A U.S. green card allows a person to live and work in the United States and start the process to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. This card makes the holder a permanent resident of the United States, entitled to many of the same benefits as a citizen, but not all.
Every year, the U.S. government issues more than one million green cards. In 2019, an estimated 13.9 million green card holders lived in the United States with lawful permanent resident status, of which 9.1 million were eligible to become citizens. Permanent resident status is usually given to three categories: those people who already have a green card and are issued a new one, relatives of U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and workers in the U.S. on employment visas.
This guide looks at both the benefits of getting a green card, as well as a few things to consider.
In this guide, you will learn about:
A green card provides many advantages, primarily that it allows the green card holder to permanently live and work in the United States, and after a number of years, become a U.S. citizen.
Benefits of a green card
You can apply for U.S. citizenship after three years if you are married to a U.S. citizen, or five years if not. (If you recently married a U.S. citizen and apply for a green card, you may have conditional permanent resident status.)
You cannot be deported to your country of origin. Green card holders maintain status as a permanent resident no matter what future changes may be made to U.S. immigration laws. A green card is not temporary, and can not be revoked with potential changes to immigration laws. A green card holder, however, can lose their residency by committing a crime, violating a law or doing something that can potentially result in deportation.
You do not have to renounce citizenship of your country of origin.
You are legally protected by the laws of the United States, your state of residence and your local jurisdiction. The same protections under the law that apply to U.S. citizens apply to those granted permanent residence.
You can sponsor other family members for a green card. Family members of permanent residents are given priority, but not as great a priority as family members of U.S. citizens. Eligible family members include spouses, children, parents, and siblings (as well as the spouses and children of those spouses, adult children, and siblings).
You can renew your green card every 10 years.
You can travel to and from the United States more easily than other visa holders or new arrivals. Permanent residents can travel abroad and re-enter the United States with a valid green card, as long as they return within 12 months.
You can travel or live anywhere within the United States. State borders are no limitation, and there is no need to check in with civil or state government agencies.
You are eligible to receive federal benefits such as social security or education assistance. Permanent residents may apply for government-sponsored financial aid for education. Additionally, green card holders are entitled to in-state or resident tuition rates at certain colleges and universities. If a green card holder resides in the United States long enough, they may receive social security benefits.
You may apply for a wide variety of jobs. Green card holders experience greater job opportunities than those on a work visa. For instance, permanent residents can apply for jobs that involve security clearances and/or work for the government.
You can engage in the political process. Politics at all levels, from the local councilperson to the president, can influence life in the United States. Green card holders are eligible to make financial contributions or volunteer for the candidate of their choice in U.S. elections.
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Once you are a green card holder, you hold certain responsibilities as a legal permanent resident of the United States.
- Green card holders, like U.S. citizens, must file income tax returns and report income to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as well as state tax authorities.
- Green card holders are obligated to obey the laws of the United States, their state of residence, and their local jurisdictions.
- Male green card holders, between the ages of 18-25, must register for the Selective Service. (Note the United States has not had a draft since 1973).
- Green card holders must carry a valid green card at all times. Not having a green card on you can lead to up to 30 days in jail.
- Green card holders, like U.S. citizens, may not engage in any attempts to change the form of government through illegal means.
While green card holders can live and work in the United States, and enjoy most of the same benefits as a U.S. citizen, permanent residents are not U.S. citizens and because of this do not have the full rights of a citizen. Limitations include:
- Green card holders do not have the right to vote.
- Green card holders do not have as high a priority in sponsoring other family members for green cards as U.S. citizens.
- Green cards themselves are non-transferrable and are not automatically extended to children born outside the United States.
- Green card holders may not run for political office.
- Green card holders are not issued a U.S. passport.
- Green card holders who leave the U.S. permanently after 8 years or more are subject to expatriation and exit taxes, as would apply to a U.S. citizen renouncing their citizenship.
- Full protection from deportation is not guaranteed to green card holders. But as a reminder, green card holders are protected from deportation should U.S. immigration law change.
- Green cards must be renewed every 10 years.
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