How to Prove You're a U.S. Lawful Permanent Resident

The green card and other ways to prove your status as a U.S. resident and immigrant.

If you have recently become either a U.S. permanent resident or a conditional permanent resident (who received status either as an investor or as the spouse of a U.S. citizen whose marriage was less than two years old at the time of approval), you will need to be able to prove this to U.S. border and port officials, employers, and more. Here's a rundown of the identity documents that will allow you to do that.

Receiving a Green Card Proves You Are a U.S. Resident

Your best proof that you are a U.S. resident is your permanent or conditional resident card, also known as a green card. Usually, you will receive the actual card in the mail within a few weeks of your application being approved or your entry to the United States.

If you are over the age of 18, the law requires you to carry your green card or other evidence of your U.S. immigration status at all times. Keep a photocopy of the card in a safe place, however, in case it gets lost or stolen. Having a copy will make it much easier to get a replacement card from USCIS.

An I-551 Stamp in Your Passport Can Serve as Temporary Proof of U.S. Residence

If you enter the U.S. after being approved at a consulate, you will also get a stamp in your passport (an "I-551") when you enter. This stamp serves as temporary evidence of your permanent residence while you are waiting for your green card to be mailed to you. You can show this stamp to employers or use it to travel in and out of the United States.

If you get permanent residence by adjusting your status (applying entirely within the U.S.), most officers of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are unwilling to put a stamp in your passport. If you know you will need proof of your permanent residence before you get your green card, however; for example, if you need to leave the U.S.; they might consent to giving you the temporary stamp.

USCIS Approval Notices Are Not Considered Official Proof of Resident Status

If you adjust status in the U.S. (submit a Form I-584 and so on, rather than going through a U.S. consulate) then, after your application for a green card has been approved but before you get the actual card in the mail, you will receive an Approval Notice and a Welcome Notice from USCIS.

You will no doubt be happy to see these notices, but do not try to use them as if they were your green card. If you leave the U.S., you cannot use them to get back in.

Sample Notice of Approval for Residency

Applying for a Social Security Number (SSN)

With your U.S. residency, you are eligible for a Social Security Number (SSN). The SSN is given to all people legally living and working in the United States, to identify them and allow them to pay into a system of retirement insurance.

You might have already applied for a Social Security number, for example if you received a work permit before getting your green card. Also, as of August 2021, when you filled out your Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, it would have included questions needed to apply for an SSN or a replacement card. Then, assuming you answered those, USCIS would have transmitted the data to the Social Security Administration (SSA), which would have automatically assigned you an original SSN or issued a replacement card, as needed.

If you have somehow not received an SSN up to now, this is an excellent time to apply. You will need this number before you start working. Your new employer will ask for it in order to file taxes on your behalf.

To apply for an SSN, you'll need to visit your local Social Security (SSA) office, which you can find via www.ssa.gov. This is required of non-citizens because you'll need to show original documents. Unfortunately, SSA offices remain closed to outside visits as of late 2021, owing to the coronavirus pandemic. Even after they reopen, expect delays into the foreseeable future, unless new procedures allow digital applications.

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