Green Card Benefits Explained

The Benefits and Limitations of Having a Green Card

A U.S. green card, officially known as a Permanent Resident Card, allows individuals to live and work permanently in the United States. It is a critical step towards applying for U.S. citizenship and provides numerous benefits. Each year, the U.S. government issues over a million green cards, enabling millions of people to enjoy the advantages of permanent resident status.

What is a Green Card?

A green card grants the holder lawful permanent resident status in the U.S. This status allows individuals to enjoy many of the same benefits as U.S. citizens, although not all. Permanent resident status is typically granted to individuals in three main categories: green card renewal for existing holders, family members of U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and employment-based immigrants.

sample green card front view

What are the Benefits of Having a Green Card?

Obtaining a green card opens up a wide range of opportunities and protections that are not available to other visa holders. Here are some of the key benefits:

Path to Citizenship

Green card holders can apply for U.S. citizenship after five years, or three years if married to a U.S. citizen. This process, known as naturalization, is a significant step towards full integration into American society. If you don’t apply for naturalization, you must renew your green card every 10 years.

*Note: If you are a green card holder and married to a U.S. citizen, you can apply for naturalization after 3 years. Additionally, note that if you have recently married a U.S. citizen and are applying for a green card, you might initially receive conditional permanent resident status.

Protection from Deportation

As a green card holder, you cannot be deported to your country of origin due to changes in immigration laws. However, committing certain crimes or legal violations can result in the loss of permanent resident status and possible deportation.

Legal Rights

Green card holders are protected by U.S. laws at the federal, state, and local levels. These protections are similar to those granted to U.S. citizens, ensuring fair treatment and legal rights in various situations.

Sponsorship of Family Members

Permanent residents can sponsor certain family members for their green cards. Although U.S. citizens’ family members receive priority, spouses and unmarried children of green card holders are still eligible. Eligible family members include spouses, parents, siblings, and children, with immediate relatives such as spouses and unmarried children taking priority.

Renewability and Stability

Green cards are renewable every 10 years, ensuring continuous lawful status. This renewability offers long-term stability for holders and their families.

Ease of Travel

Green card holders can travel internationally with fewer restrictions compared to other visa holders. They can leave and re-enter the U.S. freely, provided they return within 12 months. Traveling within the U.S. is even easier, as there is no need to verify immigration status with government agencies. Check out our entry on green card holders travel tips for more information.

Freedom of Movement and Employment

Permanent residents can live and work anywhere in the U.S. without restrictions. This freedom includes the ability to take up employment opportunities that require security clearances and to work for the government.

Eligibility for Federal Benefits

Green card holders can access federal benefits like social security and educational assistance. They may qualify for government-sponsored financial aid for higher education and in-state tuition rates at public universities. Long-term residents may also receive social security benefits.

Political Engagement

While not eligible to vote, green card holders can participate in the political process by volunteering or making financial contributions to political campaigns. This involvement allows them to support candidates and policies that align with their views.

Responsibilities of Green Card Holders

Holding a green card comes with important responsibilities that ensure compliance with U.S. laws and maintenance of permanent resident status. These responsibilities include:

Tax Obligations

Green card holders must file income tax returns and report their income to the IRS and state tax authorities, just like U.S. citizens. This includes both federal and state tax obligations.

Adherence to Laws

They must obey all federal, state, and local laws. This includes traffic regulations, employment laws, and other legal requirements to maintain their lawful status.

Selective Service Registration

Male green card holders aged 18-25 must register for the Selective Service, even though the U.S. has not had a draft since 1973.

Carrying Identification

Permanent residents must carry a valid green card at all times. Failure to do so can result in penalties, including potential jail time of up to 30 days.

Prohibition on Illegal Governmental Changes

Green card holders cannot engage in any illegal attempts to change the U.S. government structure, which aligns with the restrictions placed on U.S. citizens.

Limitations of a Green Card

While a green card provides many advantages, there are also certain limitations that holders should be aware of. These limitations include:

Voting Rights

Green card holders cannot vote in federal, state, or local elections until they become U.S. citizens. Read about the consequences of voting as a non-US citizen.

Sponsorship Priorities

They have lower priority in sponsoring family members compared to U.S. citizens.


Green cards are non-transferable and do not automatically extend to children born outside the U.S.

Political Candidacy

Permanent residents cannot run for political office in the U.S.

Passport Restrictions

They are not eligible for a U.S. passport until they become citizens.

Expatriation Taxes

If they leave the U.S. permanently after eight years or more, they are subject to expatriation and exit taxes, similar to those faced by U.S. citizens renouncing their citizenship.

Deportation Risks

Committing certain crimes can result in the loss of permanent residency and potential deportation. Green card holders should seek legal advice if they have a criminal record.


Obtaining a green card provides a pathway to many benefits, including the eventual possibility of U.S. citizenship. It grants stability, legal protections, and opportunities that are unavailable to non-immigrant visa holders. However, it also comes with responsibilities and certain limitations. Understanding these aspects is crucial for anyone considering or currently holding a green card in the United States.

Frequently Asked Question: Green Card Benefits

Do you have more questions? Read answers to common queries below!

How long does it take to get a green card?

The processing time for a green card application varies depending on various factors such as the type of green card you are applying for, your country of origin, and the current backlog of applications. On average, it can take anywhere from several months to several years to receive a green card.

Can green card holders travel outside the U.S.?

Yes, green card holders can travel outside the U.S. However, it’s essential to ensure that you meet the requirements for re-entry into the country, such as having a valid green card and adhering to any travel restrictions or requirements set by U.S. immigration authorities.

Can I work in any job with a green card?

Yes, green card holders are generally allowed to work in any job or profession in the United States. Unlike holders of certain types of visas, green card holders do not require specific work authorization or sponsorship from an employer to work in the U.S.

Do green card holders qualify for healthcare benefits?

Green card holders may be eligible for certain healthcare benefits in the United States, depending on factors such as their state of residence, income level, and specific healthcare programs available. However, eligibility for federal healthcare programs like Medicare typically requires U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent residency for a specified period.

Can I lose my green card if I move to another state?

No, green card holders do not lose their lawful permanent resident status if they move to another state within the U.S. However, it’s crucial to update your address with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within ten days of moving to ensure that you receive important notifications and documentation related to your green card status.

How can I upgrade from a green card to U.S. citizenship?

To upgrade from a green card to U.S. citizenship, you must meet certain eligibility requirements, including residency and physical presence requirements, good moral character, and knowledge of English and civics. You can apply for naturalization through the naturalization process, which involves submitting an application, attending an interview, and passing a citizenship test.

Can green card holders serve in the U.S. military?

Yes, in some cases, green card holders may be eligible to join the U.S. military. However, eligibility criteria may vary depending on factors such as your immigration status, background, and specific military branch requirements. It’s advisable to consult with a military recruiter or immigration attorney for guidance on eligibility and the application process.

Is it possible to lose my green card if I divorce my spouse?

Divorcing your spouse generally does not automatically result in the loss of your green card. However, if your green card was obtained through marriage to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and you divorce before meeting certain residency requirements, you may face challenges in maintaining your permanent resident status. It’s essential to seek legal advice to understand your options and obligations in such situations.

Related Resources

Green Card Overview: Timeline, Costs, and Types
How to Get a Marriage Green Card in the US
Citizenship After Marriage Green Card Guide
How to Check Your Green Card Application Status Online
Green Card Application Costs: What to Expect