Green Cards: What Are They?

When you hear about green cards in the news or in reference on television shows the words are so abstracted from reality that you might start to wonder what, exactly, is a green card?

A green card is little more than an identification card. What makes it particularly special is what it entitles you to do. As a driver’s license allows you to drive a car, a green card allows you to live and work in the United States. So, if you want to live for any significant period of time in America it is probably a good idea to get a green card.

There are generally three different ways by which you can get a green card. The first of which is through a family member who already lives in the United States. You can also get a green card through a job offer, but there are many restrictions involved in this route. The easiest way to get a green card, though it may take some patience and persistence is through the Diversity Lottery, also known as the Green Card Lottery.

Green cards were originally green in color, hence the traditional name, and were issued by the INS, also known as the Immigration and Naturalization services. In 1964 they stopped making the green card green and they began to call it either a permanent resident card or an alien registration card, though the name green card stuck as a tradition. The INS was replaced by the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) in 2002, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, and now green cards are administered by a department within the DHS by the name of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS. It’s quite a mouthful I know. In 2010 green cards became green once again though they still retain the official name of permanent resident card.

The popularity of using the word alien to describe foreign residents has also become less popular as the United States tries to be more multicultural and inclusive. Alien is a pretty exclusionary thing to call someone and it even calls to mind space monsters dripping acid drool. Not a comparison you want to draw to some Namibian fellow who just wants to open a business. Though I do believe you could draw that comparison to my third-grade school teacher…