What Exactly Is a Green Card?
A green card is kind of the slang term, but it’s officially known as a Permanent Resident Card. It’s an identity document that is provided by USCIS as official evidence of what your US immigration status is, and it that contains the person’s picture, along with their name, date of birth, country of birth, alien number, the category in which they immigrated, and several other details. It looks similar to a driver’s license but has information relevant to immigration. Your green card is your evidence that you have lawful permanent resident status in the US, so when you’re coming back from international travel, you’ll use your green card at the border in conjunction with a passport to be allowed entry as a green card holder, or lawful permanent resident, into the US.
It’s also used for employers to verify the authorization to work and immigration status for their employees. Government agencies can similarly verify immigration status and ensure you’re here legally. A lawful permanent resident who is at least 18 years old actually has to carry their green card with them at all times, or they can face up to 30 days in jail for not carrying. While that’s the law, I’ve never seen someone being arrested for not having their green card.
What Does Lawful Permanent Resident Mean?
A lawful permanent resident is someone who has been granted the right to live in the United States indefinitely. Permanent residents have a green card, so that’s the connection between a permanent resident and a green card. Permanent residency also includes the right to work in the US for most employers or for yourself, though certain government agencies will require an employee to have U.S. citizenship. In those cases, a lawful permanent resident would not be able to work for that particular government agency.
When someone is a lawful permanent resident, they continue to hold citizenship of another country or countries, likely their home country. A lawful permanent resident is not a U.S. citizen.
There are several differences between a lawful permanent resident and a citizen. One of the big differences is that a lawful permanent resident can lose or abandon their status, whereas a U.S. citizen can only expressly give up their citizenship is most circumstances. If a lawful permanent resident were to commit certain crimes or be convicted criminally, or go and live in a country that’s not the United States for more than a year or obtain benefits in another country, they could actually abandon, or give up, their lawful permanent resident status. In order to come back to the United States and reside in the U.S. indefinitely again, they’d have to start over from square one and reapply for that lawful permanent resident status. Unfortunately, sometimes the person at that time no longer qualifies for lawful permanent residency and will be unable to reside again in the U.S.
Also, compared to a U.S. citizen, a lawful permanent resident has less ability to petition and sponsor family members to come and reside in the U.S.. Although permanent residents are eligible to petition for their close family members (such as their spouse and married children) for them to join them in the U.S. and receive permanent residency, those family members are put into what’s called preference categories. Preference categories only have a certain number of visas issued each year. As a result, a waitlist forms, and their family members are likely going to spend several years waiting for a visa to become available before they can enter the United States and get permanent residency. For a citizen, those waitlists often don’t even come into effect. If they do, they’re usually a lot shorter because more visas are issued for petitioning U.S. citizen. That’s definitely a big benefit of citizenship, as well.
The other big difference is once you have citizenship, you’re able to get a U.S. passport. If you are a green card holder, you are not entitled to a passport because only U.S. citizens are entitled to get a U.S. passport.
Those are a lot of the big differences. At the end of the day, a lawful permanent resident is someone who has the intention to make the United States their home. With that status, they’re able to live and work in the United States for an indefinite period of time.
What Is Conditional Permanent Residence?
Conditional permanent residence is when a foreign national receives their green card through marriage to either a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident and they have been married for less than two years at the time they are approved for their green card. They’re conditional because their status expires in two years. Near the end of those two years, they are required to remove the conditions on their residence. Once those conditions are removed, they become a lawful permanent resident.
The purpose of the conditional residency is basically to deter marriage fraud for immigration benefits, so it’s immigration’s way of reevaluating whether the marriage appears valid and for bona fide reasons, rather than to gain immigration benefits.
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