A green card is a document that grants someone lawful permanent resident status in the United States. Green cards allow people to live, work, and study in the U.S., and also to apply for citizenship at some point if they so desire. There are certain rights and responsibilities associated with being a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. On this page, we will discuss what rights you have as a lawful permanent resident of the United States (Green Card Holder) and what your responsibilities are once you have that status.
The Rights of a Green Card Holder
In the United States, there are two types of legal residents: permanent and conditional. Permanent residents (commonly referred to as "green card holders") have a more secure status than conditional residents.
With their green cards, they can live in the US indefinitely and are protected from deportation unless they commit certain crimes or violate other conditions set by law.
Permanent residents may also petition for family members to immigrate here; These include your spouse and your unmarried children.
You have the right to remain in the United States and work or study without restrictions. You also have the right to travel within the U.S., as well as travel abroad freely but may be limited in the time that you can remain outside of the United States.
You will also be protected by all laws of the United States, your state of residence, and local jurisdictions.
Many green card holders (LPRs) can also file for the following government benefits assuming that they otherwise qualify:
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program provides cash to seniors and those with disabilities who are below certain income thresholds.
Permanent residents (LPRs) may apply for SSI benefits once they have lived in the U.S. for five years. After five years in the U.S., lawful permanent residents must have credit for 40 quarters of work to qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). “Quarters” is a legal term that means a period of three months where you make a certain amount of money. If you work all year, it will take approximately 10 years to qualify for SSI.
These quarters are strictly defined:
You will only be able to count your work history in the United States towards completing your 40 quarter requirement.
If the person receives “means-tested benefits” during a quarter, no credit will be given for that quarter.
The work of parents performed while a lawful permanent resident is under the age of 18 can be counted. and
The work of a spouse is considered if there was no divorce or annulment, as long as the performance was from before the commencement of that union to end.
Some financial assistance, like Social Security benefits, is unavailable to people who are subject to removal orders.
Social Security Benefits
A permanent resident of the United States is eligible for Social Security benefits as long as they have accrued at least ten years worth of credit; or in other words, 10 quarters
Put another way permanent residents are usually eligible for Social Security benefits if they have accrued 40 credits (equivalent to ten years of work or 40 quarters).
These benefits include retirement payments, disability benefits, and survivors' benefits (for the survivors of deceased workers).
One important eligibility criteria are that if your Social Security number was issued on or after January 1, 2004, the number must have been valid for work, or the work for which you are seeking credit must have been performed while you were temporarily in the U.S. and had status as a businessperson or crewman.
Medicare (Hospitalization/Free and Buy-In)
LPRs who have been in the United States for five years can also file to receive Medicare if they are over the age of 65, or have certain qualifying disabilities. There are several different types of Medicare, including:
Part A... covers major procedures such as hospitalizations or surgeries
Part B... covers outpatient benefits such as doctor's office visits, lab work, X-rays, etc
Part C,..combines components of Part A and B, and gives some additional coverages such as vision and dental
Part D... covers prescription medication.
LPRs who have worked 40 credit hours do not need to pay for Medicare Part A. If you are currently an LPR but have not worked long enough, you can enroll in a Medicare Part A plan by paying a monthly premium.
LPRs (as well as US Citizens) must pay for Medicare parts B, C, and D.
Medicaid (Full-Scope and Emergency)
Medicaid is a federally funded healthcare program that provides support to individuals with low income and resources. While the program is funded by the federal government it is administered by the state. Each state has a Medicaid program. However, many states have it called by different names.
Medicaid offers different types of coverage, each tailored to a specific need.
Emergency Medicaid is for people who require treatment in an emergency that cannot wait until day-to-day services are available. Full-Scope Medicaid services allow recipients to see specialists and get the care they require, including prescriptions and some counseling. Most Permanent residents qualify for Emergency Medicaid without exception, assuming they meet the general, non-immigration-related eligibility requirements.
To qualify for Medicaid, a lawful permanent resident must have been in this status for at least five years. A few states require 40 quarters of work before providing Full-Scope Medicaid benefits.
State programs sometimes also offer LPRs certain medical benefits without Medicaid funding.
Medicare (Hospitalization/Free and Buy-In)
LPRs who have been in the United States for five years are normally eligible to receive Medicare. Medicare is intended for people who are over the age of 65, or people with certain qualifying disabilities. There are several different types of Medicare, including:
Part A, which covers major procedures such as hospitalizations or surgeries
Part B, which covers outpatient benefits such as doctor's office visits, lab work, X-rays, and so on
Part C, which combines components of Part A and B, as well as additional coverage (vision, dental, and more), and
Part D, which covers prescription medication.
Americans or LPRs who have worked 40 credit hours do not need to pay for Medicare Part A. However, if you are an LPR who has lived in the U.S. for five years but has not worked long enough, you can purchase Medicare Part A coverage and pay a monthly premium (as of mid-2019, a Medicare Part A premium cost over $400/mo.).
Both citizens and LPRs need to pay for Medicare parts B, C, and D.
Medicaid (Full-Scope and Emergency)
Medicaid is a health coverage program for low-income individuals, children, families, elderly persons, and disabled persons. Each state runs a Medicaid program, though many give it a different name.
Two types of opportunities for medical care are offered under Medicaid: Emergency Medicaid and Full-Scope Medicaid. Permanent residents mostly qualify for Emergency Medicaid without exception, assuming they meet the general, non-immigration-related eligibility requirements.
To qualify for Full-Scope Medicaid, permanent residents must, in most cases, have been in this status for at least five years. A handful of states require 40 quarters of work before providing Full-Scope Medicaid benefits.
Also, the “deeming rules” described above may apply.
To find out whether your state provides Full-Scope Medicaid to permanent residents who are under 21 or pregnant, contact your local, county, or state public benefits office.
Your state also might provide LPRs for certain medical benefits funded without Medicaid money.
Health Insurance Marketplace
LPRs are eligible to apply for insurance through the health insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act or ACA (often referred to as "Obamacare").
Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provides health insurance to children of families who are too high-income to be eligible for Medicaid but do not have enough money to buy private insurance.
To normally qualify for CHIP, permanent residents must:
have been an LPR for at least five years, and
be a child under 21 AND live in a state that provides Full-Scope Medicaid to permanent residents, or
be pregnant AND live in a state that provides Full-Scope Medicaid to permanent residents
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
TANF is a program that offers cash assistance to low-income families and helps them get off of welfare and into the workforce.
In most states, lawful permanent residents (LPRs) who have maintained their status for five years can qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), assuming they meet other program requirements. A few states require 40 quarters of work before providing TANF benefits.
States also often run programs that provide cash assistance and other benefits to immigrants who are not eligible for TANF, but the benefits may be lower and time limits could apply.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
Often referred to as food stamps, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a federal program that provides money for low-income families and individuals so they can purchase food. The purpose of SNAP is to provide households with an adequate diet while also teaching healthier eating habits.
If you are an immigrant under 18, you may be able to receive SNAP benefits. An LPR who is older than 18 will sometimes qualify for SNAP only if they have 40 quarters of work.
Federally Funded Public Housing and “Section 8” Housing
Section 8 is a public housing subsidy that can be used to rent an apartment or home in the private market. Federally financed affordable housing provides low-cost housing for people of all backgrounds.
Legal permanent residents are eligible for federally funded public housing and also may apply for the “Section 8” program.
The Responsibilities of Green Card Holders
The United States government has been enforcing a strict immigration policy for decades. This includes the enforcement of laws that limit immigrants' rights and access to resources. Those who are granted legal status must abide by certain rules and regulations. One example is obtaining a green card or permanent resident status which allows them to live in America without fear of deportation but also carries responsibilities with it. It is difficult enough to get a green card. To get one and then lose it is often an even more terrible hardship.
As a permanent resident (LPR), you are:
Required to obey all laws of the United States, its states and localities;
Required to file your income tax returns and report your income to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and any applicable state taxing authorities;
Expected to support the democratic form of government (IMPORTANT NOTE: “support” does not include voting. Permanent residents cannot vote in federal, state, or local elections. Voting as an LPR could result in criminal charges and possibly your deportation and a permanent bar from ever reentering the United States); and
Required to register with the Selective Service, if you are a male age 18 through 25.
You can lose your LPR status in several different ways. Those ways are most easily broken down as loss through Court Proceedings, and loss through abandonment.
Losing Your Green Card Through Court Proceedings
You will lose your permanent resident status if an immigration judge issues a final removal order against you. They usually occur because of criminal convictions, trafficking, or security threats.
The Department of Homeland Security can also institute
what is known as rescission proceedings at any time during the first five years after you became a lawful permanent resident (Green Card holder) if:
They determine you were not eligible to obtain a Green Card at the time they approved your adjustment of status (Green Card) application; and
You would not have been eligible for a Green Card under any other provision of law.
If your lawful permanent residence is rescinded, you will no longer be a Green Card holder and will in all likelihood then be placed in removal proceedings.
Losing Your Green Card Through Abandonment
You may also lose your permanent resident status by abandoning it (sometimes even unintentionally). This may include:
Moving to another country and intending to live there permanently;
Declaring yourself a “nonimmigrant” on your U.S. tax returns; or
Remaining outside of the United States for an extended period of time, unless it's a temporary absence, as shown by:
The reason for your trip;
How long you planned to be absent from the United States;
Any other circumstances of your absence; and
Any events that may have prolonged your absence.
Note: The best way to avoid an abandonment allegation is to get a re-entry permit from USCIS before you leave, or a returning resident visa (SB-1) from a U.S. consulate while abroad since either of them counts as evidence that you planned for this to be a temporary absence.
If you are a permanent resident (green card holder), it is important to understand the rights and responsibilities that come along with your status.
As long as you maintain your legal status and meet all of your responsibilities, you will continue to have these rights and benefits afforded to you as part of being a lawful permanent resident (green card holder).