Glossary

Department of Homeland Security (DHS): DHS is comprised of three main organizations responsible for immigration policies, procedures, implementation and enforcement of U.S. laws, and more. These DHS organizations include United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Together they provide the basic governmental framework for regulating the flow of visitors, workers and immigrants to the U.S. USCIS is responsible for the approval of all immigrant and nonimmigrant petitions, the authorization of permission to work in the U.S., the issuance of extensions of stay, change or adjustment of an applicant’s status while the applicant is in the U.S., and more. CBP is responsible for admission of all travelers seeking entry into the U.S., and determining the length of authorized stay, if the traveler is admitted. Once in the U.S. the traveler falls under the jurisdiction of DHS. Visit the DHS website for more information.

ESTA: Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors (nationals from 37 participating countries) to travel to the U.S. without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). A valid ESTA approval is required for all VWP travel to the U.S. ESTA applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel, though it is recommended travelers apply when they begin preparing travel plans. To learn whether you may be able to travel on VWP, and therefore whether you need an ESTA authorization, see the Visa Waiver Program webpage on this website. For more information about ESTA and/or to apply, see the DHS, Custom and Border Protection’s ESTA webpage.

I-94(W): The I-94 Arrival/Departure Record fort nonimmigrant travelers or I-94W (Green) for Visa Waiver Program travelers. When you are admitted the CBP officer at the U.S. port of entry will stamp your passport and issue a completed Form I-94 or I-94W to you, which denotes how long you are legally authorized to stay within the U.S. Visit the CBP website to learn more.

Ineligible/Ineligibility: Immigration law says that certain conditions and actions prevent a person from entering the U.S. These conditions and activities are calledineligibilities, and the applicant is ineligible for (cannot get) a visa. Examples are selling drugs, active tuberculosis, being a terrorist, and using fraud to get a visa. Read our information on the Classes of Aliens Ineligible to Receive Visas to learn more.

Machine Readable Passport (MRP): A passport which has biographic information entered on the data page according to international specifications. A machine readable passport is required to travel with a visa on the Visa Waiver Program. See the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to learn more about the requirements.

Nonimmigrant Visa (NIV): A U.S. visa allows the bearer, a foreign citizen, to apply to enter the U.S. temporarily for a specific purpose. Nonimmigrant visas are primarily classified according to the principal purpose of travel. With few exceptions, while in the U.S., nonimmigrants are restricted to the activity or reason for which their visa was issued. Examples of persons who may receive nonimmigrant visas are tourists, student, diplomats and temporary workers. For more information, see Temporary Visitors to the U.S.

Overstay: An “Overstay” occurs when a visitor stays longer than permitted as shown on his/her Arrival/Departure (I-94) card. A violation of the CBP defined length of admission may make you ineligible for a visa in the future. See Out of status.

Visa: A citizen of a foreign country, wishing to enter the U.S., generally must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay, or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. Visa applicants will need to apply overseas, at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate, generally in their country of permanent residence. The type of visa you must have is defined by immigration law, and relates to the purpose of your travel. A visa allows a foreign citizen to travel to the U.S. port-of entry, and request permission of the U.S. immigration inspector to enter the U.S. Issuance of a visa does not guarantee entry to the U.S. The CBP Officer at the port-of-entry determines whether you can be admitted and decides how long you can stay for any particular visit. Visit our What Is A Visa? webpage for more information.

Visa Waiver Program (VWP): Citizens of participating countries meeting the Visa Waiver Program requirements to may be allowed to enter the U.S. as visitors for pleasure or business without first getting a visa. Visitors can stay only 90 days and cannot extend their stay. The program was established to eliminate unnecessary barriers to travel, stimulating the tourism industry, and permitting the Department of State to focus consular resources in other areas. VWP eligible travelers may apply for a visa, if they prefer to do so. Nationals of VWP countries must meet eligibility requirements to travel without a visa on VWP, and therefore, some travelers from VWP countries are not eligible to use the program. VWP travelers are required to have a valid authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to travel, are screened at the port of entry into the United States, and are enrolled in the Department of Homeland Security’s US-VISIT program.