U.S. citizen, U.S. national, foreign national, eligible noncitizen … Have you heard or seen these terms, but perhaps are confused about what they truly mean and the distinct differences between them? Highly complex and controversial, immigration continues to be a major area of focus in our country. Regardless of our respective personal opinions on the matter, as education professionals it is critical that we remain abreast of immigration-related issues and policies as we endeavor to foster inclusion, access, and success for all students in our daily work.
There are a host of citizenship, immigrant, and non-immigrant statuses and categories in the United States and each one has a unique set of characteristics and conditions that affect eligibility for financial aid, employment, and other numerous aspects of life. There are also countless related terms that are important to know.
While I am not an international education professional or immigration law expert, as a bilingual Enrollment Advisor who serves a wealth of students who fall into various immigrant categories, I have become a de facto resource for students and colleagues on our campus and in the greater community. Here is a very basic look at a few terms that you may encounter frequently in your work with students.
*Please note that this post should be used as an informal guide and is in no way meant to be an in-depth, comprehensive assertion on immigration law, nor is it intended to provide conclusive answers regarding immigration law or rights. Please consult with a legal professional for the most accurate, up-to-date information.
Click each term for more details…
Citizen – A legally recognized subject or national of the United States (the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Marianna Islands), either by birth or by naturalization.
Immigrant – A person who comes to the United States to reside permanently, whether lawfully or without inspection or valid legally authorized clearance.
Nonimmigrant – A person with permanent residence outside the United States who enters the United States on a temporary basis for a specific purpose.
Naturalized citizen – A foreign citizen or national who has been granted U.S. citizenship after voluntarily undergoing the naturalization process and fulfilling the requirements established by the U.S. Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
Lawful permanent resident – A person who has been granted authorization to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis through one of several different ways. This person is not a citizen of the United States, but resides in the U.S. under legally recognized and lawfully recorded permanent residence as an immigrant. Permanent residents are also known as “permanent resident aliens,” “resident alien permit holders,” and “green card holders.”
Refugee – A person who has fled his or her country of origin because of past persecution or a fear of future persecution based upon race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Applicants file for inclusion in the U.S. refugee program from outside of the United States and must be approved prior to entry. Refugees are required by law to apply for permanent residency one year after being admitted to the United States.
Asylee – A person who has been granted asylum status who has fled his or her country of origin because of past persecution or a fear of future persecution based upon race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Applicants are already in the United States or are seeking admission at a port of entry and may apply regardless of country of origin or current immigration status. These individuals have the option to apply for permanent residency one year after being granted asylum, but they are not required to do so.
Foreign national – A person who legally resides in a specific country, but is not a citizen of that country. Permanent residents, refugees, and asylees are all types of foreign nationals in the United States.
U.S. national – All U.S. citizens are considered to be U.S. nationals, but not all nationals are U.S. citizens. In many contexts related to education, employment, and federal aid, a U.S. national specifically refers to a person who is a native of American Samoa or Swain’s Island, which are both outlying possessions of the United States. These U.S. nationals are not U.S. citizens.
Eligible noncitizen – A term used by the U.S. Department of Education for federal student aid purposes. Includes U.S. nationals, U.S. permanent residents and conditional permanent residents (with an I-551, I-151, or I-551C), and eligible individuals with an I-94 who have one of the following designations: refugee, asylee, Cuban-Haitian entrant, conditional entrant, victim of human trafficking (T visa holder), and parolee.
Non-immigrant temporary visas – A visa issued to people with a permanent residence outside the United States who seek temporary entry to the United States for a specific purpose. This includes certain tourists or visitors for business (B), students (F, M), exchange visitors (J), victims of human trafficking (T), victims of criminal activity (U), certain classes of temporary workers, and a variety of specialized categories, among others.
- Some non-immigrant statuses have rigid time limits for the person’s stay in the United States, while others do not.
- People with some non-immigrant statuses are allowed to be employed in the United States, and others are not.
- With the exception of T visa holders, non-immigrant temporary visa holders are not eligible to receive federal student aid, though they may be able to receive other financial aid from their respective state or college.
I-94 – The Arrival-Departure Record, in either paper or electronic format, issued by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer to foreign visitors entering the United States.
Permanent resident card – An identification card (USCIS Form I-551) attesting to the permanent resident status of a person in the United States. Commonly referred to as a green card. Formerly called an alien registration card or alien registration receipt card (INS Form I-151).
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: www.uscis.gov
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol: www.cbp.gov
U.S. Department of Homeland Security: www.dhs.gov
Federal Student Aid: http://studentaid.ed.gov
Shola Odumade, M.B.A.
Sinclair Community College