Understanding the Rights and Responsibilities of Green Card Holders

U.S. permanent residents can work and travel freely throughout the country

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A green card or lawful permanent residency is the immigration status of a foreign national who comes to the United States and is authorized to live and work in the United States permanently.  A person must maintain permanent resident status if he chooses to become a citizen, or naturalized, in the future. A green card holder has legal rights and responsibilities as enumerated by the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency.

U.S. permanent residency is known informally as a green card because of its green design, first introduced in 1946.

Legal Rights of U.S. Permanent Residents

U.S legal permanent residents have the right to live permanently in the United States provided the resident does not commit any actions that would make the person removable under immigration law

U.S. permanent residents have the right to work in the United States at any legal work of the resident's qualification and choosing. Some jobs, like federal positions, may be limited to U.S. citizens for security reasons.

U.S. permanent residents have the right to be protected by all laws of the United States, the state of residence and local jurisdictions, and can travel freely throughout the U.S. A permanent resident can own property in the U.S., attend public school, apply for a driver's license, and if eligible, receive Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, and Medicare benefits.

Permanent residents can request visas for a spouse and unmarried children to live in the U.S. and can leave and return to the U.S. under certain conditions.

Responsibilities of U.S. Permanent Residents

U.S. permanent residents are required to obey all laws of the United States, the states, and localities, and must file income tax returns and report income to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service and state taxing authorities.

U.S. permanent residents are expected to support the democratic form of government and not change the government through illegal means. U.S. permanent residents must maintain immigration status over time, carry proof of permanent resident status at all times and notify USCIS of change of address within 10 days of relocation. Males age 18 up to age 26 are required to register with the U.S. Selective Service.

Health Insurance Requirement

In June 2012, the Affordable Care Act was enacted that mandated all U.S. citizens and permanent residents must be enrolled in health care insurance by 2014. U.S. permanent residents are able to obtain insurance through the state health care exchanges.

Legal immigrants whose income falls below federal poverty levels are eligible to receive government subsidies to help pay for the coverage. Most permanent residents are not allowed to enroll in Medicaid, a social health program for individuals with limited resources until they have lived in the United States for at least five years.

Consequences of Criminal Behavior

A U.S. permanent resident could be removed from the country, refused re-entry into the United States, lose permanent resident status, and, in certain circumstances, lose eligibility for U.S. citizenship for engaging in criminal activity or being convicted of a crime.

Other serious infractions that could affect permanent residency status include falsifying information to get immigration benefits or public benefits, claiming to be a U.S. citizen when not, voting in a federal election, habitual drug or alcohol use, engaging in multiple marriages at one time, failure to support family in the U.S., failure to file tax returns and willfully failing to register for Selective Service if required.