The alphabet soup of Immigration terminology

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As an immigrant here myself I can attest to the complications going through multiple visa process and the enormous amount of documentation to complete and provide. There are so many “classes” of immigration visa that it can all become a puddle of numbers and letters to the average person. Here is a list of some of the more common ones. In the diverse work environments most of us work in, you will now be able to understand the “immigrant” visa speak a little better.


H-1B, as in H1-B Visa. It refers to the visa that applies to a non-U.S. citizen who will be temporarily employed in a specialty occupation, according to the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS). A number of students who come here for post graduate or MBA’s get onto this type of visa after graduating. It is also used heavily in the Technology sector to employ specially skilled people (mainly from Asia). This type of visa status comes up a lot in the media in relation to foreign workers taking professional American jobs.

B-1 Visa: When foreigners come to the U.S. for conferences or meetings, they are entering with this visa. People with this status can also do some work, but the kind of work is very limited.

B-2 Visa: You might call this a tourist’s pass. It allows people to visit the U.S. for pleasure or medical treatments.

E-1 or E-2 Visa: The U.S. has reciprocal treaties with various countries — such as Australia and Britain — that permit people in either place to invest and trade in the other’s territory. The E-1 is for those who partake in substantial trade in a U.S. business. An E-2 allows you actually to participate in and/or create a business in the U.S.

F-1 Visa: Given to academic or language students on entering the U.S., this classification is encountered by all international students. (Not for Formula 1 drivers!)


H-4: Referring to the classification of dependents of someone with an H-1B visa, this term describes wives and children under age 21 of international MBA graduates working with H-1Bs.

J-1 Visa: Anyone coming to the U.S. under the auspices of an educational or cultural exchange is eligible for this visa, including researchers, exchange students, dancers, and performers.

L-1 Visa: With this non immigrant visa, a U.S. entity can request the transfer of a person from a non-U.S. entity. For example, IBM could transfer a vice-president from one of its European offices to New York.

Other key phrases related to visa status

Adjustment of Status (AoS): The last step to becoming a permanent resident, this is when a person changes from non immigrant status to immigrant status. It allows eligible applicants to become lawful permanent residents of the U.S. without having to go abroad and apply for an immigrant visa. The alternative to this step is consular processing, which allows you to apply and process a visa through a U.S. consulate abroad.

Green Card: Also known as Lawful Permanent Residence (LPR), this gives you official immigrant status in the U.S

Form I-539: All persons who want to change immigration status or extend their stay in the U.S. must complete this form.

Advance Parole (AP): Commonly given to people in the last step of the permanent residence process, this classification gives foreigners permission to reenter the U.S. after leaving temporarily.

Labor Certification (LC): This is the first step in the permanent resident process. It involves your employer proving it cannot find a U.S. worker to do the job you’re doing.

Petition: What an employer does on behalf of foreign employees to help them become permanent residents.

For a more comprehensive list with details, you can also check out the State Dept. A-Z Subject Index. and reference article in business week.

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