Acronym Acrimony

by Elizabeth Brettschneider


Listening to immigration attorneys speak must sometimes sound like alphabet soup: DOL, PERM, USCIS, DOS, NVC, TSC, NBC, VSC, RFE, INA, EOIR, BIA, EAD, AP, LPR, and so on constantly litter our speech. I sometimes catch myself with a client mid-abbreviation and have to back up to say the complete name of the agency or phrase I’ve just tried to shorten.

The worst of it happens when immigration lawyers are talking to each other in front of non-immigration lawyers: “So, I called the NCSC, and put in a service request for the RFE that TSC issued on that EAD/AP application. While we wait for that adjudication, I guess the client will have to extend their H-1B with VSC.” The thing is, I don’t always notice I’ve done it until I look at the blank stares of friends listening to the conversation but not comprehending anything. 

And then there are the old acronyms that slip in to conversations by accident. The very agency that we work with on a daily basis has gone from INS to BCIS to USCIS.  It is not uncommon for us to still refer to the place where we are sending in our applications as INS even though it’s been over a decade since they were called that. If you listen carefully, the acronyms immigration lawyers use can reveal their age like the rings of a tree.

There are also the acronyms that sound like each other. Sometimes I stutter when trying to correct myself as I try to tell my colleague that the NBC has issued the EAD but instead of saying NBC (the National Benefits Center), I say NVC (the National Visa Center, which has nothing to do with issuing the EAD—i.e., the Employment Authorization Document).

And then there are the acronyms that mean different things in our industry compared to the outside world. The PERM we talk about endlessly in the office is not that 80’s hairdo that most people would think of but instead a labor certification application filed by an employer with the DOL (Department of Labor) when they want to sponsor an employee for a Green Card. NBC is not the television station but the National Benefits Center; AP stands for Advance Parole, not the Associated Press; and, of course, EOIR, although pronounced like the character from Winnie the Pooh, is in fact just the Executive Office of Immigration Review.

As an immigration nerd, it really annoys me when I’m watching a television program or a movie where they mess up a commonly-used immigration acronym. For example, in the movie The Visitor, the threatened deportation of a main character is the centerpiece of the movie. So, as you can imagine, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (or ICE) is frequently referenced; however, the characters refer to the agency as “I.C.E”—meaning they say each letter individually—as opposed to the way we say it in the industry which is ICE (said like the frozen form of water).

During the course of a day, we immigration attorneys talk a lot but it’s because there’s a lot to say! Due to the complexity of the immigration system that we navigate with our clients, we streamline our language and utilize acronyms whenever possible. I can’t imagine speaking the following without acronyms: “Your Program Electronic Review Management application was certified by the Department of Labor today so we can now move on to the I-140 Immigrant Petition with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. However, we must wait for the Department of State to issue a Visa Bulletin calling your priority date before we can also file the Adjustment of Status application to apply for Lawful Permanent Resident Status.” (Aaaand breathe!)

Since immigration attorneys use so many, we thought it’d be helpful for a list of frequently-used acronyms:

DOL: Department of Labor
PERM: Program Electronic Review Management
USCIS: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
DOS: Department of State
NVC: National Visa Center
TSC: Texas Service Center
NSC: Nebraska Service Center
VSC: Vermont Service Center
NBC: National Benefits Center
RFE: Request for Evidence
INA: Immigration and Nationality Act
EOIR: Executive Office of Immigration Review
BIA: Board of Immigration Appeals
EAD: Employment Authorization Document
AP: Advance Parole
LPR: Lawful Permanent Resident
NCSC: National Customer Service Center
INS: Immigration and Naturalization Service (now USCIS)
BCIS: Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (now USCIS)

Now everyone can speak like an immigration attorney!