United States Permanent Resident Card

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United States Permanent Resident Card (Green Card) (May 2010)

The United States Permanent Resident Card (officially: Form I-551 , commonly known as: Green Card ) is an identification document of the United States . Upon request, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will issue the document to persons who are not citizens of the United States and who have settled in the United States with the intention of immigrating. Card holders are known as Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR) or Permanent Residents for short . The name Green Card is derived from the first ID cards, which had green writing and a greenish-colored photo.

The Green Card differs from other visas in that its holder is allowed to stay and work in the USA for an unlimited period of time ; it is not stuck into the passport like any other visa, but forms a separate identification document. The legal status of permanent residency in the USA, a country of immigration, is the middle of three stages on the way to naturalization:

  1. Immigrant visa
  2. Permanent residency with green card
  3. US citizenship

In January 2010, there were an estimated 12.6 million green card holders in the United States, or around four percent of the total population.


A general reporting requirement for people living in the United States without US citizenship first came into being in 1940 with the Alien Registration Act . The measure, which grew out of wartime conditions, was intended to shield the country from a potential internal threat and therefore did not distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants. The contact points were the post offices, which forwarded reports from foreigners to the immigration authorities. This sent the registered Alien Registration Receipt cards , which were printed on white paper and had the official designation Form AR-3 .

After the end of World War II , registration became part of the regular immigration procedure. Instead of in the post office, foreigners were now registered by the INS upon arrival at the port and received different types of alien registration cards , which gave information about their exact status (visitors, temporary workers, permanent alien residents ). Permanent residents were given a document officially named Form I-151 . The document was small and printed on green paper, making it the first “green card”.

As a result of a law of 1950, it became possible for holders of the AR-3 documents still in circulation from April 17, 1951 to exchange their old papers for the new Green Card, but only if they could prove that they were in the USA was legal. Anyone who did not provide this evidence from then on lived with the risk of being prosecuted for violating immigration laws. Conversely, the green card documented that the holder's stay in the USA was legal .

The green card thus became a coveted paper that was now often forged . In order to make forgeries more difficult, the design of the card was changed again and again. From the introduction of the card in the 1940s to 1977, the INS released cards in 19 different designs; the color was also changed several times: in 1964 the card was pale blue and after 1965 dark blue. Real progress in terms of counterfeit security was only achieved in January 1977 when the INS first issued Form I-151 as a machine-readable card. But even this has changed design and color several times since its introduction.

After the INS was dissolved on March 1, 2003, the USCIS took over issuing the cards.

Permanent residents (green card holders)

Rights and obligations

In order to maintain their legal status, permanent residents must meet three main requirements:

  • If you change your permanent address, you must notify the USCIS of your change of address within 10 days (Form AR-11). Diplomats and certain other persons who are not immigrants are exempt from this obligation.
  • You have to renew the Green Card before the printed expiry date expires (Form I-90). The green cards that are currently being issued must be renewed after 10 years. The legal status of permanent residency, however, remains in principle even if the card expires.
  • You have to be present in the USA. Permanent residents who have been abroad for more than 6 months can be asked by the immigration officer on re-entry about the reasons for their long stay abroad and whether they want to continue to have their main residence in the USA. For stays abroad lasting between 12 and 24 months, a re-entry permit must be applied for before departure ; this is also recommended for stays of 6 to 12 months.

Violations of the obligations of a green card holder can lead to the withdrawal of the green card, whereby it depends on the gravity of the offense and the decision is at the discretion of the evaluating officer. Furthermore, in the event of a later application for naturalization, the violations can lead to their rejection or delay.

Giving up and losing permanent residency

The legal status of permanent residency is lost if a permanent resident

  • Accepts US citizenship and the card will be withdrawn;
  • taking the permanent residency of one's own choosing; this is done by signing an appropriate document in front of a US consular or a USCIS official;
  • commits an act that qualifies him for expulsion under the Immigration Act, e.g. B. owns drugs, illegal weapons, or trafficking in human beings ;
  • gives up residence in the United States.

Criminal offenses can also lead to the loss of the green card, detention and deportation many years later ( see also: zero tolerance strategy under President Donald Trump ).

Requirements and approval process

Paths to the Green Card

The annual contingents of different types of green cards: spouses, unmarried minors, parents (dark red; no limit), other family members (light red), employment-based (blue), refugees (light gray), asylum seekers (dark gray), “green card lottery” “(Green).

In the classic case, the acquisition of a green card is preceded by a normal, temporary immigrant visa (e.g. an H-1B visa). Those who have such a visa can apply for a Green Card of the categories EB-1, EB-2, EB-3, EB-4 or EB-5 if their employer supports them in this complex and costly process. Employment-based green cards are limited; 140,000 cards can currently be issued each year. This figure also includes the green cards for the family members (spouse, minor children) of the main applicant.

Far more often than on the basis of an employment relationship , green cards are issued as part of family reunification . Close family members - spouses, unmarried minors, and parents - of U.S. citizens can apply for a green card without completing the pre-immigrant visa. The same applies to spouses and unmarried minor children of permanent residents. Green cards for close family members are not limited. Between 2000 and 2003, an average of 402,000 cards were issued each year.

Other family members - children of age, married children, and siblings - of U.S. citizens can apply for a green card. However, these green cards are limited (226,000 per year). Applicants are put on a waiting list and receive the card after 4 years at the earliest, sometimes after more than 12 years. Some applicants from countries with particularly high levels of immigration wait 22 years. Green cards left over from the quota for employment-based cards at the end of the year are added to the quota for other family members.

The third possible route, which also leads directly to the green card, but offers significantly lower chances of success, is to participate in the so-called “green card lottery”, the diversity immigrant visa program of the US State Department.

A comparatively small contingent of green cards is issued to refugees and asylum seekers.

Highly qualified and investors

Application process

Applicants for an employment-based green card are usually expected to have a university degree or some other particularly high qualification. Only 10,000 green cards per year are available for low-skilled applicants.

The employment-based variant of permanent citizenship can usually only be initiated if the applicant's American employer sponsors this employee in the application process . Exceptions are the categories EB-1 A and EB-2 with "National Interest Waiver", in which the applicant can act as a sponsor himself. The procedure is extremely complex and usually takes several years. It begins with an application (form ETA ‒ 750) from the employer to the Department of Labor and a further application (I ‒ 140) to the USCIS immigration authorities. The process is very costly for the employer because he has to commission a government-controlled law firm to conduct extensive research into whether suitable applicants for the advertised position can also be found domestically. Only if this Foreign Labor Certification Process is unsuccessful and the Department of Labor has confirmed the result, the Homeland Security and Foreign Ministry can process the application further.

Only then does the employee take action himself. He files an application (I-485) with USCIS for Adjustment of Status for himself and, if he has a family, for his spouse and children. USCIS will then invite all applicants for fingerprinting. An Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and an Advance Parol or Travel Document (AP) can be requested at the same time as I-485 . The process ends with the stamping of the passport of the home country and the handing over of the green card.

Persons of National Interest to the United States

In the EB-1 category, highly qualified people with exceptional skills in the field of science, art, education, business or sport (holders of international awards, etc.) can apply, as well as outstanding professors and researchers as well as certain managers and executives of the multinational Economy.

People with special skills

In category EB-2, people with a higher education qualification can apply, as well as people with special skills in a scientific, artistic or business field.

A job offer from a US employer is normally required. An examination of the labor market must also be carried out here, which must show that no American employee with this qualification is available for the job. According to the Visa Bulletin, there was a waiting period of more than three and a half years for the first time in July 2012. Currently (as of October 2013) there is no longer any waiting period (exception: Chinese and Indian nationals). A "National Interest Waiver" waives the requirement for a job offer and the associated labor market test, but is associated with additional obligations to provide evidence.

Academics, qualified specialists, other employees

The application on the basis of a job offer is possible in category EB-3 for qualified persons with a higher school leaving certificate, skilled workers with at least two years of professional experience and other employees whose skills are sought in the USA. The Permanent Resident Card can only be applied for after an examination of the US labor market, which must show that no American employee is available. Long waiting times must be taken into account for employees without special training. Here the waiting time is e.g. Currently approx. Six years (as of August 2012).

Church staff

Pastors, priests or rabbis who are ordained or who carry out comparable religious activities can apply for a permanent resident card of category EB-4. In contrast to the nonimmigrant visa R-1, which has a similar definition, it must be proven here that the applicant has already worked for the church or community in the home country for at least 2 years. An examination of the labor market is not necessary, however.


Investors who create jobs for ten unrelated people by investing capital in new business ventures in the United States can receive an EB-5 Permanent Resident Card. The investment must be between at least 500,000 and 1,000,000 US dollars are, depending on the employment situation in the relevant geographic area. The permanent residence permit is only issued after two years if the promised investment is actually made and jobs have been created during this time.

Family reunion

Permanent residents have a number of advantages over visa holders if they want to allow their non-American family members to join the United States in the course of family reunification . However, their options do not match those of US citizens. The following table shows the rights of visa holders, permanent residents (green card holders) and US citizens (citizens) in comparison.

Visa holder Permanent residents (green card holders) US Citizens
Spouse The partner needs his own visa. The partner can apply for a green card, but must expect a waiting time. The partner can apply for a green card or a nonimmigrant visa immediately.
Fiance Only with your own, independent visa. Fiance visa possible.
Single children under 21 years of age Only with your own visa. The children can apply for a green card, but have to expect a waiting time. If they are not already US citizens by law, children can apply for a green card immediately.
parents Only with your own, independent visa. Parents can apply for a green card immediately if the US citizen is at least 21 years old.
Children over 21 years of age, married children, siblings Only with your own, independent visa. Can apply for a green card, but expect a waiting time.

Diversity Immigrant Visa Program ("Green Card Lottery")

A comparatively small number of people obtain the green card through an application under the Diversity Immigrant Visa program , the so-called “Green Card Lottery”. This program was created against the background of the political desire to receive more immigrants from certain countries of origin, from which otherwise only a few immigrants come. Many countries are excluded. B. the United Kingdom . The selection of the applicants takes place after they have qualified by way of the raffle . Applicants who are accepted can enter the United States on an immigrant visa without a job offer; the visa will later be replaced by a green card.

From the green card to American citizenship

Ordinary procedure

Permanent residents who have had this status for at least 5 years, have spent at least 30 months in the United States in the past 5 years, and meet a few other requirements can apply for US citizenship. For spouses of US citizens, the waiting period is only 3 years. Permanent residents who are minors and unmarried acquire US citizenship by law, i.e. automatically as soon as their parents or at least 1 parent acquire American citizenship.

Accelerated naturalization

The American armed forces do not support immigrants with the acquisition of an entry permit or a green card. Foreigners who want to join the American military, like all other immigrants, must first find a way to legally enter the US and obtain a green card. Only then can they join the armed forces.

Due to a revision of Sections 328 and 329 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), members of the US armed forces who are permanent residents have been able to apply for US citizenship more quickly (Accelerated Citizenship) since September 11, 2001 .

Accelerated Citizenship became known to a wider public through the documentary The Short Life of José Antonio Gutierrez . The film reports that around 32,000 so-called green card soldiers have been fighting for the United States in Iraq since 2003 . Gutierrez was the first of these foreign soldiers to die in that war in Iraq. He was granted American citizenship posthumously .

Rights in comparison

The following table shows the rights of visa holders, permanent residents and US citizens in comparison.

Visa holder Permanent residents (green card holders) US Citizens
Freedom of travel No restrictions. Permanent residence obligation in the USA. No restrictions.
Reporting requirement Yes. No.
Right to vote No. Yes.
Summons as a jury member No. US citizens can be summoned as a jury member.
Taxable in the years of residence in the USA. Generally taxable, including years spent outside the USA.
Social security Depending on the type of visa. No restrictions.
Supplemental Security Income No claim. In some cases. No restrictions.
Medicare Only if there is a right to social security benefits . Applicants who have lived in the US for 5 years only. No restrictions.
Inheritance tax Surviving spouses (foreigners) of U.S. citizens pay federal inheritance tax. Surviving spouses (US citizens) of US citizens are exempt from federal inheritance tax.
Allowances depend on length of stay in the USA. Uniform allowances.
Foreigners who want to study in the USA need an F or M visa. No restrictions.
Selective service No obligation. Male green card holders and US citizens must be registered with the Selective Service when they are 18 to 25 years old, which can call them to military service in the event of a defense .
Joining the military Not possible. Possible, but limited selection of positions. Unlimited possible.
Purchase and possession of weapons Nonimmigrant aliens are only allowed to buy and own firearms in certain special cases. Restrictions only by state and local laws.

The following rights are completely independent of immigration status:

  • the right to purchase residential property or real estate for one's own use
  • the right of children to attend public schools through high school


The largest number of green cards are currently being issued to applicants from Mexico . In 2013 there were 135,028 cards. This was followed by the People's Republic of China (71,798), India (68,458), the Philippines (54,446), the Dominican Republic (41,311), Cuba (32,219), Vietnam (27,101), South Korea (23,166), Colombia (21,131), Haiti (20,351 ), Jamaica (19,400) and El Salvador (18,260). The European country with the most green card recipients was Great Britain.

The largest number of permanent residents in 2011 was California (3,380,000), followed by New York State (1,620,000), Texas (1,280,000), Florida (1,270,000), Illinois (550,000) and Massachusetts (330,000 ).

In 2011, an estimated 180,000 (almost 1.4%) of a total of 13,070,000 permanent residents were born in Germany.

Web links


  1. Holders of an H1 visa e.g. B. can apply for an H4 visa for their economically dependent partner. H4 Visa (Dependent Visa). Retrieved September 4, 2014 .
  2. In order to maintain their status, holders of a permanent resident card must be permanently in the USA (establish continuous physical presence) . In fact, they are therefore subject to certain travel restrictions. If you want to leave the USA for more than 12 months, you have to apply for a reentry permit before leaving the country . This permit is usually granted for a period of 2 years; it does not replace an expired Permanent Resident Card or an expired passport. Green card holders who apply for naturalization in the US must also prove that they have spent at least 4½ in the past 5 years in the US. A list of all stays abroad since the green card was acquired must be enclosed with the application.
    Sources: Maintaining Permanent Residence US Citizen and Immigration Services; What are the travel restrictions for green card holders? (PDF; 102 kB); How much time can I spend outside the US without losing my green card? ( Memento of the original from August 19, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
    Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / tsalaw.com
  3. With a few exceptions, all persons living in the United States as non-citizens must notify USCIS of any change of permanent address within 10 days. Change of address information. Retrieved September 3, 2014 .
  4. People without US citizenship cannot vote in the USA at the municipal, state or federal level.
  5. Individuals classified as nonresident aliens for tax purposes and who work in the USA for business or professional purposes must file an annual tax return (Form 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ) with the IRS if their income exceeds a specified minimum amount . A nonresident alien is not the same as a visa holder; Even people who have a green card are taxed under certain circumstances, e.g. B. If you have spent large parts of the year outside the US, classified as nonresident aliens . Resident and Nonresident Aliens. Retrieved September 3, 2014 . ; Filing requirements. Retrieved September 3, 2014 .
  6. U.S. citizens and individuals classified as resident aliens for tax purposes must submit an annual tax return (Form 1040EZ, 1040A, or 1040) to the IRS for all domestic and foreign income that exceeds a specified minimum amount Show. This tax liability also applies to people who work and live outside the United States. Resident and Nonresident Aliens. Retrieved September 3, 2014 . ; US Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad. Retrieved September 3, 2014 . Double taxation is usually avoided within the framework of corresponding agreements between the USA and other countries. In addition to the obligation to report income to the IRS, there may be an obligation to submit an annual tax return to the tax authorities of the respective state .

  7. Visa holders can participate in the American social security system if the visa includes a work permit. What is Social Security and the Benefits for Non US Citizens. Retrieved September 3, 2014 .
  8. Foreigners who have spent a lot of time outside of the USA and therefore fail the Substantial Presence Test are discriminated against in the federal inheritance tax; instead of the otherwise applicable exemption of 5 million US dollars, they can only claim an exemption of 60,000 dollars. Sources: Substantial Presence Test ; Estate Tax (PDF; 180 kB).
    Other differences between foreigners and US citizens may arise in terms of state estate taxes.

Individual evidence

  1. www.uscis.gov/greencard Green Card (Permanent Residence). Accessed May 30, 2011.
  2. ^ Green Card Holders and Legal Immigration to the United States
  3. a b c d History of the Green Card. Retrieved September 5, 2014 .
  4. ^ Change of Address Information. Retrieved September 6, 2014 .
  5. ^ Renew a Green Card. Retrieved September 6, 2014 .
  6. International Travel as a Permanent Resident. Retrieved September 6, 2014 . Green Cards: 10 Pointers for Re-Entry into the US as a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) After Traveling Abroad. Retrieved September 6, 2014 .
  7. ^ US Permanent Residency. (No longer available online.) Archived from the original on September 7, 2014 ; accessed on September 6, 2014 . Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.fosterquan.com
  8. ^ Ilona Bray: Grounds of Deportability: When Legal US Residents Can Be Removed. In: www.nolo.com. Retrieved June 30, 2018 .
  9. a b c The Economic Report of the President 2005 , p. 111f
  10. ^ A b The Economic Report of the President 2005 , p. 111
  11. a b Employment Based Green Card. Retrieved September 15, 2014 .
  12. Archived copy ( memento of the original from April 23, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Visa Bulletin for July 2012 @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.travel.state.gov
  13. Archived copy ( Memento of the original from September 22, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Visa Bulletin for October 2013 @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.travel.state.gov
  14. a b Green Card for a Family Member of a Permanent Resident. Retrieved September 4, 2014 .
  15. a b c d e Family of US Citizens. Retrieved September 4, 2014 .
  16. ^ US Military Enlistment Standards. Retrieved September 4, 2014 .
  17. ^ INA, 328 , 329 , legal text
  18. Becoming a Citizen in the US Military. Retrieved September 4, 2014 . ; Application and Filing for Service Members. Retrieved September 4, 2014 . ; The ENLIST Act: A Back Door to Instant Citizenship. Retrieved September 4, 2014 .
  19. The short life of José Antonio Gutierrez  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.@1@ 2Template: Dead Link / video.google.de  
  20. Under what circumstances may a non-citizen be eligible for SSI? Retrieved September 3, 2014 .
  21. ^ Original Medicare (Part A and B) Eligibility and Enrollment. Retrieved September 3, 2014 .
  22. a b United States: Transfers To Non-Citizen Spouses: Planning Considerations. Retrieved September 4, 2014 .
  23. ^ A b c Joining the Military as a Non-US Citizen. Retrieved September 4, 2014 . , US Military Enlistment Standards. Retrieved September 4, 2014 .
  24. Questions and Answers: Revised ATF F4473. Retrieved September 3, 2014 .
  25. ^ Information and Advice About Buying Southwest Florida Real Estate
  26. ^ Immigrant Students' Rights to Attend Public Schools
  27. Number of persons obtaining legal permanent resident status in the US in 2013, by country of origin. Retrieved September 6, 2014 .
  28. ^ A b Estimates of the Legal Permanent Resident Population in 2011. Retrieved September 6, 2014 .