Immigration has long been a hot-button issue in the United States, never more so than when it comes time to elect a new president. However, there are so many terms and specific classifications of residency status that it’s easy to get confused.
Keep reading for a concise guide to the most common immigration terms and what exactly they mean.
U.S. Citizen: A person can become a U.S. citizen by either being born in the United States, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico or Guam, or by going through the naturalization process. In addition, if a person has at least one parent born in the above-mentioned locations, they are also considered to be a U.S. citizen. Citizenship guarantees that a person enjoys all rights and privileges outlined in the Constitution, have the full protection of the U.S. government, and are held accountable to all U.S. laws.
U.S. National: This includes all U.S. citizens, but also encompasses people born in Swains Island or in American Samoa. Non-citizen nationals get a lot of the benefits that U.S. citizens do and are entitled to governmental protection, but cannot vote in elections.
Alien: This is an all-encompassing term that refers to anyone who is neither a citizen nor a national. It may refer to someone who is in the country legally or illegally.
Permanent Resident: Permanent residents are often in the process of becoming naturalized U.S. citizens. They are also called “green card holders” and can live and work in the U.S. as long as they want. Either they become naturalized citizens or have their status taken away for other reasons. They have most U.S. rights and protections, but cannot vote in federal elections.
Nonimmigrant: This refers to people who do not plan to settle in the U.S. Typically, nonimmigrants are only in the U.S. for a short time to study, travel, do business, or for medical reasons.
Undocumented Person: Though the more offensive terms of “illegal immigrant” or “illegal alien” are more common, an undocumented person is simply someone who is in the United States unlawfully. They are in the U.S. despite not being allowed to live or work here. In many cases, they don’t have permission to even enter or travel through the U.S.
Visa: The United States requires visitors or those hoping to move here to apply for a visa. It’s typically a page or stamp in a passport that states what type of visa it is (work, tourist, student, etc.) and when it expires. There are many types of visas and different visa requirements for visitors from different countries all over the world.
Sponsor: Anyone who hopes to come live or work legally in the United States must have a sponsor or petitioner. This is usually a family member who already resides in the U.S. or an employer. They must sign a visa petition to prove to the government that the hopeful visa recipient will have employment or a support network upon arrival.
Deportation/Removal: Though “removal” is the accurate legal word, it’s more common to hear “deportation” in everyday conversation. It describes sending an alien or undocumented person back to their home country.
There are many different terms surrounding the issue of immigration, and if you are personally affected by what is currently going on in politics, it would be best to consult a lawyer. There are lawyers who specialize in immigration law who can help you better understand some of the more obscure or confusing aspects of the law.
This is by no means a complete list of immigration terms, but it should help you feel more confident about making your opinion regarding immigration count when it comes time to go to the polls.