A United States Permanent Resident Card (form I-551), also known as a Green Card, is an identification card attesting the Permanent Resident status of an alien in the United States of America. A Green Card serves as a proof that its holder, a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR), has been officially granted immigration benefits, including permission to conditionally reside and take employment in the USA. The holder must maintain his or her permanent resident status, and can be removed if certain conditions of such status are not met.
A green card is typically valid for 10 years. An exception to this is for conditional permanent residents who are persons that were granted permanent residency as a spouse of a US Citizen, having been married less than two years at the time their permanent residency was approved. These "conditional" permanent residents will be issued a green card with a validity of two years. When they successfully petition to lift the conditions on their residency (after being married two years) they will be issued a regular 10 year green card.
The name "green card" comes from the fact that the predecessor, Alien Registration Receipt Card (form I-151) introduced at the end of World War II, was printed on green paper. Form I-551 was adopted in 1977 and has been printed on paper of various colors, none of which were green, but the term "green card" has nonetheless remained in use. As of 2006, the card is mostly yellowish-white and the only prominent green feature is the background of the lettering on the back. A card includes the holder's name and photograph, and other information, and has been updated over the years with numerous anti-counterfeiting devices.
Green cards were formerly issued by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). That agency was absorbed into and replaced by the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS), part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Shortly after re-organization BCIS was re-named to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
While an application for permanent residency is pending, and alien wants to legally work in the USA, a temporary work permit, Employment Authorization Document (EAD), is needed; if an alien wants to travel abroad - a temporary travel document, Advance Parole (AP), has to obtained prior to travel.
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NOTE: The above information does not address the specific requirements for any given case and is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.