There are certain things you can and can’t do with a Green Card. For example, long trips outside of the U.S. can lead to the abandonment of a green card, which will be talked about below.
What is a Green Card?
A Green Card is also known officially as a Permanent Resident Card. You live and work in the United States permanently with a Green Card, and the steps you take to apply for one depend on your specific situation.
With a Green Card, you are getting official immigration status, and you are entitled to certain rights and responsibilities. If you want to naturalize as a U.S. citizen, you have to get a Green Card.
There are Green Card eligibility categories outlined by law in the U.S. These eligibility categories include:
- Through family
- Through employment
- As a special immigrant
- Through refugee or asylee status
- For victims of crime and human trafficking
- Victims of abuse
- Through other categories
- Through registry
The eligibility requirements for applying depend on the immigrant category you’re applying for. Most people who apply for Green Cards need to complete a minimum of two forms. The first is an immigrant petition, and the second is a Green Card application, Form I-485.
Usually, someone else files the petition for the person who hopes to get a Green Card. This is known as sponsoring or petitioning you, but you might be eligible to file on your own behalf in certain circumstances.
If you’re already in America, you will use an adjustment of the status application process with USCIS. If you already have an approved petition for immigration and a visa is available, you file Form I-485. If you don’t currently have a petition, then again, you check the requirements for your category.
If you’re outside the country, you go through consular processing with the U.S. State Department.
The general process might start with someone filing a petition for you. Then, after your petition is approved by the USCIS, and there’s a visa in your category that’s available, you file either a Green Card application with USCIS or a visa application with the State Department. The next step is a biometrics appointment. At a biometrics appointment, you provide fingerprints, a signature, and photos. The next step is an interview, and then you receive a decision.
The Benefits of a Green Card
When you’re a permanent resident with a Green Card, you have some of the benefits of citizens, but not all of them.
More than a million Green Cards are issued in the U.S. every year, and permanent resident status is usually in one of three categories—people already with a green card issued a new one, relatives of permanent residents and U.S. citizens, and workers who are in America on employment visas.
- After three years, you can apply for U.S. citizenship if you’re married to a citizen. You can apply after five years if not. If you recently married someone who’s a U.S. citizen and you applied for a Green Card, you might have conditional permanent resident status.
- Green card holders are permanent residents, regardless of potential future changes to immigration law. It’s not temporary, and you can’t be deported to your country of origin. However, you can lose residency if you violate the law or commit a crime.
- You don’t need to renounce citizenship in your origin country to get a Green Card.
- You’re protected by U.S. laws, your state of residence, and the laws of your local jurisdiction.
- If you have a Green Card, you can sponsor other members of your family. Family members of permanent residents are given priority but not as much as family members of U.S. citizens. For Green Card holders, eligible family members can include spouses, parents, children, and siblings.
- You can renew a Green Card every ten years.
- If you have your Green Card, you can travel to and from the U.S. easier than other visa holders or new arrivals. You do have to return within 12 months.
- You may be eligible for federal benefits such as education assistance or Social Security.
- Green Card holders can apply for a variety of jobs.
The Limitations for Green Card Holders
While there are a lot of benefits, there are also limitations that come with having a Green Card.
You also have responsibilities.
First, the limitations of a Green Card include the following:
- You don’t have the right to vote
- You don’t have the highest priority to sponsor other family members as U.S. citizens
- Your Green Card isn’t transferrable and doesn’t automatically extend to children when they’re born out of the U.S.
- With a Green Card, you can’t be issued a U.S. passport.
- If you leave the U.S. permanently after eight years or more, you’re subject to exit and expatriation taxes.
- You don’t have full protection from deportation, but you are protected if laws change.
- You have to renew every ten years.
The responsibilities of holders of a Green Card include:
- Like U.S. citizens, you’re required to file income tax returns. You have to report income to the IRS and the state tax authorities where you live.
- You have to obey all laws.
- If you’re a male between the ages of 18 and 25, you have to register for the Selective Service.
- You have to keep your Green Card with you at all times.
To revisit the topic of travel, you want to make sure if you have a Green Card and you’re leaving the country that, you have all of the necessary documents. You’ll probably need a passport from the country where you’re a citizen, and you should keep your Green Card for the duration of your trip.
When you come back, you’ll need it as well as your passport. If you leave, you must have every intention of returning. If a Customs and Border Patrol officer thinks you do not intend to live in the U.S. permanently, they can revoke your status. You may need to show additional documentation to prove you’re only making a temporary trip to another country.