History of Green Card

Green cards are officially referred as permanent resident cards by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Resident Alien Card and Alien Registration Receipt Card are the other names that were used to refer to this card. It is also known as Form I-551. “Green card” is not the official name of this document but it took the name because of its colour when it was first introduced in 1950 and these cards were not always green. 

It was only in 1940 that foreign nationals who came to the U.S. were asked to register within the U.S. The Alien registration Act of 1940 required all non-U.S. citizens to register with the federal government at post offices. This Act wanted them to document their presence in the U.S. Registration forms that were filed at post offices were forwarded to Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Once the forms were processed, INS mailed receipt cards, Form AR-3 to the registrants. Likewise, all those who came to the U.S. were required to register and there was no discrimination between legal and illegal immigrants. All those who registered were issued AR-3 receipt cards.

The First Green Card

First Green Card

Immigrants were first asked to register at post offices. But later the registration process became a part of the regular immigration process at U.S. ports of entry and immigration offices.

After that, not all immigrants were allowed to remain in the U.S. Only those who had legal basis to stay in the U.S. were allowed to remain here while the others were required to leave the country. Those who were allowed to remain here were issued documentation to prove their legal status in the country.

Later the INS started to issue different documents that replaced the receipt cards that were initially issued. Depending on the class of admission of the immigrants, different documents were issued. That is when a green color document was issued to those who were allowed to live here permanently. This document was called Form I-151.

In 1951, those who had AR-3 cards were asked to replace those cards with Form I-151, Alien Registration Receipt Cards. Only those with legal status in the country were allowed to replace those receipt cards with Form I-151. The others were not allowed to replace those cards and were subject to prosecution for violating the laws.

This Form I-151 was then used by immigrants to prove legal status in the U.S. This card that indicated that the holder has the right to live and work here legally was known as Alien Registration Receipt Card. As this name was quite long, people started to refer to the card by its colour and started referring to it as a green card.

Form I-551, Resident Alien Card – 1977

Green Card 1977

In 1977, the INS issued a new version of the card. It was a machine-verifiable card like driver licenses and credit cards. These cards were issued with the holder’s signature and the Alien Registration Number. But this new document was not in green color and it did not have an expiration date. It was named Resident Alien Card.

Re-designed Green Card – 1989

Green Card 1989Green Card 1989





As there were different versions of the card, it was difficult for the U.S. employers to verify the identity of the holder. Considering this, the INS issued a new version of the card in 1989. These new cards had expiration dates.

In 1996, the INS announced that all old Form I-151 issued before 1979 are invalid. Only the card issued after 1989 was the version of the card that was valid.

Permanent Resident Card – 1997

Green Card 1997

Again to counter fraud, INS issued a more secure card in 1997. This card was named “Permanent Resident Card.” This card had the Alien Registration Number and a unique card number. In 2004, the Department of Homeland Security seal was added to the card. This version of the card is still in use. The last cards issued will expire in 2020.


The New Green Card – 2010

Green Card 2010 2010 GC2





In 2010 the green cards were again re-designed with new features. These cards with new features helped U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) prevent fraud.

The Present Day Green Card

Green Card 2017

In May 2017, USCIS issued a new version of the green card. The re-design was a part of the Next Generation Secure Identification Document Project, according to the USCIS. This new card includes more security features. The older versions of the cards will remain valid until they expire.