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Lawful Permament Residents - Green Card Holders, A Supplement to First Steps, LIRS

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Lawful
Permanent
Residents
(GREEN CARD HOLDERS)

A Supplement to First Steps: An LIRS Guide
for Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Migrants
Released from Detention

Edition 2014

LAWFUL
PERMANENT RESIDENTS

2014 Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Service
Started by Lutheran congregations in 1939, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee
Service (LIRS) is a national organization walking with migrants and refugees
through ministries of service and justice, transforming U.S. communities by
ensuring that newcomers are not only self-sufficient but also become connected
and contributing members of their adopted communities in the United States.
Information in this manual may be reprinted with the following note: Reprinted
with permission of the Detained Torture Survivors’ Legal Support Network, a
program of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
For information or bulk orders, contact:
firststeps@lirs.org

T

his resource provides specific information on rights,
responsibilities, and benefits for lawful permanent
residents (LPRs), also known as permanent resident
aliens, legal permanent residents, and green card holders.
It is intended to supplement LIRS’s publication titled, First Steps: An
LIRS Guide for Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Migrants Released
from Detention. This document provides brief, status-specific
information for LPRs. However, you should consult the First Steps
guide, referenced here as “the Guide,” for more detailed information
and resources. It is available at www.lirs.org/firststeps.
For more detailed information on topics that appear in this
publication, please refer to the following sections in the Guide:

LIRS.org

•	

Printed by LIRS Press
Printed in the U.S.A.

•	

Section One for general information, tips, and resources
for living in the U.S. as an immigrant, including what to do
in an emergency and how to find important resources.
Section Two for details on legal rights and responsibilities,

International Standard Book Number: 978-0-9908689-0-3	 	

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LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS

•	
•	

including information on legal services, the immigration
consequences of criminal convictions, your rights when
arrested or detained, and requirements for changing your
address, among other topics.
Section Three for information on basic services and needs,
including details on benefits, healthcare, education, and housing.
Section Four for information on integration and community
support, including religious and cultural groups, emotional
support, financial tips, and lists of helpful resources including
legal services.

Important! This guide provides information about the law; however,
you should always consult with a lawyer if you have legal questions.
Do not rely on this guide instead of seeking the advice of a lawyer.
This resource has information about how to find a lawyer.

LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS
•	
•	
•	
•	

require U.S. citizenship)
Apply to become a U.S. citizen once you are eligible (usually
after five years)
Own property in the U.S.
Travel in and out of the country (with some restrictions)
Have protection under U.S. law

As an LPR, you are required to
•	
•	
•	
•	

What Does “Lawful Permanent Resident” Mean?
•	

Obey all laws of the U.S.
File income taxes and report all income to the federal and
state government
If you are a male between the ages of 18 and 25, register
with the Selective Service
Change your address online or provide it in writing to the
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) within 10 days
anytime you move
Renew your green card when it is about to expire

The term “lawful permanent resident,” also known as “LPR,” has
the same meaning as “permanent resident alien,” “legal permanent
resident,” and “green card holder.” Green cards used to be printed
on green paper, but no longer are. If you are an LPR, the U.S.
government allows you to live permanently in the U.S. as long as
you do not commit particular crimes or otherwise violate the terms
of your status.

Important! LPR status is not always “permanent.” Thousands of
immigrants with LPR status, including refugees and asylees, are
removed (deported) each year because of criminal convictions.
Unless you have obtained U.S. citizenship, you could be removed
because of a criminal conviction.

If you are an LPR, the U.S. government allows you to

Being an LPR is a necessary first step before becoming a citizen of
the U.S. You may apply for U.S. citizenship after meeting certain
conditions, usually for five years, as an LPR. Details are below.

•	

•	

Live and work permanently in the U.S., as long as you meet
the requirements of your status, including renewing your
green card and not committing crimes
Work anywhere in the U.S. (except for certain jobs that

4

How to Become a Lawful Permanent Resident
If you are reading this, you probably already have your green card,

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LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS

LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS

so feel free to skip ahead to the next section. This section contains
very basic information about how to become an LPR. However, if
you do not have your green card and wish to see more detailed
information to help you learn whether and how you may apply, please
see Chapter 10, “How to Get Your Green Card,” in the Guide.

number for your pending application. If you never received a receipt
number, USCIS probably did not receive your application.

Applying to become an LPR is called “adjustment of status,” or “AOS.”
First, you must figure out whether you are eligible to adjust, and the
eligibility criteria are very strict. The main pathways to apply for LPR
status are through family sponsorship (certain family relationships to
U.S. citizens or LPRs), employment sponsorship, humanitarian status
(which includes refugees, asylees, and other protection-based statuses),
or one of several other special categories. See Chapter 10 for more
details on eligibility. See also www.uscis.gov/green-card/green-cardprocesses-and-procedures/green-card-eligibility.
The steps to becoming an LPR vary by status and which options
are available to you. Regardless of status, everyone must fill out
an I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust
Status. You can request the most recent version of Form I-485 by
calling USCIS at 1-800-870-3676 or you can get the form online at
www.uscis.gov/i-485. If you can, get help from a BIA accredited
representative or a lawyer.

How Do I Check the Status of My Green Card
Application?
If you have an application pending for a green card but do not
know the status, check the status of your case at https://egov.uscis.
gov/cris/Dashboard/CaseStatus.do. You can also call the USCIS
National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283. You will likely
be asked for your name, date of birth, A-number, and a receipt

6

How Do I Renew or Replace My Green Card?
Most green cards are valid for 10 years. You should renew your green
card if it is expired, or if it will expire within the next six months. You
can start the renewal process six months before your card will expire.
You should apply to replace your green card if your card has been
lost, stolen, or damaged. You should also renew your green card
if your name or any other information on it has changed.
To renew or replace your green card, file Form I-90, Application to
Replace Permanent Resident Card. Make sure to read the instructions
first, at www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/files/form/i-90instr.pdf.
You can do one of the following:
•	
•	

File the petition online at www.uscis.gov/e-filing-i-90, or
Print out the paper form at www.uscis.gov/sites/default/
files/files/form/i-90.pdf and mail it to USCIS.
If using U.S. Postal Service (USPS), send to:
USCIS
P.O. Box 21262
Phoenix, AZ 85036
If using USPS Express Mail/Courier, send to:
USCIS
Attention: I-90
1820 E. Skyharbor, Circle S, Floor 1
Suite 100
Phoenix, AZ 85034

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LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS

LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS

Note: Although your green card lasts for 10 years and is renewable
at that point, you may become eligible to apply to become a U.S.
citizen (“naturalize”) after having LPR status for five years. There
are many advantages to applying for citizenship including access
to more jobs, benefits, civil rights such as the ability to vote, and
the ability to bring more family members more quickly, among
others. In addition, while LPRs can still lose their status and be
deported for certain crimes, U.S. citizens cannot be deported.
Information on how to naturalize appears below.

Important! If you are a permanent resident who is 18 years or older,
you must carry your green card with you at all times. You should
make a photocopy of your green card and keep it in a safe place
at home.

Important! Note for Conditional Permanent Residents
Some people have “conditional permanent residence,” a type of
permanent residence that lasts initially for two years, and must be
changed at the end of this period to become permanent. You might
have conditional status if you were married for less than two years
when you received your green card, or if you got your green card
by being an investor.
This means that your LPR status only lasts for two years, and you
must file to “remove the condition” within 90 days before the twoyear period ends and your status expires, or you will lose your LPR
status. When you apply to remove the conditional status, if your
application is approved, you will gain regular LPR status.

How Do I Make Sure I Keep My Lawful Permanent
Resident Status?
Although your status is “permanent,” the permanence depends
upon your compliance with the law and conditions of your status.
Abandonment
The government may find that you abandoned your permanent
resident status, and will cancel your status and take away your green
card, if you do any of the following things:
•	
•	

To remove the conditional status if you received your status based on
marriage, file Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence.
You will find the form and instructions at www.uscis.gov/i-751.

•	

To remove the conditional status if you received your status based
on entrepreneurship, file Form I-829, Petition by Entrepreneur to
Remove Conditions. You will find the form and instructions at www.
uscis.gov/i-829.

•	
•	

8

Move to another country (the government will likely assume
you intend to live there permanently).
Travel out of the U.S. and remain abroad for more than a
year without getting a reentry permit or returning resident
visa. (However, the government may determine that you
have abandoned your status if you remain outside the U.S.
for even less than a year, so it is recommended you speak
to a lawyer before planning a trip of six months or longer
or that you simply avoid long trips.)
Remain outside the U.S. for more than two years after getting
a reentry permit, without getting a returning resident visa.
(Again, such lengthy trips are not recommended until you
have citizenship.)
Fail to file income tax returns, even while living outside the U.S.
Declare yourself a “nonimmigrant” on your tax returns.

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LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS
Criminal Activity
You may lose your status as a lawful permanent resident (your green
card) if you commit certain crimes that make you removable. Many
crimes make you removable from the U.S., so it is best to know
and obey the law at all times. Even minor things such as failing to
pay bus or metro fare can threaten your status. See the Guide,
Chapter 4, “What Are the Immigration Consequences of Criminal
Convictions?” for important information.
Important! If you have been arrested and accused or convicted of
criminal activity, you will likely need an immigration lawyer and a
criminal defense lawyer. Make sure your criminal lawyer knows your
immigration status—otherwise he or she might advise you to take
action that could harm your status. Ask your immigration lawyer to
communicate with your criminal defense lawyer to make sure they
both have all the information they need to help you.
For a list of free or low-cost immigration legal services providers
in your state, please visit the following websites:
•	 AILA (American Immigration Lawyers Association) Immigration
Lawyer Referral Service: www.ailalawyer.com, (202-216-2400)
•	 National Lawyers Guild, National Immigration Project: www.
nationalimmigrationproject.org, (617-227-9727)
•	 Immigration Law Help: www.immigrationlawhelp.org (search
by state)
•	 EOIR Free Legal Services Provider List: www.justice.gov/
eoir/probono/states.htm (search by state)
For more details, please see the Guide, Chapter 3, “Legal Services
and Immigration Court,” to learn about how to find legal services.
You can also view a list of legal organizations, listed by state, in
Chapter 27, “Directory of Immigration Legal Services Providers.”

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LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS
What Are My Rights If I Am Arrested?
It is very important that you know what your rights are if you are
arrested. Please read the Guide, Chapter 5, “What Are Your Rights
If You Have Been Arrested?” A brief summary is below.
Right to Remain Silent
If the police, ICE, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), or any law
enforcement agent approaches you for a criminal matter, you have
the right to remain silent. This means that you do not have to answer
any questions until you talk to your lawyer. However, you do not
have the right to lie to police or immigration officials. This is a
crime, and could result in your deportation and inability to return
to the U.S. If you do not want to answer any questions, it is very
important that you do not lie, but instead state that you wish to
speak to a lawyer before answering questions.
The Right to Be Free from “Unreasonable Searches and Seizures”
If the police stop you on the street, an officer can frisk you, which
means pat your clothing to see if you are carrying anything illegal.
If they stop you in your car, they can search without a warrant if
they have a good reason to suspect illegal activity. Usually to search
or enter your house, the police must show you a warrant. If they
do not have one, you do not have to let them in. Even if they have
a warrant and enter, you still have the right to remain silent.
What If ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Arrests Me?
ICE officials may ask to see your immigration papers. Show them
your green card. If you do not, they may arrest you. Do not lie
about your status, or present fake papers or papers that belong to
someone else.

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LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS

LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS

Do not sign anything, especially an “Order of Voluntary Departure”
or anything admitting that you used false identification or travel
documents, without talking to a lawyer first.

For more information, see Chapter 8, “What You Must Do When
You Change Your Address,” in the Guide.

Can I Reunite with My Family?
If ICE detains you, they may decide to begin removal (deportation)
proceedings, activate an old removal order (if you have one against
you), hold you in custody, or release you. ICE must make this
decision within 48 hours of placing you in detention. If they have
not, ask for a list of free lawyers.
How Do I Get My Belongings Back After I Am Released?
If you were detained in immigration detention, you may need to
take several steps to get your belongings back. See Chapter 6,
“How to Get Your Personal Property After You Are Released from
Detention,” in the Guide.

What Must I Do When I Change My Address?

As an LPR, you can apply to bring your spouse (husband or wife)
or unmarried children of any age to the U.S.
You can begin by filing an I-130, Petition for an Alien Relative, which
you can find at www.uscis.gov/i-130. You must include evidence
that proves your LPR status (such as a copy of your green card),
and evidence that proves your relationship, such as a birth or
marriage certificate. You must also include a filing fee of $420. For
detailed instructions on how and where to apply, as well as other
evidence you may need to include, see USCIS’s instructions at www.
uscis.gov/sites/default/files/files/form/i-130instr.pdf.

Note that if you have an open case in Immigration Court or the
BIA, you must also notify the court system that you are moving.
You must notify them within five days of your move. You can get
the change of address form from the Immigration Court or online
at www.justice.gov/eoir/eoirforms/eoir33/ICadr33.htm if your case
is in Immigration Court, and www.justice.gov/eoir/eoirforms/
eoir33bia.pdf if your case is at the BIA.

Once USCIS approves your I-130, your application is sent to the
National Visa Center, which places your relatives in a line of people
from the same country who are also the same type of relative
(husband, wife, or child) from that country. This line can be very
long and take years to go through, so it is best to apply as soon
as you can. You may view the “Visa Bulletins” section on the State
Department website to see current approximate wait times: http://
travel.state.gov/content/visas/english.html. Once your relative
reaches the front of the line, the National Visa Center will begin
processing the case, and will instruct you to submit fees and a
number of new forms, including a passport; photographs; civil
documents (such as marriage and birth certificates); medical forms;
Form DS-260, Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application
(which you will submit online at the time); and Form I-864, Affidavit
of Support, which asks for financial information to prove you have

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All non-citizens, including LPRs, must notify USCIS when they move.
You must notify USCIS within 10 days of changing your address.
Otherwise, you could be arrested, charged a fine, forced to serve
time in jail, and possibly deported. To notify USCIS of your change
of address, fill out Form AR-11, Change of Address, which you can
find at: www.uscis.gov/ar-11.

LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS
the ability to support your relative upon arrival. You can find it here:
www.uscis.gov/i-864.

LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS
•	
•	

Once the National Visa Center has approved your application, they
will schedule an interview for your relative with the U.S. State
Department. This is the final step in the process. You may read
more about the process here: http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/
english/immigrate/types/family/family-preference.html.
If you have filed for a spouse, when your spouse reaches the top of
the list, his or her unmarried children under 21 can usually follow to
join on your spouse’s visa. However, if your spouse’s child turns 21
before your spouse reaches the top of the list, you will need to file a
new separate petition for each child included on the original petition.
If you have applied for your unmarried child, if that child marries,
his or her petition will be immediately taken away, because LPRs
cannot bring married children.
However, if you become a U.S. citizen before your child marries,
you can continue by filing a new I-130 for your child. U.S. citizens
can bring more family members, including married children of any
age, parents, and siblings, although they have different wait times.
Details are in the following section on becoming a U.S. citizen.
You should get help from a BIA accredited organization or lawyer
to help you file this form. Carefully read the instructions, and keep
these things in mind:
•	

You will need proof that the people you want to bring are
your relatives. Photographs, birth certificates, and marriage
certificates will help you prove this.

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•	

•	

You will have to pay for the airplane tickets for your family
members.
Make sure you include copies of all necessary supporting
documents mentioned in the Form I-130 instructions. USCIS
may delay or deny your application if these supporting
documents are not included.
After you file your immigration form, USCIS may write a
letter telling you that your relative will need to have a
biometrics appointment. They may also ask for a signature
and take a picture. Sometimes, a DNA test may be required
for you and for the relative you are applying to bring. You
may have to pay for these tests.
Keep a photocopy of the completed form for your records.
Send the form via certified mail with a return receipt,
available at the post office.

How Do I Become a Citizen?
What is Naturalization?
Naturalization is the process by which certain non-U.S. citizens can
apply to become U.S. citizens. To “naturalize” means to take the
required steps to become a U.S. citizen.
What Are the Benefits of Naturalizing?
When you naturalize, you will become a U.S. citizen, and have
almost all the same rights and protections as U.S. born citizens.
U.S. citizens have more rights than lawful permanent residents
(LPRs). There are many things only U.S. citizens can do in America,
some of which may be very important to you. It is very important
for you try to naturalize when you are eligible, so you may receive
these rights and protections. As a naturalized U.S. citizen, you will
be able to:

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LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS
•	

•	

•	

•	

Keep your lawful status in the United States and no
longer be in danger of deportation.
This is very important! Even if you have adjusted your status
to become an LPR (have your green card) you can still have
your green card taken away and be deported for committing
certain crimes, traveling outside the U.S. for too long, or
failing to file your income taxes. When you are an American
citizen, you cannot be deported.
Bring family members to the U.S.
U.S. citizens can bring more family members to the U.S.
than refugee, asylees, and LPRs. For example, as a refugee
or asylee, you can apply for your spouse (husband or wife)
and any unmarried children under the age of 21 to join you.
As an LPR, you may apply to bring your spouse or unmarried
children of any age. But as a U.S. citizen, you may apply to
bring your spouse, and children of any age, whether they
are unmarried or married. And as a U.S. citizen, you may
also apply to bring your parents and siblings (brother and
sisters) once you are over 21 years old.
Get more government benefits.
Immigrants have many restrictions on access to government
benefits and healthcare. (See Chapters 18 and 19 for details
on immigrants’ access to benefits and healthcare.) However,
after you naturalize, you will no longer be subject to
immigration-related restrictions, and will have access to
benefits and healthcare according to the same rules as
U.S. citizens.
Vote.
Only U.S. citizens can vote in federal elections. Many states
also only allow U.S. citizens to vote in state elections. Voting
to elect officials like the President and members of Congress
is an important political right to many U.S. citizens.

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LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS
•	

•	

•	

•	
•	

•	

Serve on a jury.
Only U.S. citizens can serve on a federal jury, and many
states also only allow U.S. citizens to serve on a jury. Juries
help judges make decisions in court cases.
Travel abroad with a U.S. passport.
You will be able to travel abroad without restrictions on how
long you can stay outside the U.S. You will also be able to
get help from the U.S. government when you are abroad if
you need it.
Get U.S. citizenship for children under 18 years of age.
Generally, a child born abroad to a U.S. citizen automatically
becomes a U.S. citizen. Any children you previously had
who were born abroad and were under 18 at the time you
become a citizen may also be eligible to become a U.S.
citizen. See a lawyer for help with either of these situations.
(Children born inside the U.S. are automatically U.S. citizens.)
Apply for more federal jobs.
Some federal jobs require U.S. citizenship.
Become an elected government official.
Only U.S. citizens can run in federal elections for the U.S.
Senate or House of Representatives, and most state and
local governments have similar rules for state and local
government positions. Unfortunately, only those born in the
U.S. can run for President.
Become eligible for more federal grants and scholarships.
Many financial aid grants, including college scholarships,
are available only to U.S. citizens.

Note: Before you decide to apply to naturalize, you should first
determine if you might already be a U.S. citizen. If you were born
in the U.S. or a U.S. territory, or if at least one of your parents is a
U.S. citizen, you may already be a U.S. citizen. If either of these

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situations apply to you, see an immigration lawyer immediately to
find out whether you may already be a citizen.

•	

Am I Eligible to Become a U.S. Citizen?
You must meet all of the following criteria to apply for naturalization:

•	

•	
•	
•	

•	

•	
•	
•	
•	

Be at least 18 years old, AND
Have been admitted as lawful permanent resident (LPR) for at
least five years (with some exceptions, explained below), AND
Have “continuous residence” (explained below) in the U.S.
for at least five years after receiving your LPR status (green
card), AND
Have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 30
months of the five-year period before applying for
naturalization, AND
Have lived in the state in which you plan to apply for at least
three months before applying, AND
Live in the U.S. continuously from the time of application for
naturalization to the time of admission as a U.S. citizen, AND
Have good moral character (explained below), AND
Can demonstrate knowledge of civics and English, and
pledge allegiance to the Constitution.

Five Years of Lawful Permanent Residence
Typically, naturalization requires five years of status as a green card,
or lawful permanent resident. There are however some exceptions:
•	

Refugees and asylees who adjusted their status and got
their green card (LPR status) after one year may count that
one year as part of the five. In other words, refugees and
asylees may apply to naturalize after having a green card
for four years, instead of five.

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If you are applying to naturalize based on your marriage to a
U.S. citizen, you may apply after having your green card for
three years, instead of five.
If you have qualifying experience as a U.S. military member,
you may be eligible to apply earlier. For more information, see
USCIS’s page on Citizenship for Military Members at www.
uscis.gov/military/citizenship-military-personnel-familymembers/citizenship-military-members and talk to a lawyer.

Continuous Residence
“Continuous residence” means that you have lived in the U.S., and
maintained the U.S. as your place of residence (and no other country)
on a continuous basis for five years. You can travel and still maintain
continuous residence, but there are important restrictions:
•	

•	

Traveling outside the U.S. and staying outside for a period of
six to twelve months in a row may interrupt this period of
“continuous residence,” meaning you may have to start over.
Traveling outside the U.S. for a continuous period of one year
or longer will most likely interrupt your period of “continuous
residence,” and you will have to start over.

It is highly recommended that if you travel outside the U.S.,
you stay abroad for less than six months; otherwise you could
lose your period of continuous residence and have to start your
five-year waiting period over. There are a few exceptions if you
stayed out between six months and one year, but you should see
a lawyer for help if that is the case.
“Continuous residence” also means you must file and pay your
taxes every year as a lawful permanent resident (LPR). You may not
claim “nonresident alien status” on your tax forms to avoid paying

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LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS
your taxes, or you will lose your continuous residence.
Good Moral Character
To become a U.S. citizen, you must demonstrate that you have “good
moral character.” Generally, this means someone who is honest, pays
their taxes, does not commit crimes, and pays their debts.
If you have committed certain crimes, you will never be able to
establish good moral character, and will never be able to apply for
citizenship. These crimes include murder and any “aggravated
felony” of which you were convicted after November 29, 1990.
Other crimes may temporarily prevent you from proving you have
good moral character and applying for citizenship, but after a period
of time, you will be able to apply. If you have been arrested or
convicted of any crimes, and wish to naturalize, it is important to
see a lawyer to help you determine whether your crimes will
permanently or temporarily prevent you from showing good moral
character and naturalizing.
Some examples of crimes that might prevent you from showing
good moral character include any crime committed with intent
to harm someone, using or selling drugs, being married to more
than one person at a time, failing to pay court-ordered child
support or alimony payments, and lying to gain immigration
benefits, among others.
How Do I Become a U.S. Citizen?
To apply for U.S. citizenship, you must first determine whether you
are eligible according to the above criteria. You also can work
through USCIS’s Naturalization Worksheet, available at www.uscis.
gov/sites/default/files/USCIS/Resources/Citizenship%20%26%20
Naturalization%20Based%20Resources/A%20Guide%20to%20

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LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS
Naturalization/PDFs/M-480.pdf. This worksheet outlines the rules
above and helps you determine if you are eligible.
File Form N-400, Application for Naturalization
If you are eligible, you must file Form N-400, Application for
Naturalization. Visit USCIS’s page on the N-400 at www.uscis.
gov/n-400. Before you fill out the N-400, you should
•	

•	

Read USCIS’s Guide to Naturalization (www.uscis.gov/sites/
default/files/files/article/M-476.pdf), or get your lawyer or
someone at a BIA accredited organization to help you read
through and understand it, because the N-400 application
makes many references to this document.
Then, read the N-400 Instructions, available at www.uscis.
gov/sites/default/files/files/form/n-400instr.pdf.

Download the N-400, Application for Naturalization at www.uscis.
gov/sites/default/files/files/form/n-400.pdf.
Fill out your N-400 carefully, in blue or black ink. It is highly recommended
that you get a lawyer or BIA accredited representative to help you.
Be sure to put your A-number at the top right-hand corner of each
page. Check your information for accuracy, and sign it. Before you
file, make sure you have all the required documentation!
Note: Your N-400 asks questions about crimes. It is very important
that you answer honestly and report all crimes, even ones you may
have gotten expunged (removed) from your record. If you do not
tell USCIS about these crimes, they will find out, and may deny
your application, even if the crime you failed to report was not a
crime that would have caused your application to be denied!

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LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS
What Do I Include with My Application?
You must submit the following with your application:
•	
•	
•	
•	

Two identical 2x2 passport-style photos taken within 30 days
of filing. Write your name and A-number lightly on the back.
A copy of your green card.
The filing fee ($595) and the fee for your biometrics
(fingerprinting) appointment ($85).
Form N-648, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions
only if you are seeking a medical or age-related exception
to the English or civics test requirements (see below). You
may find Form N-648 at www.uscis.gov/n-648.

Where Do I Mail My Application?
Where you should mail your application depends on where you
live, so check USCIS’s instructions at www.uscis.gov/n-400. Be sure
to make copies and ask for a certified mail receipt!
When Can I File My Application?
You may generally file your application up to 90 days before you’ve
had continuous residence as an LPR for five years (or for a refugee,
four years) and met the other specific requirements outlined above.
What Must I Do After I File My Application?
There are still several steps you must take after you submit your
application.
Biometrics Appointment
After USCIS receives your application, USCIS will contact you to let
you know when you should go to your local USCIS Application Support
Center (ASC) for your biometrics (fingerprinting) appointment. USCIS
will take your fingerprints and conduct a criminal background check.

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LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS
Naturalization Interview
USCIS will schedule an interview for you. Be sure to attend this interview
on time, and let USCIS know immediately if you have to reschedule.
You must bring the following to your naturalization interview:
•	
•	
•	
•	

A copy of your green card (LPR card).
A valid state ID (a form of identification, such as a driver’s
license, issued by your state).
Your passport and any travel documents.
Other relevant documents. Depending on your situation,
you may have other documents you should bring. For
example, if you were arrested or convicted of a crime, you
must bring arrest or court documents. If you had to serve
probation, you should bring proof that you completed your
probation. For more information on other documents you
may want to bring, see USCIS’s Guide to Naturalization, at
www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/files/article/M-476.pdf.

Several things will happen at your Naturalization Interview.
1.	 Interview: USCIS will ask you questions about what you wrote
on your N-400. You should bring a copy so you can look at it.
2.	 Civics and English Tests: You will take two tests, an English
test and a civics test. You should dedicate a lot of time to
studying before the interview. You can access study
materials for both tests at www.uscis.gov/citizenship/
learners/study-test. Many local community groups that
help immigrants offer classes to help you prepare. You can
find classes and resources at www.uscis.gov/citizenship/
learners/find-help-your-community. If you fail, you will be
able to retake it only once. If you fail twice, your application
will be denied.

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LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS

LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS

a. The English test will consist of three parts that assess
your speaking ability, reading ability, and writing ability.
You can access information on the test, study materials,
and practice tests at www.uscis.gov/citizenship/
learners/study-test/study-materials-english-test.
b. The civics test will test your knowledge of American
history and government. There are 100 questions on
the civics test, and the USCIS officer will pick 10 to
ask you. You must get 6 questions correct to pass.
You may find the questions by visiting: www.uscis.
gov/citizenship/learners/study-test and clicking on
the link for “100 civics questions on the naturalization
test.” But remember the answers to certain questions
about elected officials may change with elections, so
make sure you have the most up-to-date information.
You can access information on the test, study materials,
and practice tests at www.uscis.gov/citizenship/
learners/study-test/study-materials-civics-test.
Exceptions to the Test Requirements: You may not have
to take the English test if you are over 50 years old and have
lived in the U.S. as an LPR for over 20 years, or if you are
over 55 years old and have lived in the U.S. for over 15
years. You may not have to take the civics test if you have
certain physical or mental disabilities. For more details, see
www.uscis.gov/us-citizenship/citizenship-throughnaturalization/exceptions-accommodations. If you are
seeking such an exception, you must submit a Form N-648,
Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions, with your
N-400, Application for Naturalization. You may find it at
www.uscis.gov/n-648.

day. However, sometimes the USCIS officer will not be able to make
a decision, and may need to continue your case. The officer may
then require a second interview, or ask for additional evidence. If
USCIS does not need further information, the officer will either
approve your application if you provide evidence that establishes
your eligibility, or deny it if your interview, test results, and evidence
do not show you are eligible to naturalize.

USCIS will usually provide you with a notice of your results the same

Important! You must still notify USCIS if you change your address

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What Can I Do if USCIS Denies My Application?
If your application was denied, USCIS will provide a written
explanation with the reasons for denial. If you think USCIS incorrectly
denied your application, you may request a hearing to appeal. You
must file Form N-336, Request for a Hearing on a Decision in
Naturalization Proceedings, available at www.uscis.gov/n-336. You
must file this appeal, with the filing fee, within 30 days of your
denial, or the decision will be final.
What Happens After USCIS Approves My Application?
USCIS will mail you a notice to take the Oath of Allegiance, with
the date, time, and location of your oath ceremony. Occasionally,
you may be able to take the Oath of Allegiance the same day your
application is approved after your interview. If you cannot attend
your ceremony, return the notice and explain why you cannot attend,
and request a rescheduled ceremony.
During your ceremony, you will take an Oath of Allegiance to the
U.S. Remember to bring your green card, because you will turn it
in after the ceremony, and receive a Certificate of Naturalization,
which certifies that you are a naturalized American citizen.
Congratulations!

LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS

LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS

after you submit your N-400 application and while you are waiting
to complete the process and become a citizen. You must call Customer
Service at 1-800-375-5283 (TTY: 1-800-767-1833), and fill out an
AR-11, Alien’s Change of Address Card, and submit it to USCIS within
10 days of your move. See the Guide’s Chapter 8, “What You Must
Do When You Change Your Address,” for more details.

Apply for a U.S. Passport if You Wish to Travel Abroad
After you naturalize, you are also eligible to apply for a U.S. passport,
which will allow you to travel abroad as a U.S. citizen and receive
help from U.S. embassies or consulates abroad if you need it. Visit
www.travel.state.gov to download the application forms and find
the passport acceptance facility near you.

How Do I Prove My Status When I Get Citizenship?
You will receive a Form N-550, Certificate of Naturalization, after
you take your Oath of Allegiance to the U.S. This proves your status
as an American citizen. If you lose this certificate, you must submit
Form N-565, Application for Replacement Naturalization/Citizenship
Document, available at www.uscis.gov/n-565.

Apply for Your LPR Children Under 18
If you have any children who were born abroad, are lawful permanent
residents, and are under 18 on the day you naturalized, they may
have automatically become U.S. citizens as well, and you may want
to apply for proof of their status. You may apply for a U.S. passport
for your child, or apply for a Certificate of Citizenship using Form
N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship, available at www.
uscis.gov/n-600k.

What Should I Do When I Naturalize?
Update Your Social Security Record
After you naturalize, you must update your Social Security record.
It is important for Social Security to have updated records on your
citizenship. This will make it easier for you to access the benefits
and rights to which you are entitled as a U.S. citizen, including
Social Security and other government benefits. Wait at least 10
days after your naturalization ceremony, then call Social Security
at 1-800-772-1213 or visit www.socialsecurity.gov to make an
appointment. Remember to bring your Certificate of Naturalization
or U.S. Passport.

Apply to Sponsor Relatives Abroad to Come to the U.S.
You may now also apply to sponsor additional relatives to come to
the U.S. You will be applying for these family members to get a
green card. As a U.S. citizen, you may apply to bring your immediate
relatives. The “immediate relative” category includes your husband
or wife, unmarried children under the age of 21, and parents (as
long as you are over 21). These applications are processed
immediately and there is no waitlist.

Register to Vote
You may now register to vote if you wish to vote in elections. You
may do this in person, by mail, at public assistance offices, or when
you apply to renew your driver’s license. Visit the U.S. Election
Assistance Commission at www.eac.gov.

You may also apply to bring other family members who fit into a
“family preference category.” This category includes your unmarried
sons or daughters over the age of 21, married children of any age,
and your brothers and sisters (as long as you are over 21). The
government has a limited number of visas available for these family
members each year, and they go on a waitlist for family members in
each category. The waitlist can be quite long and it can take years.

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For more information on how to bring your family members who
are still abroad to the U.S., please see USCIS’s website on sponsoring
family members at www.uscis.gov/green-card/green-card-throughfamily, and see an immigration lawyer for help.

should apply for a re-entry permit before leaving the country. Having
a re-entry permit does not guarantee that you will be admitted to
the U.S. when you return, but it can make it easier to show that you
are returning from a temporary visit abroad. File Form I-131,
Application for Travel Document, 60 days prior to your departure
date to establish your intent to return and permanently reside in
the U.S. You can request the most recent version of Form I-131 by
calling USCIS at 1-800-870-3676 or you can get the form online at
www.uscis.gov/i-131. There is a fee to file Form I-131. A re-entry
permit is valid for up to two years. You will show the re-entry permit
at a port of entry.

Can I Travel Outside of the United States?
As a lawful permanent resident, you can travel within and outside
of the U.S. with a valid green card, but with some restrictions. It is
important that you know the risks of traveling outside of the U.S.
if you are not a U.S. citizen.
If you want to travel outside of the U.S., you will need a passport
from the country where you are a citizen and may need a travel
visa from your destination country. To re-enter the U.S., you will
need a valid, unexpired green card, and other qualifying identification
documents such as a passport, foreign national identification (ID)
card, or U.S. driver’s license.
Permanent residents who leave the U.S. for extended periods, or
who cannot show their intent to live permanently in the U.S., may
lose their permanent resident status because USCIS may decide
you have abandoned your status. In general, leaving the U.S. for
less than one year is not seen as abandoning your right to permanent
residency status. To determine if you have abandoned your status,
an officer will evaluate your connection to the U.S. by looking at
your family and community ties, mailing address, bank accounts,
driver’s license, and property. Many immigrants believe they can
live abroad as long as they return to the U.S. at least once a year.
This is incorrect.

If you plan to naturalize, or become a U.S. citizen, you should not
travel outside the U.S. for more than six months at a time. Staying
outside the U.S. for longer than six months can keep you from
meeting the “continuous residence” requirement for naturalization.
If you plan to naturalize and must travel outside the U.S. for a year
or longer for very limited reasons such as necessity for certain jobs,
you may file Form N-470, Application to Preserve Residence for
Naturalization Purposes, available at www.uscis.gov/n-470. Be sure
to read the instructions carefully to learn whether you are eligible
and whether the N-470 will preserve your period of continuous
residence so you can still naturalize. Ask for help if you are unsure.
Important! If you have committed a crime, you will likely not be
able to re-enter the U.S. if you leave. Even if your crime did not
make you “deportable,” it could make you “inadmissible,” which
means Immigration will not let you enter the U.S.

Can I Vote?

If you think you will be out of the U.S. for more than one year, you

As an LPR, you are not allowed to vote in federal elections. Although

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LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS
a few states and local governments allow you to vote in state and
local elections, it is very uncommon. Failure to abide by the above
requirements can jeopardize your immigration status and make
you subject to deportation.

What Is the Selective Service, and Am I Required to
Sign Up?

LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS
Can I Join the Military?
As an LPR, you can apply to join the military, but you will not be
able to receive top-security clearance positions until you are a U.S.
citizen. If you are interested in joining the military, you should speak
to a recruiter or see www.military.com/join-armed-forces.

Do I Have the Right to Work?
All men between ages 18 and 25 living in the U.S., regardless of
immigration status, must register for Selective Service. Registering
tells the government that you are available to serve in the U.S.
Armed Forces if the government ever orders a military draft.
However, the U.S. government has not had a draft since the 1970’s,
and it is highly unlikely that there will ever be a draft again. This
means permanent residents and citizens do not have to serve in
the Armed Forces unless they want to. The Selective Service is just
a required backup for emergencies.

A green card allows you to work in the U.S. without restrictions on
location or type of employment. When applying for a job, a green card
establishes your identity and proves that you are authorized to work in
the U.S. Receiving LPR status means that you are authorized to work
and that you do not have to apply with USCIS for a work permit.
Note: There are some jobs that are reserved for U.S. citizens, usually
jobs with the government that require high-level security clearances.

If you have a Social Security number, you can go online to register
for Selective Service at https://www.sss.gov/RegVer/wfRegistration.
aspx. Or you can go to any post office and fill out the Selective
Service form. Bring your Social Security card. If you do not have a
Social Security number, you will have to send a copy of your Social
Security card when you get one. When you send it, also put your
complete name, date of birth, Selective Service registration number,
and current mailing address. You can send it to:

How Do I Show Employers that I Am Eligible to Work?
You must show your employer two documents to work—a photo
document that proves your identity and a document that proves
you have the legal right to work. USCIS Form I-9, found at www.
uscis.gov/sites/default/files/files/form/i-9.pdf, has a list of what
documents you can show your employer. If you have a green card,
you only need to show that, because it has your photograph and
shows that you have the right to work.

Selective Service System
P.O. Box 94636
Palatine, IL 60094-4636

If you can, it is best to show your employer that you meet the I-9
requirements without using an immigration document such as a
green card. For example, use your Social Security card and driver’s
license. Otherwise, your employer may incorrectly think your work

To speak with someone from the Selective Service, call 847-688-6888.

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LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS

authorization is limited. If you can satisfy the I-9 requirements with
other documents listed on the I-9 form, the employer is not allowed
to require you to show your green card.

The government will also use your SSN to determine how much to
give you in Social Security benefits when you reach full retirement
age or become disabled and no longer have income.

Confusion About Employment Authorization
Sometimes employers get confused about your right to work or
the documents you need to show. Sometimes they want to see a
green card or a work permit, even though you have shown them
all the required documents. Some employers may use a system on
the Internet called E-Verify to check your right to work. They can
find E-Verify at www.dhs.gov/e-verify. You can enter your information
on E-Verify to find out what an employer will see if they check online
at www.uscis.gov/everifyselfcheck. You can go online to http://
www.nilc.org/materialsev.html to find a “Know Your Rights About
E-Verify” document, available in English and Spanish.

You also need an SSN to access certain benefits and rights you
may be entitled to. Local offices of social services agencies will use
your SSN to see what benefits you qualify for. Employers, banks,
and departments of motor vehicles may ask for your SSN. If you
apply for federal financial aid to study for college, the college or
university will ask for your SSN. For these reasons, it is best to get
one as soon as you can.

If you or your employer have questions about what documents are
needed, you can call the Office of Special Counsel for ImmigrationRelated Unfair Employment Practices in the Department of Justice.
You should call the Worker Information Hotline at 800-255-7688, or
your employer can call the Employer Information Hotline at 800-2558155. See www.usdoj.gov/crt/osc for further information. For more
on the right and authorization to work, see Chapter 14, “The Right to
Work,” and Chapter 15, “How to Get a Work Permit,” in the Guide.

Can I Get a Social Security Number (SSN)?

Your SSN is unique to you, and you should be very careful to keep
your Social Security card safe and to not let other people know
your SSN, because this could put you at risk for identity theft.
Identity theft is when someone steals your personal information
and uses it without your permission.
How Do I Get a Social Security Number?
You should apply for and receive a Social Security card, a physical
card that contains your SSN. You will have to visit a Social Security
Administration (SSA) office in person to complete and sign Form
SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card. You may review and
print this form online at www.ssa.gov/online/ss-5.pdf. For more
information, call 1-800-772-1213. For the deaf or hearing-impaired,
call the TTY number 1-800-325-0778.

As an LPR, you are eligible for a Social Security number (SSN). An
SSN is a 9-digit number the U.S. government assigns to U.S. citizens,
lawful permanent residents, and other lawfully present individuals.
The government uses it to track your income from working to
determine how much tax you owe, as you must pay tax if you work.

Find your local SSA office at www.socialsecurity.gov/locator. You
must bring original documents or copies certified by the issuing
agency showing 1) work-authorized immigration status, 2) age, and
3) identity.

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1.	 You can show several types of documents to prove your
work-authorized immigration status, such as your green card
or I-94. For a list of documents you can use to prove your
status, view Social Security’s list at www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN05-10096.pdf, and see the Guide’s Chapter 7, “Case Status
and Proof of Status.”
2.	 To show your age, you may submit your birth certificate,
U.S. hospital record of your birth, passport, or green card.
3.	 To prove your identity, you must submit a document that is
current, and that shows your name, identifying information,
and preferably a photograph. If you don’t have the
documents the SSA requests, they may ask to see one of
the following: employee ID card, school ID card, health
insurance card (not including Medicare), U.S. military ID
card, adoption decree, life insurance policy, or a marriage
document in the event of a name change.
The SSA office may use a single document to show more than one
thing (for example, your green card proves both your work
authorization and your age). You will need to bring at least two
documents to the SSA office to qualify to receive a Social Security
card. After you have submitted your form, ask for a receipt, which
is the proof that you applied.

LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS
If you have already applied for an SSN but your employer needs
to verify your name and SSN immediately, they can use the online
SSN Verification Service at www.ssa.gov/employer/ssnv.htm or call
the Telephone Number Employer Verification, which is explained
at www.ssa.gov/employer/documents/TNEV.pdf.

Can I Get a State Identification (ID) Card?
As an LPR, you are eligible to get a state ID card. In the U.S., most
standard ID cards are issued by the state in which you live. The card
will usually show your photograph, signature, address, date of birth,
sex, eye color, hair color, height, and weight. A state ID card is a helpful
document. You can show it to employers, landlords, banks, and other
businesses to prove who you are. Many immigrants find it helpful to
get a state ID card, even though it can be difficult, because unlike
your I-94 or green card, your state ID card does not mention your
immigration status or how long you have been in the U.S.
Many Americans over the age of 16 choose to get a driver’s license
so they can legally drive. Driver’s licenses are also issued by the
state in which you live. Most people use their driver’s license as
state ID, so if you get a license, you do not need to get a separate
state ID. Information on obtaining a driver’s license appears below.

What If I Do Not Receive My Social Security Card?
You should receive your Social Security card in the mail within 10
days. If you do not, you can either return to your local office to ask,
or call 1-800-772-1213. Take the documents you originally presented
as evidence, or have them available if you call.

How Do I Get an ID?
It will cost money to get a state ID. Each state has different rules
about getting an ID card. Call your local Department of Motor
Vehicles (DMV) office to find out what documents you will need to
obtain a state ID card. You can locate the nearest DMV office in
the phone book or on the Internet. The DMV may have a different
name in your state. It may be called the “motor vehicle administration”
(MVA) or the “division of motor vehicles” or something else.

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There is no charge for an SSN or card. If anyone tries to charge
you, you can report them by calling 800-269-0271.

LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS
Depending on your state, you may also be allowed to get a driver’s
license. This will be expensive and will involve taking driving classes
and passing a driving test. You cannot drive in the U.S. unless
you have a driver’s license. If you do drive without a license,
you could be arrested. You also cannot drink alcohol and drive,
because it is dangerous. Driving without a license and driving
while under the influence of alcohol can both lead to your
deportation. Because it takes a long time to learn to drive and
obtain your license, you may want to get a state ID first, and worry
about driving later.
Important! The paperwork to get your driver’s license or other
state ID card is long and confusing. There are many questions that
ask you to “check” (√) or mark boxes that ask confusing questions.
One asks if you would like to vote. Do not check this box. If you
do, you will become registered to vote, which is illegal for noncitizens.
If you register to vote before you are a citizen, you may not be
allowed to become a citizen! It is best to take someone such as
your lawyer or a friend who is fluent in English to help you.
What if I Have Problems Getting My State ID Card?
People who work at the DMV may not understand your immigration
status, or what documents are required for your status. Ask them
to write down which documents you need. If they decline your
application, ask them to write down why your documents do not
meet the requirements. Ask them to write down their name and
office phone number. Getting an ID can be difficult even for U.S.
citizens. Try to be patient. If they still do not understand, ask
someone at an immigrant’s rights community or advocacy group,
or your lawyer, to explain it to them.

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What Public Benefits Can I Access?
You may be eligible for some forms of government-funded assistance
if you do not make enough money to pay for food, medical care,
and other basic life needs. The rules on eligibility for public benefits
are very complex. Please see the Guide’s Chapter 18, “How to Get
Public Benefits and Financial Support,” for more detailed information.
Additionally, the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) offers
expertise in the area of benefits for immigrants. Visit http://nilc.
org/access-to-bens.html for information on access and eligibility
for various types of benefits.
Access to Federal “Means-Tested Benefits”
As an LPR, you are considered a “qualified” immigrant, which
means you qualify for some government benefits, subject to
restrictions. However, many qualified immigrants, including LPRs,
are excluded from a lot of benefits at first. There are five types of
benefits, known as “means-tested benefits,” that impose a five-year
or longer waiting period for many qualified immigrants:
•	
•	
•	
•	
•	

Medicaid (except for emergency Medicaid, which is always
available)
CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program)
TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families)—but your
state will probably have a different name for it
SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food
stamps) for adults
SSI (Supplemental Security Income)

The federal government runs SSI and SNAP (even though you must
apply through your state agency) using a standard set of eligibility

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rules throughout the country. This means the rules about who is
eligible for SSI and SNAP are the same in each state.

to everyone: child/adult protective services; federal programs that
address weather emergencies and homelessness; shelters for
domestic violence victims, runaway children, and the homeless;
soup kitchens; community food banks; Meals-On-Wheels; medical,
public health, and mental health services necessary to protect
public safety; violence and abuse prevention; disability and
substance abuse services necessary to protect life and safety; and
programs that protect safety of children, workers, and community
residents. Additionally, if federal funds are provided to a state as
a block grant to a hospital, shelter, or other services agency, they
are not considered federal public benefits, and should be available
to everyone, regardless of status.

However, TANF, Medicaid, and CHIP are administered differently
by each state, and each state may implement different rules on
eligibility. This means even if you are qualified and subject to the
5-year federal bar according to federal law, you might be eligible
for some of these programs immediately in your state. It is important
to read about each program, and especially check with your
state if the benefit you seek is either a state-funded benefit or
a federally-funded state-administered benefit.
Federal Public Benefits Available to All Qualified Immigrants
Some other types of benefits, simply known as “federal public
benefits,” are available to all qualified immigrants (including LPRs),
with no restrictions and no 5-year bar. These benefits include loans,
contracts, grants, and licenses provided or funded by a U.S.
government agency. They also include other benefits such as
retirement, unemployment, some health, disability, welfare, postsecondary education, assisted housing, public housing, and food
assistance provided by a U.S. government agency. Ask your state
social services agency for details.
Basic Emergency Benefits Available to All Immigrants, Regardless
of Status
All immigrants are always eligible for the following, regardless of
status: Emergency Medicaid, immunizations/treatment of
communicable diseases, school breakfasts and lunches, WIC (food
assistance program for women, infants, and children), and shortterm noncash emergency disaster assistance. The following other
in-kind services necessary to protect life and safety (as long as no
income qualifications are required for eligibility) are also available

38

Important! Accepting cash public assistance payments (like SSI
and TANF) can create problems with USCIS that could prevent you
from staying in the U.S. permanently or naturalizing. The government
may worry you will become a “public charge,” which means someone
permanently dependent on the government to survive. This applies
to LPRs and could jeopardize your chances of naturalizing. Check
with a lawyer or BIA-recognized organization about your eligibility.
As you can see, it is hard for many immigrants, even those with
green cards or other lawful statuses, to get benefits. Remember
that once you become a U.S. citizen, you become eligible for all
of the same benefits as American citizens, and restrictions or wait
times based on immigration status no longer apply.
Note on Where to Apply and Interpretation
You can apply for most of these benefits at the Department of
Social Services (a government agency) in your city or town. All
agencies that are part of social services departments are required
by law to provide you with an interpreter if you request one.

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LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS
PUBLIC BENEFITS PROGRAMS
Can I Apply for the Matching Grant Program?
No, as an LPR, you are not eligible for benefits under the Matching
Grant Program.
Can I Apply for Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA)?
No, as an LPR, you are not eligible for Refugee Cash Assistance
(RCA) benefits.
Can I Apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?
SSI is a U.S. government program that provides monthly stipends
to low-income people who are blind, disabled, or age 65 or older.
If you are not blind, disabled, or 65 or older, you cannot receive SSI.
Under very strict circumstances, you may be eligible to receive SSI
benefits. LPRs are eligible to receive SSI if they meet the other
program requirements:
•	
•	
•	

Were lawfully residing in the U.S. on August 22, 1996 and
now have a disability, or
Were receiving SSI on August 22, 1996, or
Have credit for “40 qualifying quarters of work”* in the U.S.,
and have had LPR status for at least five years.

LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS
This means that, aside from the above-mentioned exceptions, most
LPRs will have to wait at least 10 years before becoming eligible
to apply for SSI. However, if you naturalize after five years of being
an LPR, you will not have to wait, because you will become eligible
to apply for SSI as a U.S. citizen.
How Do I Apply for SSI?
To see if you qualify for SSI and to set up an appointment to apply,
contact the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 or go online
to www.ssa.gov. You can find your local Social Security office online at
www.socialsecurity.gov/locator. You may need the following documents:
•	

•	
•	
•	
•	

•	

Social Security number (if you do not have one, you may
receive one if the Social Security Administration decides
you are eligible for SSI)
Proof of age (see the Guide’s Chapter 7, “Case Status and
Proof of Status,” for documents you can use)
Proof of citizenship (see Chapter 7 for documents you can use)
Proof of income (paychecks if you work)
Proof of resources (bank statements, deeds or tax statements
if you own property, life or disability insurance policies, titles
or registrations for vehicles)
Proof of living arrangements (lease or rent receipt for your
apartment, deed or property tax bill, receipts or information
on household expenses such as utilities)

*A “qualifying quarter of work” is a three-month period in which
enough income is earned to qualify as a “Social Security quarter.”
The Social Security Administration determines this amount each
year. The shortest amount of time in which one person could earn
40 quarters is 10 years. Less than 10 years might be required,
however, because the hours that your spouse or parents (if you are
a minor) work may count.

Does My State Have a Similar Program for Which I May Be Eligible?
Some states have programs similar to SSI for which you may be
eligible even if you are not eligible for SSI. For a list of these
programs, see NILC’s Guide to Immigrant Eligibility for Federal
Programs at http://nilc.org/guideupdate.html, and click on Table
9: State-Funded SSI Replacement Programs.

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LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS

Can I Apply for the Food Stamp Program (SNAP)?
SNAP, or food stamps, provides vouchers or coupons to low-income
people (people who do not make a lot of money) that can be used
to buy food.

If you are an LPR, you must have been in status for five years before
being eligible for TANF benefits. However, qualified immigrant
veterans, active duty military members, and military spouses or
children are immediately eligible, provided they meet the other
program requirements.

As an LPR, you must have been in status for five years, OR have 40
qualifying quarters of work, to receive food stamps. However, you
may not have to wait five years if you meet any of the following criteria:
•	
•	
•	
•	
•	

Under 18 years old, or
Disabled or blind and receiving benefits or assistance for
this, or
Were born before August 22, 1931 and were lawfully residing
in the U.S. on August 22, 1996, or
A member of a Hmong or Laotian tribe that aided the U.S.
military in Vietnam, or
American Indian.

In a crisis, you can get emergency food stamps quickly. This is called
“expedited food stamps.” An example of a crisis is being homeless
and without food or low income with many children.
How Do I Apply for SNAP?
Each state has its own application, so you will need to contact your
local Food Stamp office or social service office to request one. To
find your local Food Stamp office call 1-800-221-5689 or go online
to www.fns.usda.gov/snap/.
Can I Apply for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)?
TANF provides cash assistance for low-income families with children
who are in the U.S.

42

Since a child born in the U.S. is automatically a U.S. citizen, immigrant
parents of a U.S. citizen child can also apply to get TANF for their
child, even if they themselves are not eligible.
Important! TANF is the federal term for the program, but because
it is state-run, it will likely have a different name in your state. Check
with the state eligibility worker at the state agency or your refugee
case worker for the correct name. It is very important that you check
with your state, even if you do not think you are eligible, because
your state’s rules may be different and you may actually be eligible.
Check NILC’s guide for your state’s program and eligibility at http://
nilc.org/guide_tanf.html.
How Do I Apply for TANF?
Contact your local state social services office to learn more. You
can also find out more about the TANF program if you call 202401-5139 or go online to www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ofa/.
How Long May I Receive TANF?
You may receive for up to five years after you become eligible, or
until your income exceeds the income ceiling. It will also be
terminated before the time limit expires if your children are no
longer minors, or if you do not respond to requests to supply
updated information on your income and assets.

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LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS

LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS

Are There Requirements I Must Meet to Continue to Receive TANF?
TANF has a work participation activity requirement. This program
has different rules in each state or local area. Be sure to find out
the rule in your state and what you must do or your benefits will
be stopped due to “non-compliance” (not following the rules).

Additional Programs for Families
You are always eligible for the following services, regardless of status.

If you believe your benefits were stopped in error, you have the
right to appeal. The appeal process must be explained to you in
a language you understand.
Can I Apply for CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program)?
CHIP provides free or low-cost health coverage to children up to
age 19. Some states provide more coverage than others, but CHIP
is available in every state.
If you are an LPR, you must have been in status for five years before
becoming eligible for CHIP benefits. However, qualified immigrant
veterans, active duty military members, and military spouses or
children are immediately eligible, provided they meet the other
program requirements. Additionally, it is very important that you
check with your state, even if you do not think you are eligible,
because the rules may be different in your state.

Women, Infants and Children (WIC)
WIC is a national program that provides food vouchers or coupons,
health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income
pregnant women, mothers up to a year after having a child, and
children under five years old. Call 1-800-WIC-WINS (1-800-9429467) or go online to www.fns.usda.gov/wic/ to find the office
nearest you.
Early Head Start and Head Start
Early Head Start and Head Start are child care programs that focus
on education, health, and social development. For more information,
contact your local school or the Head Start Bureau online at www.
acf.hhs.gov/programs/ohs or 1-202-205-8572.
Meal Programs
Free breakfast and lunch programs are offered by some schools
for their students. These programs may serve children all year long.
Contact your local public school for more information or ask about
this when you enroll your children in school.

Important! Since a child born in the U.S. is automatically a U.S.
citizen, immigrant parents of a U.S. citizen child can also apply to
get CHIP for their child, even if they themselves are not eligible.

Healthcare
Emergency Medicaid covers childbirth regardless of immigrations
status, as long as the mother meets the low-income requirements.

To learn more about CHIP, you can call 1-877-KIDS-NOW (1-877543-7669), or visit http://insurekidsnow.gov/state/index.html and
click on your state. Each state may have slightly different requirements.

Additional Programs
Your state may offer additional programs. Contact your local social
services office.

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45

LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS
Do I Have Access to Healthcare?
Lawful permanent residents have access to some forms of healthcare,
but not as many as U.S. citizens. You have access to emergency
medical care, may have limited access to Medicare and Medicaid
(dependent on various factors), and are eligible for new options
under the Affordable Care Act. These healthcare options as they
apply to LPRs are explained briefly below. For further details, please
see Chapter 19, “How to Access Healthcare,” in the Guide.
Emergency Medical Care
Everyone, regardless of immigration status, may be eligible to receive
•	

•	
•	
•	

Federally-funded state medical assistance for emergency
care, which includes emergency Medicaid, emergency room
care, and labor and delivery
Short-term, non-cash, in-kind disaster relief
Public health assistance for immunizations and testing and
treatment for communicable diseases
Assistance that provides in-kind services to the community
(donations), does not make the donation dependent on
your income or resources, and is necessary for your protection
or safety (such as soup kitchens, short-term shelters, and
crisis counseling or intervention)

LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS
Can I Access Medicaid?
Medicaid is a program that helps pay for your healthcare costs if you are
low-income (if you do not make a lot of money) and are of working age.
If you are an LPR, you must have been in status for five years before
becoming eligible for Medicaid benefits. However, if you are an
LPR under 21 years of age, or a pregnant woman of any age, you
may be eligible to receive Medicaid benefits immediately.
Note: About half the states use their own money to provide
Medicaid to children and/or pregnant women who are either
qualified immigrants or lawfully residing in the U.S. (both of which
apply to LPRs) without a waiting period. A few states provide
medical assistance to additional groups of immigrants who are
ineligible for federal Medicaid, using their own funds. Therefore,
it is very important that you check with your state, even if you do
not think you are eligible, because the rules may be different in
your state.
How Long Can I Use Medicaid?
You may be eligible to use Medicaid for up to seven years after
you arrive or are approved under your qualifying status, or until
your income exceeds the income ceiling. However, keep in mind
that if you naturalize (become a U.S. citizen) these immigrationrelated time limits will no longer apply to you.

If you ever experience a life-threatening emergency, including
physical danger, crime, fire, or medical emergencies, dial 911 from
any phone for access to emergency services.

How Do I Apply for Medicaid?
Go to your local social services office to apply for Medicaid. The
name for this office is different in each state.

Can I Access Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA)?
No, as an LPR, you are not eligible for Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA).

Can I Access Medicare?
Medicare is a health insurance program for people who are age 65
or older or who have certain disabilities. If you meet either of these

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LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS

LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS

criteria, you may qualify for Part A “Premium Free,” which covers
the cost of inpatient care while you are in the hospital. Medicare
Part A is available to some statuses, but the rules are very complex,
and depend on how much U.S. work experience you have, among
other criteria. Ask your state social services provider or case manager
for help.

including some immigrants, will become eligible for their state’s
Medicaid program.

Part B “Buy in” Medicare, which covers doctors’ services and
outpatient hospital care, has similar criteria. LPRs are eligible for
Part B after having LPR status for five years.
If you are low-income, your state may help you pay for Part A and/
or Part B Medicare. For more information, go online to www.
socialsecurity.gov or call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213. You
can also make an appointment with your local Social Security office.
Go online to www.socialsecurity.gov/locator. For more information
on Medicare, go online to www.medicare.gov.

How to Apply
You will need to fill out a single application for the Marketplace,
and there are many resources available to help you. You can access
the Marketplace at www.healthcare.gov, or by calling 1-800-3182596. You may also send a paper application in the mail to:
Health Insurance Marketplace
Department of Health and Human Services
465 Industrial Blvd.
London, KY 40750
The application for Marketplace insurance now appears in over 30
languages at http://marketplace.cms.gov/applications-and-forms/
individuals-and-families-forms.html.

Am I Eligible for New Options for Health Insurance from the
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA)?
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as “Obamacare,”
improves access to healthcare for many immigrants. Among other
things, the ACA created new health insurance “Marketplaces” or
“exchanges.” These exchanges provide a new way for you to find
health insurance that fits your health and budgetary needs. The
plans on the exchanges are owned by private insurance companies,
and you can compare the plans side by side. No one can turn you
down for illnesses or medical conditions you already have.

Your state may run its own Marketplace, or it may use the Federal
Marketplace. You can learn about your state’s system and where
to apply in your state at www.healthcare.gov/what-is-themarketplace-in-my-state.

As an LPR, you are eligible for the new options under the Marketplace.
You are also eligible to apply for premium tax credits to pay for
plans purchased under the exchanges. Some non-pregnant adults,

In order to learn more about the Affordable Care Act, how to sign
up, and what it means for you and your family, please see www.
healthcare.gov/immigration-status-and-the-marketplace/.

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49

It is recommended that you get someone to help you review the plans
available to you, decide which plan fits your particular needs best, and
apply. You can find help from a Marketplace “Navigator,” or someone
whose job it is to help you understand the Marketplace, by going online
to https://localhelp.healthcare.gov and filling in where you live.

LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS

LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS

Additional Tips
A “Healthy Living Toolkit,” which covers information about
healthcare, hygiene, and physical and mental health, can be found
at www.refugees.org/resources/for-refugees--immigrants/health/.
Additionally, ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement) has helpful
resources on healthcare for immigrants at www.acf.hhs.gov/
programs/orr/health.

Administration (SAMHSA) provides information about service
providers throughout the country. You can use SAMHSA’s online
service provider locator at http://store.samhsa.gov/mhlocator or
you can call 1-877-726-4727 (1-877-SAMHSA7).

Federally qualified health centers provide medical care to individuals
regardless of immigration status, and often work on a sliding scale.
That means you pay only what you are able based on your income.
Go to www.bphc.hrsa.gov and type your zip code in the “find a
Health Center” box to locate a health center near you.
Dental care is care for your teeth. It is important to make regular dental
check-ups twice a year and call the dentist if you have tooth pain,
because problems with your teeth can cause many other dangerous
health problems, including heart disease. Often schools where students
are studying to be dentists will offer affordable or even free dental
work. Look in the phone book or online for listings of area universities
and colleges that have dental schools or free/low cost dental clinics.
If you were in immigration detention and saw a doctor while
detained, it is important that you get your medical records from
detention. See Chapter 6, “How to Get Your Personal Property
After You Are Released from Detention,” in the Guide.
Important! Emotional and mental health are considered just as
important as physical health in the U.S. If you feel depressed,
anxious, scared, or overwhelmed, it is important that you seek help
from a therapist, social worker, or other mental health service
provider. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services

50

Sometimes people become so depressed, they consider committing
suicide. If you or someone you know feels suicidal, call the National
Suicide Prevention Hotline immediately at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800784-2433) or 1-888-SUICIDE (1-888-784-2433). For Spanish, dial
1-877-SUICIDA (1-877-784-2432).
See Chapter 23, “How to Get Emotional Support,” in the Guide
for more details.

Do I Have Access to Affordable Housing?
LPRs are eligible for many public housing programs in the U.S. To
learn more about housing programs in the U.S., please see Chapter
20, “How to Access Housing,” in the Guide. Some additional
resources are listed below:
If you are homeless and need shelter, see www.homelessshelterdirectory.
org/ for a list of homeless shelters in your state.
If you or your children are the victim of abuse by your partner
or spouse and you are afraid to stay in your home, call the
National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800787-3224 or go online to www.thehotline.org.
If you are low-income, elderly, or have a disability, you may be
eligible for public housing. To participate, you must fit the eligibility
criteria, pay a portion of rent dependent on your income, and live

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LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS

LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENTS

in a public housing project. For more information, please visit http://
portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/topics/rental_assistance/
phprog. You may also be eligible for subsidized housing through
the Housing Choice Vouchers Program, which provides more choice
in housing, but requires you to find housing where the landlord
agrees to participate. For more information, please visit http://
portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/public_
indian_housing/programs/hcv/about.

12. If you are the parent or guardian of a child under the age of
18, by law you are required to send them to school. Some states
require school attendance only through age 16. Visit your state’s
Board of Education website for more information.

Can I Access Childcare and Education?
As an LPR, there are many valuable opportunities in the U.S. for you
and your children to pursue an education. A few important statusspecific points are below, but please see Chapter 21, “How to Access
Childcare and Education,” in the Guide for more information.
Important! In the U.S., leaving your children at home alone is often
considered “neglect,” a form of child abuse. If you leave your child
at home alone, the state government may take your child away
from you. Check with your state’s child welfare agency to learn the
age requirements in your state: www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/reslist/
rl_dsp_website.cfm?rs_ID=16&rate_chno=AZ-0004E.
Head Start: Childcare for Children Under Five
In case family or friends are not available to care for your children
while you work, Head Start is a federal program that cares for young
children and prepares them for school. Eligibility is based on financial
need. To learn more, see http://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/hs/about.

Education Options for Adults
If you are 16 or older and have not completed high school, you can
enroll in Adult Secondary Education (ASE) classes. These classes
prepare you to earn a GED (General Education Development)
certificate. A GED certificate is an alternative to a high school diploma.
For more information about the exam, or to locate a testing center,
please visit www.gedtestingservice.com/ged-testing-service.
For information on higher educational opportunities such as college
or university, as well as the enrollment process, please visit www.
collegeboard.org/.
As an LPR, you are eligible for student financial aid from the U.S.
Department of Education. Financial aid includes work study programs,
the Pell grant, and certain government loans such as the Stafford
and Perkins loans. To learn more visit www.studentaid.ed.gov or
www.fafsa.ed.gov. You may also visit the U.S. Department of Education
at www.ed.gov or call 1-800-USA-LEARN (1-800-872-5327), and call
the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-433-3243.

Primary and Secondary Education for Children Ages 5-18
In the U.S., every child, regardless of their immigration status, has
the right to a free public education kindergarten through grade

If you have any questions, concerns, or comments about this
supplement, or the First Steps guide, please contact the Detained
Torture Survivors’ Legal Support Network at Lutheran Immigration
and Refugee Service at firststeps@lirs.org.

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53

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

T

his supplement to First Steps has been brought to you by
the Detained Torture Survivors’ Legal Support Network,
a program of LIRS’s Access to Justice Unit. This supplement
was co-authored by Angela Edman, Staff Attorney for LIRS’s Access
to Justice (ATJ) program, and Sarah Vail, LIRS Programs and
Protection Administrative Assistant.
LIRS encourages printing and distribution of this supplement.
Information in this manual may be reprinted with the following
note: Reprinted with permission of the Detained Torture Survivors’
Legal Support Network, a program of Lutheran Immigration and
Refugee Service.
Printed in 2014

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