DEFINITION of Green Card

Green card is a colloquial name for the identification card issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to permanent residents, who are legally allowed to live and work in the U.S. indefinitely.


Individuals can be eligible for a green card through family, work, refugee or asylee status, or a variety of special programs. These include the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, which makes 50,000 visas available each year through a lottery system targeted at underrepresented countries. Making investments above a certain threshold can entitle an investor to permanent resident status. The Director of Central Intelligence can also grant green cards. 

Green cards got their nickname because they were green in color from 1946 to 1964. In 2010 they became green again, but the nickname persisted during the intervening decades of blue, pink and yellow "green cards." 

Permanent residents who are 18 or older are required to carry their green cards at all times or face a fine or jail time. The cards expire after 10 years and must be renewed, except for those issued from 1977 to 1989, which never expire. Conditional permanent residents, who obtain legal status through a recent marriage or investment, must renew their green cards after two years.