Green Card Immigration Term

A Green Card lying on an open passport

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A green card is a document showing evidence of your lawful permanent resident status in the United States. When you become a permanent resident, you receive a green card. The green card is similar in size and shape to a credit card. Newer green cards are machine-readable. The face of a green card shows information such as name, alien registration number, country of birth, birth date, resident date, fingerprint, and photo.

Lawful permanent residents or "green card holders" must carry their green card with them at all times. From USCIS:

"Every alien, eighteen years of age and over, shall at all times carry with him and have in his personal possession any certificate of alien registration or alien registration receipt card issued to him. Any alien who fails to comply with [these] provisions shall be guilty of a misdemeanor."

In years past, the green card was green in color, but in more recent years, the green card has been issued in a variety of colors, including pink and pink-and-blue. Regardless of its color, it is still referred to as a "green card."

Rights of a Green Card Holder

  • Live the rest of your life in the country, provided you do not commit any offenses that would make you removable under U.S. immigration law. In short, as long as you follow the law, your residency is guaranteed.
  • Work in the United States in any legal pursuit that you choose. However, some jobs (generally, government positions in defense and homeland security) are restricted to U.S. citizens only for security reasons. Also, you cannot run for elected office (or vote in federal elections), so you won’t be able to earn a living in public service.
  • Travel freely around the United States. You can leave and then reenter the country as you please. However, there are some restrictions on prolonged stays outside the country.
  • Claim protection under all laws of the United States, your state of residence and your local jurisdictions. In general, all the safeguards and legal avenues available to U.S. citizens are also available to permanent residents, and this is true anywhere in the country.
  • Request visas for your husband or wife and unmarried children to live in the United States.
  • Own property or buy firearms, as long as there are no state or a local ordinance prohibiting it.
  • Attend public school and college, or join branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.
  • Apply for a driver’s license. Even the most restrictive states for immigrants allow green-card holders to drive cars.
  • Get Social Security, Supplemental Security Income and Medicare benefits if you are able.

Also Known As: The green card is known as "Form I-551." Green cards are also referred to as a "certificate of alien registration" or "alien registration card."

Common Misspellings: The green card is sometimes misspelled as greencard.


"I passed my adjustment of status interview and was told that I would receive my green card in the mail."

Note: The term "green card" can also refer to a person's immigration status and not just the document. For example, the question "Did you get your green card?" could be a question about a person's immigration status or the physical document.

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Your Citation
McFadyen, Jennifer. "Green Card Immigration Term." ThoughtCo, Sep. 9, 2021, McFadyen, Jennifer. (2021, September 9). Green Card Immigration Term. Retrieved from McFadyen, Jennifer. "Green Card Immigration Term." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).