Immigration Definition Glossary

Immigration Definition Glossary

Immigration terminology can be difficult to understand when navigating through any immigration process. This section provides a brief definition of immigration-related terms. We have organized the terms in alphabetical order for easy reference.


Panama Canal Act Immigrants: Three categories of special immigrants established by Public Law 96-70 (Act of 9/27/79): 1) certain former employees of the Panama Canal Company or Canal Zone Government, their spouses and accompanying children; 2) certain former employees of the U.S. Government in the Panama Canal Zone who are Panamanian nationals, their spouses and children; and 3) certain former employees of the Panama Canal Company or Canal Zone Government on April 1, 1979, their spouses and children. The Act provides for admission of a maximum of 15,000 immigrants, at a rate of no more than 5,000 each year.

Panel Physician: A medically trained, licensed and experienced doctor practicing overseas who is appointed by the local U.S. Embassy or Consulate. These medical professionals receive U.S. immigration-focused training in order to provide examinations as required by the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) and USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services). For medical examinations given in the U.S., please see "Civil Surgeon."

IMPORTANT: medical examinations given overseas will not be recognized if they are given by a doctor who is not appointed by the local U.S. Consulate or Embassy; please be sure that your medical exam is being given by a Panel Physician or your results and documents will be invalid.

Parolee: A parolee is an alien, appearing to be inadmissible to the inspecting officer, allowed into the United States for urgent humanitarian reasons or when that alien's entry is determined to be for significant public benefit. Parole does not constitute a formal admission to the United States and confers temporary status only, requiring parolees to leave when the conditions supporting their parole cease to exist. Types of parolees include:

  1. Deferred inspection: authorized at the port upon alien's arrival; may be conferred by an immigration inspector when aliens appear at a port of entry with documentation, but after preliminary examination, some question remains about their admissibility which can best be answered at their point of destination.

  2. Advance parole: authorized at an USCIS District office in advance of alien's arrival; may be issued to aliens residing in the United States in other than lawful permanent resident status who have an unexpected need to travel and return, and whose conditions of stay do not otherwise allow for readmission to the United States if they depart.

  3. Port-of-entry parole: authorized at the port upon alien's arrival; applies to a wide variety of situations and is used at the discretion of the supervisory immigration inspector, usually to allow short periods of entry. Examples include allowing aliens who could not be issued the necessary documentation within the required time period, or who were otherwise inadmissible, to attend a funeral and permitting the entry of emergency workers, such as fire fighters, to assist with an emergency.

  4. Humanitarian parole: authorized at USCIS headquarters or overseas District Offices for "urgent humanitarian reasons" specified in the law. It is used in cases of medical emergency and comparable situations.

  5. Significant Public Benefit Parole: authorized at USCIS headquarters Office of International Affairs for "significant public benefit" specified in the law. It is generally used for aliens who enter to take part in legal proceedings when there is a benefit to the government. These requests must be submitted by a law enforcement agency.

  6. Overseas parole: authorized at an USCIS District or suboffice while the alien is still overseas; designed to constitute long-term admission to the United States. In recent years, most of the aliens USCIS has processed through overseas parole have arrived under special legislation or international migration agreements.

Per Country Limit: The maximum number of family-sponsored and employment-based preference visas that can be issued to citizens of any country in a fiscal year. The limits are calculated each fiscal year depending on the total number of family-sponsored and employment-based visas available. No more than 7 percent of the visas may be issued to natives of any one independent country in a fiscal year; no more than 2 percent may issued to any one dependency of any independent country. The per-country limit does not indicate, however, that a country is entitled to the maximum number of visas each year, just that it cannot receive more than that number. Because of the combined workings of the preference system and per-country limits, most countries do not reach this level of visa issuance.

Permanent Resident: Any person not a citizen of the United States who is residing in the U.S. under legally recognized and lawfully recorded permanent residence as an immigrant. Also known as "Permanent Resident Alien", "Lawful Permanent Resident," "Resident Alien Permit Holder," and "Green Card Holder."

Permanent Resident Alien: An alien admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident. Permanent residents are also commonly referred to as immigrants; however, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) broadly defines an immigrant as any alien in the United States, except one legally admitted under specific nonimmigrant categories (INA section 101(a)(15)). An illegal alien who entered the United States without inspection, for example, would be strictly defined as an immigrant under the INA but is not a permanent resident alien. Lawful permanent residents are legally accorded the privilege of residing permanently in the United States. They may be issued immigrant visas by the Department of State overseas or adjusted to permanent resident status by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the United States.

Petitioner: A person who files an immigration petition or application.

Port of Entry: Any location in the United States or its territories that is designated as a point of entry for aliens and U.S. citizens. All district and files control offices are also considered ports, since they become locations of entry for aliens adjusting to immigrant status.

Practitioner: A person who is authorized to file immigration petitions or applications with USCIS on behalf of aliens.

Pre-inspection: Complete immigration inspection of airport passengers before departure from a foreign country. No further immigration inspection is required upon arrival in the United States other than submission of Form I-94 for nonimmigrant aliens.

Precedent Decision: A published decision of the BIA or the AAO that is binding on all USCIS officers in the administration of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

Preference System (Immigration Act of 1990): The nine categories since fiscal year 1992 among which the family-sponsored and employment-based immigrant preference visas are distributed. The family-sponsored preferences are: 1) unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens; 2) spouses, children, and unmarried sons and daughters of permanent resident aliens; 3) married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens; 4) brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens. The employment-based preferences are: 1) priority workers (persons of extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers, and certain multinational executives and managers); 2) professionals with advanced degrees or aliens with exceptional ability; 3) skilled workers, professionals (without advanced degrees), and needed unskilled workers; 4) special immigrants; and 5) employment creation immigrants (investors).

Preference System (prior to fiscal year 1992): The six categories among which 270,000 immigrant visa numbers were distributed each year during the period 1981-91. This preference system was amended by the Immigration Act of 1990, effective fiscal year 1992. (see Preference System - Immigration Act of 1990). The six categories were: 1) unmarried sons and daughters (over 21 years of age) of U.S. citizens (20 percent); 2) spouses and unmarried sons and daughters of aliens lawfully admitted for permanent residence (26 percent); 3) members of the professions or persons of exceptional ability in the sciences and arts (10 percent); 4) married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens (10 percent); 5) brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens over 21 years of age (24 percent); and 6) needed skilled or unskilled workers (10 percent). A nonpreference category, historically open to immigrants not entitled to a visa number under one of the six preferences just listed, had no numbers available beginning in September 1978.

Principal Alien: The alien who applies for immigrant status and from whom another alien may derive lawful status under immigration law or regulations (usually spouses and minor unmarried children).

Priority Date: In the USCIS Immigrant visa petition application process, the priority date is the date the petition was filed. If the alien relative has a priority date on or before the date listed in the visa bulletin, then he or she is currently eligible for a visa.

Select a character below


Can't find your word? Let us know we'll add it!