Green Card

DEFINITION of 'Green Card'

A permit issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that allows individuals to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis. "Green card" is an informal term for a United States Permanent Resident Card. The identification cards were green from 1946 until 1964; the green color returned in May 2010. Permanent residents of the United States who are 18 years old or older are required to carry a green card at all times to avoid being in violation of Section 264(e) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.


Individuals can be eligible for green card status through family, a job, refugee or asylee status, or through a variety of special adjustment programs. The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program makes a certain number of diversity visas available each year. This "green card lottery" selects individuals to become permanent residents of the United States out of a pool of more than 10 million applicants. The applicants are not required to possess any special skills or be sponsored by family members; instead, each must come from a country that has low rates of immigration to the United States. No single country can win more than 7% of the total number of visas.