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Terms & Concepts

U.S. government agencies

Immigration terms

Immigration documents


U.S. government agencies [top]

Department of Homeland Security (DHS):

  • U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS): Adjudicates petitions and applications for immigration benefits. The USCIS district office is located in Honolulu at 595 Ala Moana Blvd. However, most applications must be submitted directly to a USCIS Service Center, which are strictly processing centers and are not open to the public. The USCIS National Customer Service Center can be reached at 1-800-375-5283.
  • U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP): Conducts border patrol and inspections of individuals seeking admission to the U.S. at the ports of entry.
  • U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE): Conducts immigration and customs investigations, detentions, removals, and SEVIS administration and enforcement.

Department of Labor (DOL):

Department of State (DOS):


Immigration terms [top]

Dual intent: Principle which excludes certain nonimmigrant status holders (e.g. H-1B, O-1) from the presumption of immigrant intent, which most nonimmigrants must overcome upon applying for visas or entry to the U.S. Therefore, the filing of an immigrant petition or an approved permanent labor certification on a qualifying nonimmigrant status holder’s behalf cannot serve as a basis for a denial of a petition or entry to the U.S.

Immigration/Visa status: The type of nonimmigrant classification assigned to an individual for his/her period of stay in the U.S. (e.g. J-1, H-1B, TN, O-1). The length of time the individual may remain in the U.S. and the types of activities he/she may engage in are determined by the specific immigration status he/she holds. Individuals often can change from one nonimmigrant status to another. However, it is crucial that the individual not violate the terms of his/her status or remain longer in the U.S. than permitted by the particular status.

Immigrant classifications: Bases upon which foreign nationals can qualify to become U.S. lawful permanent residents. The 3 main types of immigrant classifications are employment-based (e.g. EB-1, EB-2), family-sponsored, and public/humanitarian policy-based.

Nonimmigrant classifications: Allows foreign nationals to come to the U.S. for limited, temporary purposes. Generally, a holder of one of these types of classifications must overcome the presumption of immigrant intent by showing evidence when applying for a nonimmigrant visa and at entry to the U.S. that he/she intends to depart the U.S. after completing the specific purpose.

3-year & 10-year bars for unlawful presence: Any individual who is unlawfully present in the U.S. for more than 180 days but less than 1 year can be barred from entering the U.S. for 3 years if he/she leaves and tries to reenter the U.S. If he/she is unlawfully present in the U.S. for more than 1 year, he/she can be barred from entering the U.S. for 10 years if he/she leaves and tries to reenter.


Immigration documents [top]

Employment Authorization Document (EAD): Certain nonimmigrants (e.g. J-2 dependents, F-1 students on OPT) must obtain this card by filing Form I-765 with USCIS in order to be eligible to work in the U.S. USCIS can take several months to issue an EAD. (Note: An EAD is not necessary for H-1B, TN, J-1, or O-1 employment in the specific position for which the given status was sought.)  

Form DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status: Used by J-1 exchange visitors and J-2 dependents to obtain and maintain J nonimmigrant status. At UH, this form is generated in the SEVIS system and is issued by FSIS and international student services offices on each campus to UH J status holders.

Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record: Traditionally, this was a small white card issued by Customs and Border Protection officers to nonimmigrants entering the U.S. It specifies the individual’s immigration status, date and place of entry, and the expiration date of the immigration status, indicated by either a specific date or a “D/S” notation, which stands for “Duration of Status.” This card serves as evidence of the person’s status in the U.S. and the period for which the person is authorized to remain in the U.S. A green I-94W card is issued to Visa Waiver Program participants. On April 30, 2013, CBP began phasing out the paper I-94 card - travelers at air and sea ports no longer receive a paper card at entry and are instead instructed to access and print their I-94 arrival record from CBP's website. They also should receive an admission stamp with visa type and period of stay notations in their passports.

Form I-20:
Used by F-1 students and F-2 dependents (and M-1 and M-2 status holders) to obtain and maintain F/M nonimmigrant status. At UH, this form is generated in the SEVIS system and is issued by the international student services offices at each campus to UH F status holders.

Form I-797 approval notice:
Issued by USCIS in response to an employer’s petition filed on behalf of employee beneficiaries to obtain and maintain temporary employment statuses (e.g. H-1B, O-1, TN). At UH, FSIS processes all petitions for these types of employment statuses.

Passport: Used by individuals as evidence of citizenship of a particular country and permits individuals to travel abroad under the protection of the home country and to return to the home country once travel is completed. The U.S. requires all nonimmigrants in the U.S. to carry a valid passport. Passports nearing expiration must be renewed by the individual’s home government and can normally be accomplished at a consulate or embassy in the U.S. A person’s passport must be valid at the time of application for an extension or change of nonimmigrant status. Citizens of certain countries are required to hold a passport that is valid for at least 6 months past the end date of their immigration status at the time they enter the U.S.

Permanent Resident Card (a.k.a. Green Card, Resident Alien Card, Form I-551): An identification card issued by USCIS to all U.S. lawful permanent residents. Older versions containing no expiration date are no longer valid. New versions are normally valid for 10 years.

Visa: Issued by U.S. Embassies and Consulates and serves as initial permission to apply for entry to the U.S. but does not guarantee entry. It indicates the specific immigration classification and the number of entries permitted into the U.S. without obtaining a new visa. Citizens of Canada, citizens of the British Overseas Territories of Bermuda who intend to stay 180 days or less in the U.S., and visitors entering on the Visa Waiver Program are not required to obtain visas to enter the U.S. An individual who is required to have a visa to enter the U.S. but fails to do so can be fined or sent back to his/her home country.
Visas have no effect on the date by which an individual must leave the U.S. Instead, a person’s permitted length of stay is determined by the expiration date on the document supporting his/her immigration status and by the expiration date on the I-94 and admission stamp. For instance, a J-1’s period of authorized stay is determined by his/her DS-2019; an H-1B’s period of stay is determined by the I-797 approval notice and/or the date on his/her I-94 record.