Essential Green Card & Permanent Residency Vocabulary

To reduce confusion about the process, it’s important to become familiar with certain permanent residency terms before you begin the application process.

Last updated on May 15th, 2019

The process to become a green card holder is not easy, and the unique vocabulary does not make it any easier.

Throughout your journey to permanent residency, you will encounter certain acronyms and phraseology that are unique to immigration, specifically green cards.

To reduce confusion and expedite the process, it is important to become familiar with this green card language before you begin the application process.

Acronyms and Forms

The documents you submit to USCIS will each have a title and form number. These documents are commonly referred to by their form number, which always begins with the letter “I”.

Occasionally, you will hear about forms that begin with “DS” — these are submitted to the Department of State.

It is important to be familiar with the form names and numbers because it is likely USCIS officers and immigration attorneys will refer to them as only their number and expect you to know which form they are referencing.

I-130 – Petition for Alien Relative. This USCIS form is for spouses, unmarried children and parents of U.S. citizens to apply for permanent residency [i].

I-485 – Application to Register Permanent Resident or Adjust Status. This is the main form for immigrants adjusting their status or applying for permanent residency from abroad [ii].

I-765 – Application for Employment Authorization. This form must be completed if the immigrant wishes to work in the United States. See also Employment Authorization Document [iii].

LPR – See Lawful Permanent Resident below.

INA – Immigration and Nationality Act. This is the controlling statute in immigration law and gives the framework to immigration agencies (Immigration Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Patrol, and United States Citizenship Immigration Services).

SIJS – See Special Immigrant Juvenile Status below.

A-Number – See Alien Number below.

Green Card Terms

Green Card – This refers to the ID card given to permanent residents. It looks similar to a drivers license and is tinted green, hence the nickname “green card”.

Lawful Permanent Resident – An immigrant who has been approved by the federal government to live in the United States for an unlimited amount of time, provided certain requirements are met. A lawful permanent resident will have a green card that must be renewed every 10 years.

Conditional Resident – Similar to permanent residency, except this type of residency expires in 2 years if the immigrant does not apply to remove conditions.

Adjustment of Status – This is the name of the process for when someone in the United States on a valid visa applies to become a permanent resident. They are “adjusting” their visa status to permanent residency.

Example: Vlad is in the United States on a student visa. His visa expires upon graduation and he wishes to remain in the United States to work. Vlad applies to adjust his status to become a permanent resident by submitting the I-485 form to USCIS.

Asylum – This is an immigration status given to people who cannot return to their home country due to persecution, natural disaster, civil war, etc. [iv].

Alien – This term refers to a foreign person in the United States who is not a U.S. citizen.

Alien number – This is a nine-digit identification number given to visa and green card applicants.

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status – This is a unique pathway to permanent residency for minors who were abused, abandoned or neglected by at least one parent [v].

Sponsor – A person or business that applies for your green card. This term is used interchangeably with “petitioner”.

Example: Joan is transferring from the Madrid location of his company to the Chicago location. Since he is coming to the United States to work for a particular employer, that employer will be his sponsor for the employment-based green card.

Beneficiary – The immigrant for whom the sponsor petitions.

Example: In the above example, Joan is the beneficiary of the green card sponsored by his employer.

Employment Authorization Document – or “work permit”. This is a wallet-sized card that serves as proof an immigrant is authorized to work in the United States. Green card holders do not carry a work permit because their green card serves that purpose.

Naturalization – When an immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen, they are said to be a “naturalized” citizen. Naturalization refers to the process of gaining citizenship.

Visa – In order to lawfully enter the United States, a foreigner will need to obtain a visa. A visa is kept in the foreigners passport. There are many different visas but each visa has eligibility requirements.

Example: Charlotte is an exchange student from the United Kingdom. She applied for a student visa through the U.S. embassy in her hometown. Once granted, the embassy inserted the visa in her passport. Customs and Border Patrol admitted Charlotte to enter the United States after checking her passport and confirming she had legal status to enter as a student.

Removal – This is the legal term for “deportation.” An immigrant in removal proceedings is eligible to be deported from the country.

[i] See USCIS, Petition for Alien Relative, retrieved from

[ii] See USCIS, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, retrieved from

[iii] See USCIS, Application for Employment Authorization, retrieved from

[iv] See 8 U.S.C. §1158.

[v] See 8 C.F.R. §204.11.

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