A Brief History of the Green Card

Green card has never been the official name of the document but it quickly took on the nickname after it was first introduced in 1950 as a result of the Alien Registration Act of 1940.

Under the act foreigners 14 years of age and older were required to register their fingerprints and document their presence in the United States.


The Alien Registration Receipt Card was its first official name but people commonly referred to it as the green card because of its color.

It was proof that a person could work and live as a permanent resident of the United States.

As immigration to the United States became a dream to many, the green card’s value increased. Fraud became a major problem. The card had to be redesigned more than a dozen times between the 1950s and 1970s.


After struggling to prevent fraud, the Immigration and Naturalization Services designed a new green card that lost its green color and became more like a driver’s license.

The cards included a fingerprint image and an identification number known as the A-number.

The Alien Registration Receipt Card name was changed to Resident Alien Card.


With a multitude of green cards in circulation, employers had trouble verifying who was in the United States legally.

As a result, INS decided on a new card introduced in 1989. INS made all other cards issued prior to 1979 invalid leaving only this design as the valid option.


In 1997 the card was redesigned yet again to promote security and disrupt production of counterfeit cards. The name on the card was once again changed, this time to the Permanent Resident Card.

There was another slight change to the card in 2004 as a result of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. DHS’ logo was printed on the card.


As better technology led to better security the green card underwent another upgrade in 2010. For the first time in decades it once again had a green hue. The card integrated Radio Frequency Identification known as RFID, laser engraved fingerprints, holographic images and high resolution micro-images of former presidents.

On top of security upgrades, the RFID made it easier for officers to identify the card holder.


In May of 2017 the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services announced another redesign of the green card. It bares the colors of the American flag along with a green color.

USCIS said the redesign was part of the Next Generation Secure Identification Document Project and includes even more security features. The old design remains valid until they expire.

If you need to renew or replace your green card, FileRight.com can make it easy.

Take our eligibility quiz for free.

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