A Primer on “Green Cards” and Lawful Permanent Residency

By: Theresa Weaver-Barbers

Many Americans are familiar with the term “green card,” as it’s widely understood that immigrants who obtain green cards may live and work in this country. While the term “green card” is still frequently used, even by immigration attorneys, the official name for a “green card” is actually “Form I-551.” Green cards haven’t actually been green for many years, but Form I-551 just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

An immigrant who obtains a green card is known as a lawful permanent resident (or “LPR”). An LPR may live and work in the United States indefinitely, although there are some situations in which an LPR may lose his residency status (such as being convicted of certain crimes). Being an LPR is distinct from being a citizen of the United States in many ways. For example, it is illegal for LPRs to vote, they are not eligible for certain federal jobs, they may be removed from the country for certain criminal convictions, and they must be careful when traveling outside of the country for periods of longer than six months.

Green cards can be obtained in multiple ways, often (but not always) through a relative or a business that petitions for an immigrant to obtain a green card. In some instances, it is possible for individuals to “self-petition” for their green cards, such as in the case of certain abused spouses of US citizens, some entrepreneurs or investors, and individuals with extraordinary ability in certain fields (broadly including athletes, scientists, artists, educators, and businesspeople).

While some immigrants may choose to file for their green cards from within the United States, it is also common for them to file from abroad. Green card interviews in the United States will be held at a local USCIS field office, while green card interviews abroad are held at US embassies and consulates.

Once an immigrant becomes an LPR and has his first green card in hand, he has an obligation to renew that green card. Green cards are generally good for 10 years, and renewing a green card generally involves completing additional paperwork and submitting a fee. However, LPRs who obtain their green cards through marriage and have not yet been married for 2 years at their interview will need to “remove the conditions” on their green card after 2 years. This involves another application process, additional evidence, and sometimes an interview.

While it is possible to remain an LPR indefinitely, many LPRs choose to become United States citizens at some point through a process known as “naturalization.” Most LPRs are eligible to become United States citizens five years after obtaining their green cards, provided that they meet all other eligibility requirements. LPR spouses of United States citizens are often eligible for naturalization three years after obtaining their green cards (if they remain in a marital relationship with their petitioning United States citizen spouse). Less frequently, LPRs may be eligible to naturalize more quickly, even immediately; this includes, for example, certain military service members and spouses of military service members.

Navigating the complicated process involved in obtaining a green card, or any other immigration benefit, can be stressful. We are here to support you every step of the way, from preparing your application packet for you, to your interview and the decision on your case. Contact Johnson Duffie at (717) 761-4540 to schedule a consultation to discuss your individual immigration needs in more depth. Learn more about our Immigration services