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Basic Terms & Concepts


A passport identifies its holder as a citizen of the issuing country, permits him/her to travel abroad under the protection of that country and to return there. It is a requirement of U.S. immigration law that virtually all non-immigrants have valid passports to enter and remain in the U.S. Passports must be extended, renewed or reissued by the alien's home government, usually through their consulate or embassy in the United States. An individual's passport must be valid at the time of application for an extension or change of status. People from certain countries are required to have a passport which is valid for six months from the ending date of their immigration status at the time they enter the U.S.

Immigration Status

This is the status assigned to an individual for the period of his/her stay in the United States. The length of time the individual may remain in the U.S. and the types of activity in which he/she may participate are determined by this status.

Common non-immigrant (temporary) statuses used by university faculty and staff include J-1 "Exchange Visitor," H1-B Temporary Worker" and B-1, "Tourist for Business." Each status has its own period of validity and employment restrictions. It is often possible to change from one non-immigrant status to another. It is extremely important that an alien not violate the terms of his/her status and that he/she does not stay in the U.S. longer than allowed by that status.

Visa (Entry Visa)

A visa is placed by a U.S. consular officer in the alien's passport. It allows the individual to enter the U.S. and indicates, among other things, immigration status (e.g., J-1), the number of entries into the U.S. allowed without obtaining a new visa, and the date of expiration. An entry visa cannot be obtained inside the United States. The Stateside Renewal which once was available for E, H, L, O and P visas has been eliminated.

Visas may be valid for a few months or several years, but the expiration of the visa has no bearing on the length of time the alien may remain in the United States. This is determined, rather, by the expiration date of the document which supports the alien's particular immigration status (in the case of a J-1, a DS-2019; for an H-1, an I-797B, etc.) This date is indicated on a white card called an I-94, which is attached to the person's passport upon entry to the U.S. (see below).

Canadian citizens are not required to obtain entry visas, nor are those coming as tourists from countries covered by the Visa Waiver Program. An individual who is required to have a visa but enters the U.S. without one can be fined or even sent back to his/her home country.

I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record)

The I-94 is a small, white (sometimes green) card which is issued to non-immigrants at the time of entry to the U.S., and is usually stapled in the passport. It specifies the individual's immigration status and the date and place of entry. It will also give the expiration date of the immigration status--either a specific date or, in the case of Js or Fs, "D/S" which stands for "Duration of Status." Unlike the entry visa, which only gives permission for the individual to enter the U.S., the I-94 represents his/her permission to stay until the expiration date.

EAD (Employment Authorization Document)

Employment permission is built into certain immigration statuses such as H-1B and J-1. Although there are limitations to employment in these statuses, no special authorization is required. For certain other statuses, employment is possible if authorization is obtained in the form of an Employment Authorization Document, or EAD. This card, which looks like a driver's license, is most frequently used by those in J-2 status (dependents of J-1s), F-1 students with practical training, and pending permanent residents. EADs must be obtained through a USCIS processing center via Form I-765. The Nebraska Service Center can take several months to issue an EAD.

Green Card (Alien Registration Receipt Card, Form I-551)

This is an identification card issued to U.S. permanent residents/immigrants. It is the individual's proof of having permanent status. Green cards are no longer green--they look very much like a driver's license--a small, laminated card containing the individual's photograph with various data on the front and back. Green Cards are normally valid for ten years. See University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign's Green Card Policies and Green Card Processing.

Social Security Numbers & ITINs

Social Security is the U.S. government's social insurance plan. It is intended to benefit retired people and certain people who are injured, disabled or left without adequate financial support. It is financed by withholdings from employee's pay and employer's contributions. Virtually all Americans have a Social Security Number (SSN). International visitors must have an SSN if they will be employed. Most J-1 visitors will need to obtain a Social Security Number as soon as possible after their arrival at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign if they do not already have one. All individuals with H-1, O-1, practical training, TN or any other status which is intended for employment must have a Social Security Number. This number can only be obtained in the U.S. and can be applied for locally at the Social Security Administration in Champaign. This number is valid for life.

  • Dependents can only obtain a Social Security Number if they first obtain work permission (J-2s) or if they acquire an independent employable status of their own.
  • Tourists in B-1 status are not eligible to obtain an SSN. If the B-1 does not have an SSN from a prior visit to the U.S., he/she will, in some cases, need an ITIN, or Individual Tax Identification Number, in lieu of the SSN. This can sometimes be obtained abroad through a U.S. embassy or consulate or it can be applied for on campus at the Office of Business and Financial Services.

U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS)

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office for our district is located at 10 W. Jackson Blvd. In Chicago. Most applications, however, are submitted either directly to the Nebraska Service Center in Lincoln, Nebraska or to the Vermont Service Center in St. Albans, Vermont. These are strictly processing centers and are not open to the public. When an application is submitted to a service center, a receipt is issued which gives the file number of the case and an estimated processing time. The USCIS website is Another source for obtaining information is the USCIS National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283.

State Department

The Department of State is in charge of visa issuance at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. The Bureau of Consular Affairs in Washington, D.C. is a division of the State Department which can provide assistance and information when problems occur. The State Department Administers the J-1 Exchange Visitor program. The website for Visa Services at the State Department is: