U.S. Law Center

How the government defines various immigration terms

When is the last time you discussed the topic of immigration? You might be one of many California residents who try to steer clear of conversations regarding immigration, politics or religion because such issues tend to incite debate. However, if you or someone you love has arrived in the United States from another country of origin, it's wise to learn as much as you can about certain immigration terms, in particular, how the federal government defines them.

On the flip-side, a lack of understanding can lead to legal problems, especially concerning certain conditions, such as application for visas, green cards or seeking asylum. If you don't know what a word means, how can you be certain you are correctly following instructions to navigate a specific immigration process?

Are you an immigrant?

Crossing a U.S. border in California or another state does not automatically make you an immigrant. The federal government defines the term to mean "a lawful, permanent resident" of the United States. If you're not planning on remaining here permanently, you may fall under a different category known as "non-immigrants" who are essentially visitors or guests of the U.S. on a temporary basis.

Refugees are seeking safe shelter

If you or your family member have fled another country because of imminent violence, poverty or persecution, you may qualify to enter the United States as a refugee. Depending on your circumstances, the U.S. government might classify you as a refugee whether you sought asylum at a border point of entry or requested it after you were already in this country.

Did someone sponsor you to enter the United States?

If you were living in another country of origin and wished to join one of your family members in the United States, the typical immigration process associated with such desires includes a requirement for sponsorship. A sponsor is someone who is a valid citizen in the U.S., who is age 18 or beyond and is willing to sign a petition that states that he or she is willing to financially provide for the sponsored person while he or she is living in California or another state.

Is your ultimate goal to become a U.S. citizen?

If you hope to one day become a citizen, the correct term for that particular process is "naturalization." It requires a great deal of study and preparation. You will have to take numerous tests to show competence in various skills, such as an ability to read, speak, write and understand English. You'll also need to show that you have a basic understanding of U.S. history and how various levels of government function.

If problems arise, where should you seek support?

Perhaps, you're having trouble mastering English. There are many resources available online and in person to help you improve your skills. Many tutors have been in similar situations in the past and have chosen to "pay it forward" by helping others learn English as someone once helped them.

If you're experiencing other problems, such as legal issues, an adverse health condition or financial trouble, it's always a good idea to build a strong support network that you can access at a moment's notice to obtain guidance and assistance as needed.

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