A Brief Guide to Green Cards

Green cards

If you’re an immigrant in the US or considering becoming one, you’ve probably heard of Green Cards. Learning more about them, though, can be tough — combing through page after page on the USCIS website may leave you more confused than before. 

We’ve put together a short, plain-spoken guide to green cards to make it easier.

What Is a Green Card?

A Green Card is an immigration document that grants the holder permanent resident status in the US. To be eligible for one, you must belong to at least one of the eligibility categories. 

Generally, you can qualify for a green card through:

  • – Family ties
  • – Work
  • – Humanitarian reasons (e.g. refugee or asylee status)
  • – The “diversity lottery”
  • – Long-term residency in the US

To get a Green Card, you’ll need to:

  • – Have someone sponsor/petition your application (in most cases)
  • – File an application
  • – Attend a biometrics appointment
  • – Attend an interview
  • – Have your application approved & receive your card

This process typically takes several years, and after a certain amount of time — usually every 10 years — you’ll need to renew it.

Read more: US Tax Implications: Worldwide Income For Green Card Holders

Green Card vs. Citizenship

Unlike permanent residents, US citizens are granted some additional rights, such as the ability to:

  • – Vote in elections
  • – Run for office
  • – Receive a US passport
  • – Work for certain governmental agencies
  • – Sponsor visas for all immediate family members & have children qualify as US citizens
  • – Avoid deportation

The process for US citizenship is different as well. US citizens are granted citizenship either by birth — being born in the US, or having a US citizen parent — or through a process called naturalization, which permanent residents are eligible for after a certain amount of time (often five years).

Green Card Benefits

While permanent residents don’t have all the same rights as citizens, there are still a number of benefits of having a Green Card, like the ability to:

  • – Live & work in the US permanently
  • – Receive legal rights & protections
  • – Sponsor certain family members for visas, like spouses & unmarried children (although green card holders can not sponsor parents or siblings)
  • – Receive certain benefits like social security and in-state tuition
  • – Financially contribute to and volunteer for elections
  • – Freely travel between other countries & the US for short-term stays

Green Card Drawbacks & Considerations

Along with the advantages of having a green card, there are certain obligations as well.

Green Cards & Travel

Permanent residency status may be threatened by extended trips abroad. Generally, the minimum stay in the US for Green Card holders to maintain permanent residency is 6 months — so keep this in mind if you plan to work abroad or as a digital nomad.

When traveling, always bring your passport from your country of origin and your Green Card. You can travel while your Green Card is being renewed or if it’s lost or stolen — but only if you go to a nearby USCIS office to get an ADIT stamp that proves your permanent residency.

Green Cards & Taxes

As a permanent resident, you’ll have to pay US taxes on your worldwide income, even if you are employed by a non-US company or are currently living abroad. If you have to pay taxes in another country, too, you may be eligible for the Foreign Tax Credit, which essentially allows you to subtract the amount you’ve paid in taxes to a foreign government from what you owe the US. 

Read more: How To Calculate Your Foreign Tax Credits & Carryover (With Examples!)

Separately, applying for the Foreign Earned income Exclusion is generally not recommended for Green Card holders. It can indicate that you don’t intend to make the US your permanent home.

One very important thing to keep in mind is that Green Card holders must continue to pay US taxes even if their card has expired or if they haven’t lived in the US for years. The only way to end your requirement to pay US taxes is to formally abandon your Green Card. However, doing so may subject you to expensive exit taxes and/or make it harder to return to the US. We recommend you always consult with an immigration attorney and tax professional first!

Green Card Taxes Made Simple

If you currently hold a Green Card or are considering applying for one, there can be significant tax implications — so the safest bet is to work with a certified tax professional, like those at Bright!Tax.

With our expertise in Green Card holder and applicant taxes, we can help you stay on top of your taxes and minimize your liability. Reach out today to learn more about us and how we can help!

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