as he or she maintains her status (such as student status.)


Immigration Judge

Illegal Alien

See “Undocumented”.

Immediate Relative

For U.S. immigration purposes, immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are defined only as opposite sex spouses, minor children, and parents of adult children. U.S. citizens can sponsor foreign nationals who are immediate relatives without having to wait for a visa to become available.


This is a technical legal term which means a foreign national who has been granted permission to remain in the United States permanently, that is a “legal permanent resident” or “green card holder” and as such is distinguished from a “non-immigrant” who comes to the United States on a temporary visa. The term “immigrant” is often used more broadly to mean any person who is not a U.S. citizen.

Immigrant Visa

A document required by the INA and required and properly issued by a consular office outside of the United States to an eligible immigrant under the provisions of the INA. An immigrant visa has six months validity.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE

This is the enforcement branch of the Department of Homeland Security. This is the branch of DHS which includes deportation officers and trial attorneys in Immigration Court.

Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)

The immigration law that Congress originally enacted in 1952 and has modified repeatedly. This is the source for most law that governs immigration to the United States.

Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)

Former branch of the United States Department of Justice charged with enforcing the immigration laws. On March 1, 2003, the INS ceased to exist. Responsibility for immigration policy and immigration functions are now shared between the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. Agencies within DHS include: Border and Customs Patrol (BCP), Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Many forms issued by CIS and ICE still bear the logo of the now defunct INS.

Immigration Court

The administrative court which hears removal and deportation proceedings. Immigration Judges have the authority to grant foreign nationals legal status in the United States as well as the authority to order them removed (deported.) Appeals from the Immigration Court are heard by the Board of Immigration Appeals.

Immigration Judge

Presides over removal proceedings.


The DHS process of inspecting a person’s travel documents at the U.S. border or international airport or seaport.

Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR)

A person who has received a “green card” and whom the DHS has decided may live permanently in the U.S. LPRs eventually may become citizens, but if they do not, they could be deported from the U.S. for certain activities, such as drug convictions and certain other crimes.


A person born in a specific country.


A person owing permanent allegiance to a particular country.


The process by which a foreign national applies for and obtains U.S. citizenship. Only legal permanent residents may apply to naturalize, and generally only after they have held their “green card” for five years (spouses of U.S. citizens may apply earlier.)

Non-immigrant visa

A temporary visa, such as a tourist, student, or skilled worker visa. Its purpose is to allow a foreign national to come to the United States for a limited period of time and for a specific purpose, not to remain in the United States permanently. Many non-immigrant visas require applicants to prove that they do not intend to remain in the U.S. permanently by demonstrating strong economic and family ties to their home country.

Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA)

Legislation passed by Congress in 1997 to restore the opportunity for certain individuals present in the U.S. to adjust to permanent resident status. The legislation covers Cubans and Nicaraguans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans, and certain East Europeans of Former Soviet Bloc Countries. Under the legislation, different requirements apply to each group.


Any person who is not a citizen of the U.S., whether legal or undocumented. Referred to in the INA as an “alien.”


A person who plans to be in the U.S. only temporarily, such as a person with a tourist or student visa. A nonimmigrant will ordinarily have a visa stamp in his/her passport, and an I-94 card which states how long the person can stay in the U.S.

Nonimmigrant Visa

A document issued by a consular officer signifying that the officer believes that the alien is eligible to apply for admission to the US for specific limited purposes and does not intend to remain permanently in the US. Nonimmigrant visas are temporary.

Notice to Appear

Document issued to commence removal proceedings, effective April 1, 1997.

Order to Show Cause

Document issued to commence deportation proceedings prior to April 1, 1997.


To fail to leave the U.S. by the time permitted by the DHS on the nonimmigrant visa (as ordinarily indicated on the I-94 card), or to fail to arrange other legal status by that time.

Out of status

See “undocumented.”


This term has many different meanings under immigration law. It can refer to individuals who are permitted to enter the United States for a limited purpose, such as applying for asylum or to be placed in removal proceedings. It can also refer to the status that individuals who have been released from detention have.


A U.S. citizen or LPR who files a visa petition with the DHS so that her family member may immigrate.

Priority Registration Date (PRD)

Everyone who files an I-130 Petition For Alien Relative receives a priority registration date. Once a person’s PRD becomes current, he/she can apply for LPR status. This may often take a long time, until a visa number becomes available.


For refugee status, an applicant applies outside the United States and must meet the same standard of persecution as an asylum applicant. As a practical matter, it is much more difficult to win refugee status based on being LGBT or HIV positive than to win asylum.


Term used for a variety of grounds to avoid deportation or exclusion.


Removal, formerly called deportation, is a legal proceeding through which immigration officials seek to remove a foreign national from the United States for violating an immigration law or other U.S. law. These proceedings generally take place in Immigration Court before an Immigration Judge.


Cancellation of prior adjustment to permanent resident status.


The principal and actual place of dwelling.


The term used for the asylum seeker/person in removal proceedings.

Service Centers

Offices of the DHS that decide most visa petitions. There are four regional Service Centers for the entire U.S.: the Vermont Service Center (VSC); the Southern Service Center (SRC); the Western Service Center (WSC); and the Northern Service Center (NSC).

Social Security Number

A number assigned to eligible individuals by the Social Security Administration of the U.S. federal government, primarily so that they can file taxes and pay into the Social Security system. In general, non-citizens can only obtain Social Security numbers if they are authorized by the Citizenship and Immigration Services to work in the U.S. Social Security cards can be unrestricted, or restricted, meaning its holder can only work with a CIS issued employment authorization document.


One who obtains transportation on a vessel or aircraft without consent through concealment.

Suspension of Deportation

Commonly referred to as “Suspension.” A way for a non-citizen to become a lawful permanent resident. Historically, suspension has only been available to a person who is in deportation proceedings. he non-citizen usually must show that he/she has resided continuously in the United States for at least seven years, is a person of good moral character, and either he/she or his/her U.S. citizen or LPR relative will suffer extreme hardship is he/she is deported. In the Violence Against Women Act, Congress created a new “suspension of deportation” for spouses and children of U.S. citizens or LPRs who can show that they have been victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse. Among other categories, these persons need only prove three years of continuous residence in the United States.

Tax Payer Identification Number

A number issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to individuals or entities who are not eligible for Social Security numbers. Some undocumented individuals have successfully used these to pay taxes. There is some risk, however, that SSA or the Internal Revenue Service may share information with the Department of Homeland Security about individuals who use these numbers.

Temporary Protected Status (TPS)

A status allowing residence and employment authorization to the nationals of foreign states, for a period of not less than six months or more than eighteen months, when such state (or states) has been appropriately designated by the Attorney General because of extraordinary and temporary conditions in such state (or states).

Three year/Ten year bar

Refers to a harsh change in the Immigration law which occurred in 1996 and now provides that any foreign national who accumulates more than six months of unlawful presence who then leaves the U.S. cannot return for three years. Likewise, any foreign national who accumulates more than one year of unlawful presence who then leaves the U.S. cannot return for ten years.


The term used to describe foreign nationals who are present in the U.S. without lawful status. The term can refer to those who entered the U.S. without inspection (by crossing the border), those who overstayed their allotted time here, or those who violated the terms of their legal status. With very limited exceptions (notably asylum and immediate relatives of U.S. citizen petitions) a person who is not in lawful status in the U.S. cannot change from being in the U.S. unlawfully to being here lawfully.

United States Citizenship And Immigration

The agency within the Department of Homeland Security Services (USCIS) responsible for adjudicating all applications for immigration benefits. Also known as CIS.

Unlawful presence

Time accumulated in the U.S. after a foreign national’s authorized stay expires. This can lead to problems with the 3 year/10 year bar.

Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

Legislation passed by Congress in 1994, which contained certain immigration provisions. The immigration law provisions allow a spouse and children, or parents of children, who have been abused or subject to extreme cruelty by their legal permanent resident or United States citizen spouse or parent to immigrate without the assistance of the LPR or USC spouse or parent, provided that they meet certain conditions.


A visa is a legal document that permits its holder to seek entry into the United States on either a temporary or a permanent basis. Legally, a visa merely permits the foreign national to board transportation to the U.S. Permission to enter the country may be granted or denied by immigration officials at the port of entry.

Visa Petition

A form (or series of forms) filed with the DHS by a petitioner, so that the DHS will determine a non-citizen’s eligibility to immigrate.

Visa Waiver Program or VWP

A program through which nationals of certain countries, mostly Western European, may seek entry into the United States for up to 90 days without first obtaining a visa. Visa waiver entrants generally cannot change their status from within the U.S. VWP countries are listed at

Voluntary Departure

A form of relief given to a foreign national in removal proceedings whereby he or she agrees to leave the United States voluntarily be a specific date rather than being deported directly by the U.S. government. The penalty on returning to the U.S. after departing voluntarily is generally less than if a person is removed at U.S. government expense. Prior to changes in the law in 1996, voluntary departure could also signify a form of humanitarian relief.

This Manual is intended to provide information to attorneys and accredited representatives. It is not intended as legal advice. Asylum seekers should speak with qualified attorneys before applying.

The information contained herein is for reference only and may not be up to date. It does not constitute legal advice. You should always consult an attorney regarding your matter.

This handbook is intended for use by pro bono attorneys and immigration attorneys working on LGBTQ/HIV asylum cases.

Self-help asylum guides for LGBTQ and HIV-positive people without attorneys.


Detention Hotline

If you are in detention, call:

(917) 654-9696 | M-W 9:30 - 5:30pm & Th 1:00 - 5:30pm

Calls from people outside of detention will not be accepted.