Permanent resident status

Permanent residence can be either a stepping-stone toward full American citizenship or a status in its own right, suiting the needs of long-term workers and retirees who wish to live indefinitely in the United States but do not want to give up their own citizenship. The status gives foreigners the freedom to work and reside in the United States without forgoing the possibility of eventually returning to their own countries.

Permanent residence, or legal permanent residence (LPR), enables foreign nationals to live and work in the United States for periods of up to ten years and is renewable. Citizenship;and permanent resident status[permanent resident status]Requirements for permanent residency are similar to those for citizenship, and the application process is also similar. Permanent resident status is granted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS; formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service, INS).Permanent resident statusPermanent resident status[cat]CITIZENSHIP AND NATURALIZATION;Permanent resident status[04140][cat]REFUGEES AND DISPLACED PERSONS;Permanent resident status[04140]

Between the first steps to immigration and the granting of full citizenship and the completion of naturalization, lies a considerable gap, both in the procedures through which applicants must go and in the waiting times required. Waiting periods to become a citizen of the United States have historically ranged from two to seven years. The application procedures are designed to ascertain whether applicants for entry are bona fide, healthy, without criminal records, and with the means to support themselves. Documentation to cover the waiting periods is necessary; the main instrument in modern policy to provide such documentation is legal permanent residence (LPR) or permanent resident status. In the past, this status has gone under a variety of names, from “green card holders” to “resident aliens.”

Twenty-first Century Practices

During the early twenty-first century, the most important differences between permanent resident status and naturalized citizenship were that citizens, unlike permanent residents, could vote, serve on juries, be elected to public office, and hold certain government jobs. Citizens also could not be deported, unless they were proven to have obtained their citizenship fraudulently. The differences between these two statuses have sometimes been subjects of political debate: If the differences are considered to be small, citizenship may be devalued. On the other hand, if the differences are considered too great, then legal questions might be raised about undue discrimination.

LPR status is awarded to immigrants after a complicated procedure similar to that for naturalization. Because the procedure can be costly, many applicants find it best to obtain Immigration lawyers;and permanent resident status[permanent resident status]legal representation. The gaining of LPR status may be begun either through an American embassy abroad, or by adjusting the status of immigrants already in the United States on other kinds of visas. Leaving the country during the application period needs advanced parole documentation. Temporary work permits are available. Temporary status, valid for two years only, is given to those married to American spouses to guard against “Marriages of convenience”[Marriages of convenience]marriages of convenience.

After five years of continuous residence, legal permanent residents can apply for citizenship. Applicants whose sponsors are spouses have only three-year waiting periods. Those who are in the country on refugee status have only four-year waiting periods. LPR status can be forfeited by residents who remain outside the United States for more than a year without having sought prior permission or who fail to file federal income tax returns. Repeated absences of six months or more may also jeopardize the status. There are set procedures for renouncing LPR status through foreign embassies.

A significant number of LPRs choose not to seek naturalization for any of many possible reasons. For example, some have sentimental attachments to their birth countries. Others have long-term plans to return to their homelands. Many countries recognize Dual citizenship;and permanent resident status[permanent resident status]dual citizenship, but the United States discourages it. The U.S. naturalization process asks applicants to renounce their previous allegiances, and some are unwilling to swear this.Permanent resident status

Further Reading

  • Gania, Edwin T. U.S. Immigration Step by Step. 3d ed. Naperville, Ill.: Sphinx, 2006.
  • Motomura, Hiroshi. Americans in Waiting: The Lost Story of Immigration and Citizenship. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • Schuck, Peter. Citizens, Strangers, and In-Betweens: Essays on Immigration and Citizenship. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1998.
  • Waters, Mary C., and Reed Ueda, eds. The New Americans: A Guide to Immigration Since 1965. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007.


Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S.

Dual citizenship

Green cards

Guest-worker programs


“Marriages of convenience”


Resident aliens