A permanent resident alien is any person who is not a citizen of the United States that is living in the United States under a recognized and valid immigration visa, granting them permanent resident status to work and live in the United States indefinitely.

Typically, proof of such permanent residency status is evidenced by possessing a permanent resident card, also known as a green card. Permanent resident status may also refer to immigrants who have entered the country under a conditional residency status and have had their status adjusted to that of a permanent resident.

Lawful permanent residents may also be referred to as a “resident alien permit holder,” “green card holder,” or “permanent resident alien.”

Permanent residents receive many abilities and privileges inherently granted to United States citizens. A permanent resident alien may work at any job legally in the United States, own property, and do not have to return to their home countries.

As long as your green card remains valid, as a permanent resident, you may travel to and from your home country anytime. Permanent residence status may lead to the opportunity to apply for U.S. citizenship.

How Do I Obtain Permanent Residency Status?

You are not allowed to simply request a permanent residency card for just any reason. Permanent residency status requires first filing an immigration petition with the United States Immigration Services and meeting other eligibility requirements to apply to be a permanent resident. There are different types of residencies, and the following are some examples of ways to obtain permanent residency status:

  • Family Member Based Permanent Residency: Family members of U.S. citizens or family members of permanent residents may be able to apply for permanent residence status because of their relationship with them.
    • The Immigration & Nationality Act and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) allows spouses, parents, and unmarried children (younger than 21 years old and unmarried) of United States citizens to apply for permanent residency status;
  • Employment-based Permanent Residency: Individuals who are hired for qualified positions or wish to start business ventures in the United States may after some time be eligible for a green card and granted permanent residency status. Further, in special cases, such as with professional athletes from foreign countries, immigrants may be able to obtain permission to permanently work and reside in the United States;
  • Fiancé(e) Visa: A fiancé(e) of a citizen or permanent resident is usually granted conditional resident status when entering the United States. After some time, they can apply to have the conditions removed to obtain permanent status by filing “Form I-129F, Petition For Alien Fiancé(e)” and intending to marry one another within 90 days of entering the United States;
  • Individuals Seeking Asylum and Refugees: Persons filing for permanent residency status under this category usually can apply for permanent residency after one year.
    • These persons are usually fleeing persecution or dangerous situations in their home country, and, thus, will be designated as refugees or asylees. The process of obtaining permanent residency status for refugees and asylees is different than for other groups, thus an experienced immigration attorney should be consulted in these matters; or
  • Diversity Visa Lottery: The diversity visa lottery program allows immigrants to travel to the United States and later apply for permanent residency status.

What are the Rights of Permanent Residents?

As noted above, as a permanent resident, you have similar rights that those born in the United States inherently have, such as the right to:

  • Live permanently anywhere in the United States. As long as your permanent status is not lost by abandonment or removal, also known as deportation;
  • Legally work in the United States, although some jobs are limited to natural-born United
  • States citizens;
  • Own property;
  • Apply for a driver’s license in your state;
  • Attend public schools and colleges;
  • Purchase or own a firearm, so long as there are no local laws that say you cannot own a firearm;
  • Travel to and from the United States; and
    • It is important to note that leaving the United States for an extended period of time or moving to another country with an intent to live there permanently will likely result in abandonment of your permanent residency status.
  • You are afforded all of the protections of the laws of the United States.

Who Is Eligible to Apply?

Some non-U.S. residents who may be eligible to apply for an adjustment of status to that of a lawful permanent resident include:

  • An immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, such as a spouse, unmarried child who is under 21 years of age, or a parent who is 21 years of age or older;
  • An immediate relative of a lawful permanent resident who meets the age requirements and is either a spouse, parent, or child;
  • Persons admitted entry into the U.S who are either the fiancé or child of a fiancé of a U.S. citizen. It should be noted that the fiancé of a U.S. citizen may only file Form I-485 after they marry the U.S. citizen to whom they are currently engaged;
  • The widow or widower of a U.S. citizen;
  • Immigrant workers who are sponsored by U.S. employers or qualify as an alien entrepreneur;
  • Meet the criteria to be deemed a “special immigrant” (e.g., religious workers) or have been living in the United State for at least a year as a refugee or asylee;
  • Are a victim of human trafficking or another crime;
  • Have won the diversity visa lottery; and/or
  • Several other categories that are listed in the instructions on Form I-485, which can be found on the USCIS website.

Who Is Ineligible to Apply?

There are a number of reasons that an immigrant may be deemed ineligible to apply for an adjustment of lawful permanent residency status. Some common reasons that an applicant may be denied include:

  • That they entered the United States without being admitted or paroled by an immigration officer after an inspection;
  • They entered the United States as a nonimmigrant crewman;
  • They are or were employed in the United States without having proper authorization;
  • They did not have a lawful immigration status at the time they filed their application for adjustment of status;
  • They failed to continue to maintain a lawful status since their initial entry into the United States;
  • They were admitted into the United States without a visa or have violated the terms of their nonimmigrant status; and
  • Various other reasons which can be found in the instructions for Form I-485 on the USCIS website.

Should I Consult an Attorney if I have Permanent Resident Alien Status Legal Issues?

As can be seen, obtaining permanent residency is a complicated process that requires a significant amount of documentation and sometimes confusing and lengthy waiting periods.

Suppose you wish to pursue permanent residency in the United States or have been denied a green card. In that case, you should consult an experienced and well-qualified immigration attorney who can assist you through the process.

An experienced immigration attorney will guide you through the necessary procedures and assist you in navigating the U.S. immigration system. Your attorney can help you apply for a green card, or alternatively, explain why your application was denied. They will also be able to recommend other types of immigration documents that you may want to apply for instead.