Resident aliens

Definitions of “resident aliens” vary among different users. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, resident aliens are immigrants who enter the United States legally and obtain valid green cards. In contrast, the U.S. Department of the Treasury applies the term to all immigrants who remain in the country for significant periods of time, whether they enter the country legally or illegally.

Although the term “resident alien” does not have the official recognition in U.S. government usage that its cousin, “permanent resident,” possesses, the term is generally understood to convey essentially the same meaning: an immigrant residing in the United States for an indefinite duration. Under this view, resident aliens can be divided into three categories:Resident aliensCitizenship;and resident alien status[resident alien status]Noncitizens;resident aliensResident aliensCitizenship;and resident alien status[resident alien status]Noncitizens;resident aliens[cat]CITIZENSHIP AND NATURALIZATION;Resident aliens[cat]REFUGEES AND DISPLACED PERSONS;Resident aliens

•immigrants intending to stay permanently who are in the process of meeting naturalization requirements to become citizens

•immigrants allowed to stay in the country indefinitely although they do not meet naturalization requirements

•immigrants who meet requirements but do not desire to become U.S. citizens

With the establishment of the United States during the late eighteenth century, it became necessary to define who were American citizens, with all the rights and privileges of citizenship outlined in the U.S. Constitution, and who were not. Over the years, Congress passed immigration laws outlining how persons born outside the United States could naturalize to become American citizens. Foreigners who move to the United States with the intention of remaining indefinitely can obtain green cards that give them permanent residence status. They are often known as resident aliens. Legal permanent residents of the United States have certain restrictions placed upon them, such as not being able to reside outside the United States for more than a year without special permission from the government.Resident aliensCitizenship;and resident alien status[resident alien status]Noncitizens;resident aliens

Further Reading

  • Bray, Ilona, et al. U.S. Immigration Made Easy. Berkeley, Calif.: Nolo, 2009.
  • Tichenor, Daniel. Dividing Lines: The Politics of Immigration Control in America. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002.

Assimilation theories


Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S.

Green cards


Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S.


Permanent resident status

Transit aliens