Different Types of Green Cards

Permanent residency cards are known informally as “green cards.” They’ve never been the official name of the document, but it quickly took on the nickname after these cards were first introduced in 1950 as a result of the Alien Registration Act of 1940.

Under the Alien Registration Act, foreigners 14 years of age and older were required to register their fingerprints and document their presence in the United States. While immigrants continue to seek better lives in the United States, the card itself has changed quite a lot since 1950!

What Is a Green Card?

In case you are unfamiliar with what a green card is, it is a document that proves you’re a permanent resident of the United States. With this card, you’re allowed to stay and work inside the United States.

Getting a green card is the first step to becoming a U.S. citizen if you were born in another country. After you have one, you can start the process of filling out Form N-400 and fulfilling all the requirements for full citizenship.

The Green Card Is Born

The Alien Registration Receipt Card was the first official name of the permanent residency card, but people commonly referred to it as the green card because of its color, as you can see in the image above.

This card 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 for 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 to keep up with fake green cards, according to the American Immigration Lawyers Association. 

A Major Change in 1977

After struggling to prevent fraud, the Immigration and Naturalization Service designed a new green card that lost its green color and became more like a driver’s license, at least for that era! It also introduced some new anti-fraud features.

The 1977 cards included a fingerprint image and an identification number known as an A-number, or alien number. Also, the name “Alien Registration Receipt Card” was changed to Resident Alien Card.

Employers Brought on Board

While the new changes improved security, there were still many varieties of green cards out there. Employers complained to the INS about how they could verify who was in the United States legally through the cards.

As a result, INS decided on a new card design introduced in 1989. Also, INS made all other cards issued prior to 1979 invalid, cutting down on the confusion of green card types. However, with greater access to computing power and printing, fraud increased once again.

Outpacing Fraud

In 1997, the card was redesigned yet again with the latest security features to thwart the production of counterfeit cards. Also, the name on the card was once again changed, this time to the Permanent Resident Card.

Later, in 2004, there was another slight change to the card as a result of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. The logo of the DHS replaced the logo of the INS on the cards.

Adding Modern Security Features

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 to match the original cards. It also added a lot of modern security features.

This version of the card integrated Radio Frequency Identification (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 cardholder.

The Latest Version of the Green Card

In May 2017, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced another redesign of the green card. It bears 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 designs remain valid until they expire.

Conditional Green Cards

Another type of green card is the conditional green card. It is mainly given to immigrants who are brought to the United States after marrying a U.S. citizen. These cards are only valid for two years as opposed to a legal permanent resident card that is valid for 10 years.

Conditional green cards cannot be renewed. A conditional permanent resident must apply to remove conditions using Form I-751, Petition to Remove the Conditions of Residence, 90 days before their card expires. If approved, they will be issued a 10-year green card. 

It will look virtually identical to a regular 10-year green card with a couple exceptions that are shown above. A conditional resident green card will have a category number that starts with “CR.” It will also only be valid for two years.

Commuter Green Card

Another type of green card is used by foreign commuters. For instance, someone may live in Mexico but commute to the United States for work. These green card holders are allowed to remain legal residents while living in a foreign country if they are working in the United States. 

The USCIS refers to these legal residents as Commuter Aliens. The green card is nearly identical to those given to legal permanent residents. The only difference, as shown above, is that the first two characters on the back of the card are “C2.” The number given to legal permanent residents reads “C1.”

Commuter Aliens may not apply for naturalization until they establish a residence within the United States. They’re also restricted from sponsoring relatives for green cards until they move into the country.

Renewing or Replacing Your Green Card

Do you have a valid green card printed before 2017? If not, be prepared for a new card design when you renew! If you need to renew or replace your green card, FileRight can make it easy.

Take our eligibility quiz for free to see if you’re eligible to renew your green card. If not, you’ll have to use your old card until it gets closer to its expiration date. Or, if you’re working toward full citizenship, maybe you’ll be able to replace it with a Certificate of Naturalization!

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