United States lawful permanent residency, informally known as green card, is the immigration status of a person authorized to live and work in the United States of America permanently. Green cards are valid for 10 years for permanent residents, and 2 years for conditional permanent residents. After this period, the card must be renewed or replaced. The application process may take several years. An immigrant usually has to go through a three-step process to get permanent residency that includes petition and processing.
A United States Permanent Resident Card (USCIS Form I-551), formerly known as Alien Registration Card or Alien Registration Receipt Card (INS Form I-151), is an identification card attesting to the permanent resident status of an alien in the United States. Owing to its green design from 1946 until 1964, it is known informally as a "green card", a nickname it retained even after the color was changed. The card was restored to green in 2010. "Green card" also refers to an immigration process of becoming a permanent resident. The green card serves as proof that its holder, a lawful permanent resident (LPR), has been officially granted immigration benefits, including permission to reside and take employment in the United States. The holder must maintain permanent resident status, and can be removed from the United States if certain conditions of this status are not met.
Green cards were formerly issued by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The Homeland Security Act of 2002 (Pub. L. No. 107–296, 116 Stat. 2135) dismantled INS and separated the former agency into three components within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The first, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), handles applications for immigration benefits. Two other agencies were created to oversee the INS's former functions of immigration enforcement: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), respectively.
Permanent residents of the United States eighteen years of age or older must carry their actual green card at all times. Failing to do so is a violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act, carrying the possibility of a fine up to $100 and imprisonment for up to 30 days for each offense. Only the federal government can impose these penalties.
Cards issued between January 1977 and August 1989 do not have document numbers or expiration dates and are valid indefinitely.
While most of the information on the card is self-evident, the computer- and human-readable signature at the bottom is not. The format follows the machine-readable travel document TD1 format:
Since May 11, 2010, new green cards contain an RFID chip and can be electronically accessed at a distance. They are shipped with a protective sleeve intended to protect the card from remote access, but it is reported to be inadequate.
A lawful permanent resident can apply for United States citizenship, or naturalization, after five years of residency including a physical presence of 30 months within a five-year period (a lawful permanent resident must be physically present on U.S. soil at least 30 months of a 5-year residency period as defined under Title 8 Code of Federal Regulations Section 316.2 - there are limitations where the physical presence exemption is waived if the lawful permanent resident is employed overseas e.g. with the U.S. Government including military service, U.S. Government contractors, recognized American institutions of research, public international organizations e.g. Christian missionaries, or organizations defined under the International Immunities Act e.g. International Red Cross, World Health Organization, UN). This period is shortened to three years if married to a U.S. citizen (8 CFR 319). Lawful permanent residents may submit their applications for naturalization as early as 90 days before meeting the residency requirement. In the United States, 8.8 million lawful permanent residents are eligible to naturalize. Citizens are entitled to more rights (and obligations) than permanent residents (who are still classified as aliens in this respect). Lawful permanent residents generally do not have the right to vote, the right to be elected in federal and state elections (although even naturalized citizens cannot be elected President under Article II of the Constitution), the ability to bring family members to the United States (permanent residents are allowed to sponsor certain family members, but this is often not practical due to long approval delays), or eligibility for federal government jobs. Male permanent residents between the ages of 18 and 25 are subject to registering in the Selective Service System. Permanent residents who reside in the United States must pay taxes on their worldwide income (this includes filing annual U.S. income tax returns), like U.S. citizens.
U.S. immigration legislation in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) stipulates that a person may obtain permanent resident status primarily through the course of the following proceedings:
|Category||Eligibility||Annual quotac||Immigrant visa backlog|
|IR||Immediate relative (spouse, minor children, and parents) of U.S. citizens
(A U.S. citizen must be at least 21 years of age in order to sponsor his or her parents.)
|No numerical limita|
|F1||Unmarried sons and daughters (21 years of age or older) of U.S. citizens||23,400||8–21 yearsb|
|F2A||Spouse and minor children (under 21 year old) of lawful permanent residents||87,934||1–2 yearsb|
|F2B||Unmarried sons and daughters (21 years of age or older) of permanent residents||???||???|
|F3||Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens||23,400||10–22 yearsb|
|F4||Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens||65,000||13–24 yearsb|
|EB-1||Priority workers. There are three sub-groups: 1. Foreign nationals with extraordinary ability in sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics; 2. Foreign nationals that are outstanding professors or researchers with at least three years' experience in teaching or research and who are recognized internationally; 3. Foreign nationals that are managers and executives subject to international transfer to the United States.||41,455||currently available|
|EB-2||Professionals holding advanced degrees (Ph.D., master's degree, or at least five years of progressive post-baccalaureate experience) or persons of exceptional ability in sciences, arts, or business||41,455||currently availableb|
|EB-3||Skilled workers, professionals, and other workers||41,455||3 months – 11 yearsb|
|EB-4||Certain special immigrants: ministers, religious workers, current or former U.S. government workers, etc.||10,291||currently available|
|Diversity immigrant (DV)||50,000|
|Political asylum||No numerical limit|
|a 300,000–500,000 immediate relatives admitted annually.
b No more than 7 percent of the visas may be issued to natives of any one country. Currently, individuals from China (mainland), India, Mexico and the Philippines are subject to per-country quotas in most of the categories, and the waiting time may take longer (additional 5–20 years).
c Spouse and minor children of the IR/F4/EB applicants, DV winners, asylums & refugees may apply for immigrant visa adjudication with their spouse or parent. The quotas include not only the principal applicants but also their nuclear family members.
The whole process may take several years, depending on the type of immigrant category and the country of chargeability. An immigrant usually has to go through a three-step process to get permanent residency:
An applicant (alien) in the United States can obtain two permits while the case is pending after a certain stage is passed in green card processing (filing of I-485).
U.S. citizens may sponsor for permanent residence in the United States the following relatives:
U.S. permanent residents may sponsor for permanent residence in the United States the following relatives:
The Department of State's "Visa Bulletin," issued every month, gives the priority date for those petition beneficiaries currently entitled to apply for immigrant status through immigrant visas or adjustment of status. There is no annual quota for the spouses, unmarried children, and parents of U.S. citizens, so there is no waiting period for these applicants—just the required processing time. However, all other family-based categories have significant backlogs, even with a U.S. citizen petitioner.
Regardless of whether the family member being sponsored is located in the United States (and therefore likely to be applying for adjustment of status) or outside the United States (in which case the immigrant visa is the likely option), the process begins with the filing of an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative. The form and instructions can be found on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. Required later in the process will be additional biographic data regarding the beneficiary (the person being sponsored) and a medical examination. Additional documents, such as police certificates, may be required depending on whether immigrant visa (consular processing) or adjustment of status is being utilized. In the case of consular processing outside the United States one should ensure one is up-to-date with the particular practices of the relevant US embassy or consulate. All petitioners must supply the I-864 Affidavit of Support.
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Green-card holders married to non-U.S. citizens are able to legally bring their spouses and minor children to join them in the USA, but must wait for their priority date to become current. The foreign spouse of a green-card holder must wait for approval of an "immigrant visa" from the State Department before entering the United States. Due to numerical limitation on the number of these visas, the wait time for approval may be months or years. In the interim, the spouse cannot be legally present in the United States, unless he or she secures a visa by some other means. Green-card holders may opt to wait to become U.S. citizens, and only then sponsor their spouses and children, as the process is much faster for U.S. citizens. However, many green-card holders can choose to apply for the spouse or children and update their application after becoming a U.S. citizen.
The issue of U.S. green-card holders separated from their families for years is not a new problem. A mechanism to unite families of green-card holders was created by the LIFE Act by the introduction of a "V visa", signed into law by President Clinton. The law expired on December 31, 2000, and V visas are no longer available. From time to time, bills are introduced in Congress to reinstate V visas, but so far none have been successful.
The most common challenges that USCIS faces in providing services in the green card process are: (1) the length of the application and approval process, and (2) the quotas of green cards granted. USCIS tries to shorten the time qualified applicants wait to receive permanent residence.
Under the current system, immediate family members (spouse, child, and dependent mother and father), have priority status for green cards and generally wait 6 months to a year to have their green card application approved. For non-immediate family members, the process may take up to 10 years. Paperwork is processed on a first-come, first-served basis, so new applications may go untouched for several months. To address the issue of slow processing times, USCIS has made a policy allowing applicants to submit the I-130 and I-485 forms at the same time. This has reduced the processing time. Another delay in the process comes when applications have mistakes. In these cases papers are sent back to the applicant, further delaying the process. Currently the largest issue creating long wait times is not processing time, but rather immigrant visa quotas set by Congress.
Long wait times are a symptom of another issue—quotas preventing immigrants from receiving immigrant visas. Georgia's Augusta Chronicle in 2006 stated that an estimated two million people are on waiting lists in anticipation to become legal and permanent residents of the United States. Immigrants need visas to get off of these waiting lists, and Congress would need to change immigration law in order to accommodate them with legal status.
The number of green cards that can be granted to family-based applicants depends on what preference category they fall under. An unlimited number of immediate relatives can receive green cards because there is no quota for that category. Family members who fall under the other various preference categories have fixed quotas, however the number of visas issued from each category may vary because unused visas from one category may rollover into another category.
Many immigrants opt for this route, which typically requires an employer to "sponsor" (i.e. to petition before USCIS) the immigrant (known as the alien beneficiary) through a presumed future job (in some special categories, the applicant may apply on his/her behalf without a sponsor). The three-step process outlined above is described here in more detail for employment-based immigration applications. After the process is complete, the alien is expected to take the certified job offered by the employer to substantiate his or her immigrant status, since the application ultimately rests on the alien's employment with that company in that particular position.
Each year, around 50,000 immigrant visas are made available through the Diversity Visa (DV) program, also known as the Green Card Lottery to people who were born in countries with low rates of immigration to the United States (fewer than 50,000 immigrants in the past five years). Applicants can only qualify by country of chargeability, not by citizenship. Anyone who is selected under this lottery will be given the opportunity to apply for permanent residence. They can also file for their spouse and any unmarried children under the age of 21.
If permanent residence is granted, the winner (and his/her family, if applicable) receives an immigrant visa in their passport(s) that has to be "activated" within six months of issuance at any port of entry to the United States. If already in the U.S. adjustment of status may be pursued. The new immigrant receives a stamp on the visa as proof of lawful admittance to the United States, and the individual is now authorized to live and work permanently in the United States. Finally, the actual "green card" typically arrives by mail within a few months.
Over 6.4 million applications for the fiscal year (FY) 2008 Diversity Visa Lottery were submitted. This is an increase from the more than 5.5 million applications submitted in the 2007 Diversity Visa Lottery. Taking into account dependents, there are more than 10 million participants in the 2008 Diversity Visa Lottery. Most of the applications were from Africa and Asia: 41 percent of the total came from Africa, 38 percent from Asia, 19 percent coming from Europe, and two percent from South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. The largest number of applicants came from Bangladesh (more than 1.7 million applicants), followed by Nigeria (684,735) and Ukraine (619,584).
Normally somewhat fewer than 100,000 applicants will be announced as winners to ensure that all 50,000 green cards will be issued.
For the fiscal year 2008 there were 5,983 Bangladesh, 8,773 Nigerian and 5,018 of the Ukrainian applications declared as winners. Of these, there were finally used 2,286 of the Bangladesh winner numbers, 3,425 of the Nigerian winner numbers and 1,914 of the Ukrainian winner numbers to get a green card within the time limit. At the end, 46,633 were issued in FY 2008, 3,367 less than planned. Therefore, the chances to become a winner in a lottery differs from the country of origin for which you are filed for. It also differs from year to year.
Over 14.7 million applications for the 2012 Diversity Visa Lottery were submitted. This is an increase from the more than 2.7 million applications submitted in the 2011 Diversity Visa Lottery. Taking into account dependents, there are more than 19.6 million participants in the 2012 Diversity Visa Lottery. The largest number of applicants came from Bangladesh (more than 7.6 million applicants) followed by Nigeria (2,144,626) and Ukraine (1,080,091).
There is a growing number of fraudulent green card lottery scams, in which false agents take money from applicants by promising to submit application forms for them. Most agents are not working for the distribution service. Some claim that they can increase the chance of winning the lottery. This is not true; in fact, they may delay or not submit the application. Likewise, some claim to provide to winners free airline tickets or other benefits, such as submissions in future years or cash funds. There is no way to guarantee their claims, and there are numerous nefarious reasons for them not to fulfill their promises. Applicants are advised to use only official U.S. government websites, in which the URL ends in .gov.
Other fraud perpetrators will e-mail potential victims posing as State Department or other government officials with requests to wire or transfer money online as part of a "processing fee." These fraudulent e-mails are designed to steal money from unsuspecting victims. The senders often use phony e-mail addresses and logos designed to make them look more like official government correspondence. One easy way to tell that an email is a fraud is that it does not end with a ".gov". One particularly common fraud email asks potential victims to wire money via Western Union to an individual (the name varies) at the following address in the United Kingdom: 24 Grosvenor Square, London. These emails come from a variety of email addresses designed to impersonate the U.S. State Department. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services blog has published information on this email scam and how to report fraudulent emails to the authorities.
The "registry" is a provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act which allows a person who has previously entered the United States illegally to obtain legal permanent residence simply on the basis of having de facto resided in the country over a long time. To avail himself of the benefit of this provision, the immigrant has to prove that he has continuously resided since before the stipulated "registry date".
The concept of "registry" was first added to the INA in 1929, with the registry date set to June 3, 1921. Since then, the registry date has been adjusted several times, being set to July 1, 1924; June 28, 1940; and June 30, 1948. The most recent adjustment to the registry date came with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, when it was set to January 1, 1972. A number of bills have been introduced in Congress since then to further alter the registry date, but they have not been passed.
As part of immigration reform under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), as well as further reform enacted in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRAIRA), persons who are eligible and properly apply for permanent residence based on either a recent marriage to a U.S. citizen or as an investor are granted permanent residence only on a conditional basis, for two years. An exception to this rule is the case of a U.S. citizen legally sponsoring a spouse in which the marriage at the time of the adjustment of status (I-485) is more than two years old. In this case, the conditional status is waived and a 10-year Permanent Resident Card is issued upon USCIS approval of the case. A permanent resident under the conditional clause may receive an I-551 stamp as well as a Permanent Resident Card. The expiration date of the conditional period is two years from the approval date. The immigrant visa category is CR (conditional resident).
When this two-year conditional period is over, the permanent residence automatically expires and the applicant is subject to deportation and removal unless, up to 90 days before the conditional residence expires, the applicant must file form I-751 Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence (if conditional permanent residence was obtained through marriage) or form I-829 Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions (if conditional permanent residence was obtained through investment) with USCIS to have the conditions removed. Once the application is received, permanent residence is extended in 1-year intervals until the request to remove conditions is approved or denied. For conditional permanent residence obtained through marriage, both spouses must sign the form I-751; if the spouses are divorced, it is possible to get a waiver of the other spouse's signing requirement, if it can be proved that the marriage was bona fide.
The USCIS requires that the application for the removal of conditions provide both general and specific supporting evidence that the basis on which the applicant obtained conditional permanent residence was not fraudulent. For an application based on marriage, birth certificates of children, joint financial statements, and letters from employers, friends and relatives are some types of evidence that may be accepted. That is to ensure that the marriage was in good faith and not a fraudulent marriage of convenience with a sole intention of obtaining a green card. A follow-up interview with an immigration officer is sometimes required but may be waived if the submitted evidence is sufficient. Both the spouses must usually attend the interview.
The applicant receives an I-551 stamp in their foreign passport upon approval of their case. The applicant is then free from the conditional requirement once the application is approved. The applicant's new Permanent Resident Card arrives via mail to their residence several weeks to several months later and replaces the old two-year conditional residence card. The new card must be renewed after 10 years, but permanent resident status is now granted for an indefinite term if residence conditions are satisfied at all times. USCIS may request to renew the card earlier because of security enhancements of the card or as a part of a revalidation campaign to exclude counterfeit green cards from circulation.
It is important to note that the two-year conditional residence period counts toward satisfying a residency requirement for U.S. naturalization, and other purposes. Application for the removal of conditions must be adjudicated before a separate naturalization application could be reviewed by USCIS on its own merits.
Conditional permanent residents have all of the equal "rights, privileges, responsibilities and duties which apply to all other lawful permanent residents."
The only difference is the requirement to satisfy the conditions (such as showing marriage status or satisfying entrepreneur requirements) before the two-year period ends.
A green-card holder may abandon permanent residence by filing form I-407, with the green card, at a U.S. Embassy.
Under certain conditions, permanent residence status can be lost involuntarily. This includes committing a criminal act that makes a person removable from the United States. A person might also be found to have abandoned his/her status if he or she moves to another country to live there permanently, stays outside the USA for more than 365 days (without getting a re-entry permit before leaving), or does not file an income tax return on their worldwide income. Permanent resident status can also be lost if it is found that the application or grounds for obtaining permanent residence was fraudulent. The failure to renew the permanent resident card does not result in the loss of status, except in the case of conditional permanent residents as noted above. Nevertheless, it is still a good idea to renew the green card on time because it also acts as a work permit and travel permit (advance parole), but if the green card is renewed late, there is no penalty or extra fee to pay.
A person who loses permanent residence status is immediately removable from the United States and must leave the country as soon as possible or face deportation and removal. In some cases the person may be banned from entering the country for three or seven years, or even permanently.
Due to the Heart Act foreign workers who have owned a green card in eight of the last 15 years and choose to relinquish it will be subject to the expatriation tax, which taxes unrealized gains above $600,000, anywhere in the world. However this will only apply to those people who have a federal tax liability greater than $139,000 a year or have a worth of more than $2 million or have failed to certify to the IRS that they have been in compliance with U.S. federal tax obligations for the past five years.
If the green card is not relinquished then the holder is subject to double taxation when living or working outside of the United States, whether or not within their home nation, although double taxation may be mitigated by foreign tax credits.
Note: This list excludes countries that allow visa-free travel with valid U.S. visas (for example, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama) Also note that the Green Card holder might already have visa-free access to many destinations by virtue of the nationality already held.
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