Green Card: Some Things You Should Know

What is a Green Card?

green card

A green card is the common term for a permanent residence card issued to immigrants in the United States. The color is unimportant, although the cards are in fact green. When applying for a green card, it is important to know that the United States Department of Citizenship and Immigration Services refers to green cards by their legal names or I-551 permanent resident card.

Every year, the United States grants residency to thousands of   immigrants who meet very specific demographic criteria. Some Include:

  • Family relationships with a citizen or permanent resident of the US.
  • Jobs for US business.
  • Having been in the US for more than a year as a refugee or asylee.
  • Fit into one of several categories called “special immigrants.”
  • Winning the lottery of visas.
  • Make a big investment in a US business.


Getting the Card

You might have guessed that you don’t actually receive your physical green card once you’re approved for permanent residence. In fact, depending upon where and how you are an immigrant, the wait times can vary, though not by much. If you’re an immigrant adjusting U.S. status, you will be mailed a letter of approval and then receive your green card in the following weeks. Overseas immigrants will receive an I-551 stamp in their passport to indicate that they are permanent residents and just like those changing status, green cards are mailed out not long after.


Though a green card provides an immigrant with the opportunity to have permanent residence in the United States as well as work and receive some governmental benefits, there are certain limitations that can cause you to lose your green card.

For one thing, if you commit a crime or any of the other acts that qualify someone for deportation under Section 237 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.), you run the risk of losing your green card and permanent resident status.

Additionally, having a green card does not mean that you are required to apply for citizenship as soon as possible. You can still retain your citizenship to another country while being a permanent resident of the U.S.

Green Card Expiration

Some green cards are conditional and only valid for two years. You will be issued a conditional green card if you obtained permanent resident status from marriage to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and you were married for less than two years at the time of filing your application.


When issued a conditional green card for permanent residence based on marriage, one must file Form I-751 with USCIS within 90 days of the card’s expiration to request that the conditions be removed. Essentially, the USCIS just wants to ensure that the terms under which you obtained your green card remain the same.  If you are no longer married, or if you are widowed, you must be able to sufficiently show that you entered the marriage in good faith.


If you are not a conditional permanent resident, or have removed the conditions on your green card, the USCIS will issue you a green card that is valid for ten years. No, your non-conditional permanent resident status cannot expire and you are not re-applying for that, but the physical card can and does expire. It sounds confusing, but the importance of this point is that U.S. law requires that all card holders carry an unexpired green card with them at all times. If you are in violation of this law, you may be in some trouble with the USCIS. If you, or someone you know has a need to replace or renew their existing green card, there are a number of options to consider. Click here to learn more about renewing or replacing your green card by completing your application online. If your situation is more complex, an online consultation with a licensed immigration attorney may be a better fit.

Road to Status™ is changing the way America processes immigration applications because the old way simply doesn’t work.

Road to Status™ provides immigration applicants with high quality, affordable immigration tools that are easy to use, secure, and accessible anywhere. Watch a short video to see how it works here. When needed, licensed immigration attorneys are available to help.

Learn more at and sign up FREE for updates and critical immigration reform news and alerts.

The newsletters and articles found in this blog are offered only for general informational and educational purposes. They are not offered as and do not constitute legal advice or legal opinions.

Leer en Español