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Learning Tools and Glossary

Here you’ll find common terms used on our pages. We’ve also included helpful graphics about how to navigate the immigration system and our services, as well as immigration books, movies, and podcasts so you can learn more.


What is Asylum?

When the United States grants protection on its territory to individuals from another country who are fleeing persecution or serious danger. The protection allows them to remain in the U.S. without fear of deportation (non-refoulement), and ensures and humane treatment and access to a durable solution. In the U.S. you must be physically present in the States to file for asylum, and individuals have one year from arriving on U.S. soil (at any port or border point) to apply.

Who is an Asylum-Seeker?

An individual who is seeking protection outside of their country. An asylum-seeker is someone whose asylum claim has not yet been decided on by the U.S. government. Asylum-seekers cannot be sent back to their country of origin while they wait for their status to be decided. They are entitled to a fair procedures and humane treatment. However, they do not receive government benefits. Not every asylum-seeker will ultimately be recognized as a refugee, but every refugee was initially an asylum-seeker.

Who is an Asylee?

Someone who is granted asylum and is protected from being returned to their home country. In the United States, asylees are authorized to work, apply for a social security card, and travel internationally with permission. Asylees can also petition to bring family members to the U.S.

What is Displacement?

When people are forced to flee or to leave their homes or communities, particularly due to armed conflict, violence, human rights violations or natural or human-made disasters. Displacement can be within their home country, or if forced to flee internationally.

What is Family Reunification?

Depending on the immigration status of the petitioner, in the United States, certain family members are eligible for this specific petition and its complementary immigration status. For eligible refugees and asylees, this includes only spouses and children. U.S. citizens can petition for spouses, children, siblings, parents, and a fiancé.

What is Humanitarian Parole?

Parole grants people who otherwise would be inadmissible or ineligible for admission into the United States the right to come to and remain in the U.S. for a specified temporary period of time. Parole is extended in response to urgent humanitarian situations or for a significant public benefit. In some cases, those with parole can apply for authorization to work, but no one with parole status is eligible for government or resettlement benefits unless otherwise federally granted (e.g., through an act of Congress Ukrainians were granted humanitarian parole, while Afghan nationals with parole status were eventually granted some resettlement benefits). Parole also does not confer immigration status; seeking asylum is the only pathway to permanent residency for many.

Who is an Immigrant?

Someone who resides outside of their home country, typically by choice.

What is Non-Refoulment?

This is the cornerstone of refugee and asylum international law and human rights law. Non-refoulment prohibits countries from returning people to a country where there is risk of them being persecuted, placed in danger and/or subjected to violations of certain fundamental rights.

Who is a Permanent Resident?

Lawful permanent residents (LPRs) hold green cards and are lawfully allowed to live permanently in the United States. There are no restrictions on employment, financial assistance, travel, etc. Eligible permanent residents can also apply to become a U.S. citizen. Application fees start at approximately $1,200. Refugees must apply for permanent resident status, by law, within one (1) year of being admitted into the U.S. with refugee status.

Who is a Refugee?

A legally defined status, a refugee is any person who, “…owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his [or her] nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail him [or her]self of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his [or her] former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” This international legal status is determined by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Refugees do not choose where or when they are resettled. Once in the U.S. refugees are entitled to some government benefits such as Medicaid and SNAP.

What is Remain in Mexico (MPP)?

Introduced in 2018, the “Remain in Mexico” policy or Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) requires asylum-seekers who pass their credible fear interviews to return to Mexico and wait in border towns – potentially without legal, health or humanitarian services - until their U.S. immigration court date. Average wait times for immigration court dates range from 1.5 years to 5 years. MPP applies to individuals who arrived in the United States by land via Mexico, but does not apply to Mexican nationals or citizens.

What is Resettlement?

When refugees arrive in the country that agreed to admit and protect them. In most cases, there will be an opportunity to become naturalized citizens at some point.

Who are Resource Parents?

Resource parents, or resource families, include foster parents, foster-to-adopt families, and extended family caregivers. They're someone who received training and certification to be both a foster parent and an adoptive parent, and can fulfill one or both roles as needed or prefered.

What is a Special Immigration Visa (SIV)?

There are several specific categories that offer Special Immigration Visas (SIV) to Afghan and Iraqi nationals who worked for, or on behalf of, the U.S. military, contractors, government and in some cases the Afghanistan government and military. There are annual caps on how many SIVs are awarded. There is a $350 fee per application.

What is Temporary Protection (TPS)?

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a temporary legal status designated by the U.S. government to people fleeing from a specific country, typically due to violence, conflict, or other crises. The temporary protection prevents people from being deported back to these countries during the designated timeframe. TPS does not offer a way to automatically gain legal permanent residency nor does not confer any other immigration status or benefits. There is a first time $50 application fee.

What is Trafficking?

Human trafficking involves the use of force, coercion or fraud to compel a person to provide labor, services or commercial sex against their will. Any commercial sex involving someone under the age of 18 is considered trafficking, regardless of force, coercion or fraud. Survivors of human trafficking can apply for a T nonimmigrant status, or T visa, which allows eligible individuals to remain in the U.S. for up to four (4) years without immigration status. The T-visa and certification allows for employment authorization, some government benefits and services, and eligible individuals may also be able to adjust their status to become permanent residents.

Who are Unaccompanied Children (UC)?

Children who are not in the company of parents, legal guardians or another adult caregiver in a situation of displacement, or specifically in this context, when arriving at U.S. borders. Children are typically placed in transitional foster care (TFC) programs, like LSSNCA's, while parents or guardians are sought stateside by the government. 

Who are Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM)?

Children who are not in the company of parents, legal guardians or another adult caregiver in a situation of displacement, or specifically in this context, when arriving at U.S. borders and are deemed eligible for refugee benefits when reunification with safe family or guardians in the United States is not possible.

Reading and Listening Sources


The Undocumented Americans, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

The Good Immigrant, Short Stories Collection, editor Nikesh Shukla

What is the What?, Dave Eggers

Outcasts United, Warren St. John

Enrique's Journey, Sonia Nazario

Separated: Inside an American Tragedy, Jacob Soboroff

A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini

And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Ann Fadiman

The Road from Raqqa, Jordan Ritter Conn

A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families, Philip Gourevitch

The Fox Hunt, Mohammed Al Samawi


Immigration Nation

Living Undocumented

The Good Lie

God Grew Tired of Us

The Kite Runner


Out of the Shadows


Modern Immigrant

Vox, Today, Explained: From Kabul’s airport to Virginia’s burbs  

Refugees bring significant skills and experiences, however, there is often an underutilization of those skills due to lack of access to fitting employment, certification, and higher education. In addition to our employment and recertification programs, we also worked with University of Maryland, Baltimore County School of Social Work, Texas A&M University, and SUNY Empire State University to research refugee access to higher education. Read our findings here, and view our partners' educational presentations on navigate accessing higher education on our Access to Higher Education YouTube channel.

Looking for ways to stay involved? Sign-up for our newsletter to stay updated on the latest engagement events, like our Mind the Gap series and volunteer opportunities, participate in advocacy campaigns, learn more about what's happening in the immigration and refugee space, and help our programs have more of an impact by donating today.