Everything a Green Card Holder Should Know

Getting your green card is just first step. Learn your rights, obligations and next steps as a green card holder.


In a nutshell.

Many people know that getting a green card is one of the most important steps in obtaining U.S. citizenship. However, figuring out the details beyond that fact becomes a bit more complicated.

In terms of rights, having a green card is pretty similar to having citizenship. Getting one can add a lot of value to you and your family’s lives in America because it allows you to stay, work, and study in the U.S. indefinitely (provided you don’t do anything criminal and meet your green card obligations). However, there are some important differences between being a green card holder and a U.S. citizen. Some things to note include tax implications, and distinctions in voting rights and public benefits. If you have your green card (or are in the process of getting one), this article is for you.

Green card documents

How do you get a green card?

There are various ways to get a green card. Three ways are most prominent: 1) A spouse or a relative in the U.S can sponsor you, 2) you can also have a job in the U.S., in which case your employer sponsors you (you have an even better case if you have a technical degree), and 3) lastly, you can also obtain enough capital to invest in the U.S. by buying huge amounts of stocks or building a business, for example. When you get your green card, you’ll notice that it is in fact literally green. It will have your photo and act as an identity card, labeling you as a permanent resident.

What if you are a conditional permanent resident?

A conditional permanent resident receives a green card that is only valid for 2 years. In this case, you must take a few additional steps to remain a permanent resident. A conditional permanent resident must file a petition to remove the condition in the 90 days before his or her green card expires. Because the conditional green card can’t be renewed, you will have to file this petition to avoid losing permanent resident status.

To remove the conditions on a green card based off of marriage, you must file Form I-751 Petition to Remove the Conditions of Residence. This means that your permanent resident status was based on a marriage that was less than 2 years long at the time you became a permanent resident.

Alternatively, to do the same for a green card based on entrepreneurship, you must file form I-829 Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions. This means that your permanent status was based off of an investment in the U.S.

What are some of your rights as a green card holder?

A green-card allows you to stay, work, and study in the U.S. as long as you want with no expiration date - as long as you don’t commit crimes or violate the green-card terms. It labels you as a permanent resident of this country and is proof that you have the benefits that come along with it. You are protected by the laws of the United States, your state of residence, and your local jurisdictions.

Once a green card holder becomes 18 years old, he or she may also have the right to vote. The major difference between a green card holder and a naturalized citizen is that a green card holder can only vote in local and state elections that don’t require voters to be U.S. citizens. So that unfortunately means that green card holders are not allowed to vote in federal elections (such as the Presidential election). Additionally, the ability for green card holders to vote in state and local elections will also depend on jurisdiction. To figure out your voting rights, you should obtain information regarding voting qualifications from your local voting authority.

Like voting rights, some public benefits such as Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare may also be limited. Public benefits for green card holders vary and will heavily depend on respective states and counties. To figure out whether you are eligible for public benefits, you will need to seek information from your local public benefits office.

Additionally, green card holders may be allowed to petition for certain family members to immigrate to the United States as permanent residents. Green card holders have the right to petition for his or her alien spouse and unmarried children. Unlike U.S. citizens, green card holders may not petition for their parents.

What obligations do you have as a green card holder?

As a permanent resident, you are required to obey all laws in the United States and its localities, this includes being expected to support the U.S. democratic form of government and not changing the government through any illegal means. You also are required to file income tax returns in addition to reporting your worldwide annual income to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and state taxing authorities in your U.S. tax return Form 1040. Green card holders are treated as resident taxpayers even if they live abroad. Lastly, if you are a male between the ages of 18 and 25, you will also have to register with the Selective Service.

Do you have to carry my green card around with you?

card holders are required under law to have their green cards on them at all times to prove their legal status. If you are detained, Federal law enforcement has the authority to demand that you demonstrate your legal status. Failing to have your green card on your person is considered a misdemeanor.

Practically speaking, chances are that you will likely not get into trouble if you happen to have it on your person. Immigration authorities do have limited resources and will likely not waste them on prosecuting people for not carrying their green cards at all points in time. But, especially in this tumultuous political climate, it is advisable to carry it with you at all times as is required by law.

When can you start working?

Right away! Your Green Card itself is evidence of your employment authorization. You have permission to work in any company located in U.S. territory without employer sponsorship. If you do not yet have a green card and instead only have a nonimmigrant visa, then you will need to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

What if you want to leave the U.S.?

Green card holders are free to temporarily travel outside the United States for temporary as long as they still intend to make the U.S. their permanent home. The bottom line for figuring out whether you can leave the country depends on why you want to leave the U.S. and for how long. Generally, if you want to leave the U.S. for more than one year, you should get a re-entry permit Form I-131. You will need to make sure your green card is not set to expire before the date of your return to the U.S.

Make sure to keep your family and community ties in the country, maintain your U.S. employment, and keep your tax filing up to date. Such factors can be considered when determining your intent to leave the U.S. only temporarily.

What if you lose your green card?

If your card is lost, stolen, mutilated or destroyed in the U.S., you may apply for a replacement online using the online E-Filing Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card, or by filing a paper Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card by mail.

If you happen to be outside of the U.S. and lose your green card, you should contact the nearest U.S. consulate, USCIS office, or port of entry before filing Form I-90. Once it is approved, you will be mailed a replacement.

Can your green card be revoked?

Yes, there are circumstances in which your green card may be revoked and you lose permanent residency status. Though rare, some instances where this may happen are 1) fraud, 2) criminal activity, and 3) abandonment.

If someone falsifies a marriage or investment to obtain a green card, this is considered immigration fraud and is reason for revocation. Additionally, if a permanent resident otherwise lied, omitted or falsified information on their application or committed fraud in order to obtain his or her green card, this would be adequate grounds for revocation. Certain criminal activity, if deemed serious enough, may also result in revocation.

Lastly, as touched upon above, abandoning your residency by leaving the country for a long period of time with the intent to discontinue residence may also endanger your status as a green card holder. Maintaining ties in the U.S. may prevent this risk.

Final thoughts

If you have more questions, feel free to take a look at our other articles pertaining to Green Cards. Don’t hesitate to contact us for information either! Hopefully this article has cleared up some questions you may have had, and we wish you the best of luck on your path to U.S. citizenship.