Green Cards

Overview

A foreign national who holds a green card is a lawful permanent resident (LPR) of the United States. Green cards permit LPRs to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis; however, the United States can remove green card holders who commit certain acts that make them deportable aliens.

Responsibilities of Green Card Holders

To maintain their LPR status, green card holders must obey all laws of the United States, their state, and their localities. LPRs must also file federal and state income tax returns. 18 to 25-year-old male LPRs must register with the Selective Service.

Additionally, LPRs may lose their green cards if they move to another country with the intent to live there permanently, remain outside of the United States for certain periods of time without obtaining a reentry permit or returning resident visa, fail to file income tax returns while living outside of the United States, or declare themselves to be nonimmigrants on their tax returns.

Finally, LPRs must carry their currently valid Permanent Resident Cards on them at all times. They also must notify the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within 10 days of any address change.

Obtaining a Green Card

Foreign nationals obtain lawful permanent resident status mainly in one of two ways. They either immigrate through a family member or through employment. Other ways to obtain a green card include obtaining an investor visa or through the diversity lottery.

For family and employment-based immigrants, a third party (i.e., relative or employer) sponsors the immigrant by petitioning the USCIS. Employment-based immigrants must also obtain a labor certification from the Department of Labor. Once USCIS has approved the immigrant petition, the immigrant must wait for an immigrant visa number to become available from the State Department.

Because the State Department caps immigrant numbers each year, most immigrants must wait a long time for their immigrant number. However, a U.S. citizen's parents, spouse, and unmarried children under the age of 21 may receive an immigrant visa number immediately.

After an immigrant obtains a visa number, the applicant must apply to the USCIS to adjust to permanent resident status. Applicant outside the United States may apply for an immigrant visa at the nearest U.S. consulate to be allowed into the country.