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Immigration Terms and Definitions Involving Aliens

A general summary of U.S. immigration terminology follows. Any references below to USCIS refer to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Alien
An individual who is not a U.S. citizen or U.S. national.

U.S. National
An individual who owes his sole allegiance to the United States, including all U.S. citizens, and including some individuals who are not U.S. citizens. For tax purposes the term "U.S. national" refers to individuals who were born in American Samoa or were born in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands who have chosen to be U.S. nationals instead of U.S. citizens.

U.S. Citizen

  1. An individual born in the United States.
  2. An individual whose parent is a U.S. citizen. (NOTE: There are two general ways to obtain citizenship through U.S. citizen parents, one at birth and one after birth but before the age of 18.  For more information, refer to the USCIS Citizenship Through Parents.
  3. A former alien who has been naturalized as a U.S. citizen
  4. An individual born in Puerto Rico
  5. An individual born in Guam
  6. An individual born in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Compacts of Free Association
The following countries are independent republics, which were once part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific administered by the United States on behalf of the United Nations;

  • Federated States of Micronesia
  • Republic of Marshall Islands
  • Republic of Palau

Each of the above nations signed a Compact of Free Association (CFA) with the United States. As stipulated by each CFA, citizens of the above-named republics may freely enter the United States without a visa, remain in the U.S. for an indefinite period, and be employed in the U.S. without restriction. A citizen of one of the above republics who enters the U.S. should be issued a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Form I-94 Arrival-Departure Record bearing one of the following stamps:

  • CFA/FSM for the Federated States of Micronesia
  • CFA/MIS for the Republic of Marshall Islands
  • CFA/PAL for the Republic of Palau

However, even without an I-94 as noted above, a citizen of one of the republics named above may still enter the U.S. without a visa, remain in the United States for an indefinite period, and be employed in the U.S. without restriction.

Immigrant
An alien who has been granted the right by the USCIS to reside permanently in the United States and to work without restrictions in the United States. Such an individual is also known known as a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). All immigrants are eventually issued a "green card" (USCIS Form I-551), which is the evidence of the alien’s LPR status. LPR’s who are awaiting the issuance of their green cards may bear an I-551 stamp in their foreign passports.

Immigrant visas are available for aliens (and their spouses and children) who seek to immigrate based on their job skills. An alien who has the right combination of skills, education, and/or work experience, and is otherwise eligible, may be able to live permanently in the United States. Per USCIS, there are five employment-based immigrant visa preferences (categories): EB-1, EB-2, EB-3, EB-4 and EB-5.  Refer to the USCIS Permanent Worker web site for more details.

Nonimmigrant

An alien who has been granted the right to reside temporarily in the United States. Each nonimmigrant is admitted into the U.S. in the nonimmigrant status which corresponds to the type of visa issued.

Aliens in some nonimmigrant statuses are permitted to be employed in the United States, and others are not. Some nonimmigrant statuses have strict time limits for the alien’s stay in the U.S., while others do not.

Each nonimmigrant status has rules and guidelines. A nonimmigrant who violates one of these rules or guidelines will fall "out of status." A nonimmigrant who remains "out of status" for at least 180 days is deportable and if deported will be unable to re-enter the United States for 3 years. A nonimmigrant who remains "out of status" for at least 365 days is deportable and if deported will be unable to re-enter the United States for 10 years.

Each nonimmigrant status has rules and guidelines, which must be followed in order for the nonimmigrant to remain "in status." A nonimmigrant who violates one of these rules or guidelines will fall "out of status." An nonimmigrant who remains "out of status" for at least 180 days is deportable and will be unable to re-enter the United States for 3 years. A nonimmigrant who remains "out of status" for at least 365 days is deportable and will be unable to re-enter the United States for 10 years.

See Taxation of Aliens by Visa Type and Immigration Status for a summary of visa types.

Details on the types of nonimmigrant visas may be found on the refer to the Department of State’s Travel web page. A list of nonimmigrant visa types, along with the corresponding employment authorization provisions, may be viewed at the Social Security Administration’s Employment Authorization for Non-immigrants web site.

Undocumented Alien
An alien who entered the United States illegally without the proper authorization and documents, or who entered the United States legally and has since violated the terms of his or her visa or overstayed the time limit.  An undocumented alien is deportable if apprehended.

Visa Waiver Program (VWP)

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables citizens of participating countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for up to 90 days without obtaining a United States visa. The VWP is administered by the Department of Homeland Security in consultation with the Department of State. For a list of participating countries and for further information on the VWP, please visit the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Visa Waiver Program.

References/Related Topics