Permanent Residents

What Is a Permanent Resident?

A Permanent Resident card, or “green card,” is a plastic card with the individual's biographic information, photo, fingerprint, and expiration date issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

It authorizes the green card holder the right to live and work in the United States indefinitely.

Because at one time, it was green, it keeps its nickname up to today. It is also known as an “Alien Registration Card” and “Form I-551”.

Currently, the card is yellowish with a magnetic barcode on the back which stores the individual's information.

While the green card has an expiration date (10 years) and has to be renewed, the green card holder’s status as “lawful permanent resident” is still valid unless the status is abandoned or revoked by U.S. government.

What are the benefits of being a permanent resident?

A Permanent Resident enjoys most of the rights of a United States citizen according to the immigration law and regulations.

  • To live permanently in the United States provided you do not commit any actions that would make you removable (deportable) under the immigration law (section 237, Immigration and Nationality Act).
  • To be employed in the United States at any legal work of your qualification and choosing.
  • To be protected by all of the laws of the United States, your state of residence and local jurisdictions.
  • To vote in local elections where United States citizenship is not required.


  • Some jobs will be limited to United States citizens because of security concerns.
  • You may not vote in elections limited to United States citizens.

If you've lived in the U.S. for ten years, have good moral character, and meet other requirements, you might be able to defend against deportation and receive a green card.

If you are a foreign-born person who has been living in the U.S. without legal status for a long time, and you have been placed into removal (deportation) proceedings, you might be eligible for what's called "Non-LPR Cancellation of Removal" and a green card.

The conditions for this form of relief from deportation are as follows:

  1. You have been living ("continuously physically present") in the U.S. for at least ten years.
  2. Your being removed ("deported") from the U.S. would cause "exceptional and extremely unusual hardship" to your qualifying relative(s), who is (or are) U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents (LPRs).
  3. You can show that you have "good moral character."
  4. You have not been convicted of certain crimes or violated certain laws.

Proving That You're Eligible for Cancellation of Removal Is Your "Burden" or Responsibility

You have what's called the "burden of proof" to show that you deserve cancellation of removal. Also, it is a discretionary remedy, which means that even if you meet all of the basic requirements, the immigration judge can still decide whether or not to approve an application for cancellation. Therefore, it is vital to make clear to the immigration judge that you are honest, sincere, and really deserve to be allowed to stay in the U.S. and receive a green card.

A big part of the process of convincing the judge is providing as much evidence as possible to show that you meet the basic requirements and also "deserve" the benefits of cancellation, as described below.

But if there is something about your case that you think makes you ineligible or might make the judge decide not to exercise his or her freedom in your favor, you should definitely see a lawyer. It's a good idea to see a lawyer in any case, for help preparing a complete application and set of supporting documents.

Recognize also that this "burden of proof" can get into complex legal areas. In 2021, for example, the Supreme Court held that it extends to proving whether something is a crime involving moral turpitude; and that an immigrant who had been convicted of using a false Social Security number had failed to prove this.

Meeting the Ten Years' U.S. Residence Requirement

To qualify for non-LPR cancellation, you must be able to show that you have been continuously physically present for ten years or more. (There's an exception if you have completed two years of active service in the U.S. armed forces, in which case those two years alone are enough to meet the time requirements for non-LPR cancellation.)

The date of your arrival in the United States starts the ten-year "clock." This doesn't have to be your latest arrival; it can be the day you "moved" here, so long as you do not have a single absence from the U.S. of more than 90 days or multiple absences adding up to more than 180 days after that. Such absences would stop the clock, and you'd have to start over at accruing ten years.

The clock also stops when you either receive a Notice to Appear (NTA) in immigration court for removal proceedings or if you commit certain types of crimes, There are also other ways that the clock can be stopped, such as leaving the U.S. under a "voluntary departure order."

Testimony and written declarations from you and other people who know you can be enough to show ten years of residence. However, if you have documentary evidence of your U.S. residence, such as rent receipts, credit card statements, pay stubs, and so on, you should provide it to the court.

Meeting the "Qualifying Relative" Requirement

To qualify for cancellation under the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.) § 240A(b)(1)(D), the undocumented immigrant must have a relative who is his or her "spouse, parent, or child" and "is a citizen of the U.S. or an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence."

If relying on a child, you must consider the immigration law's definition of "child," found at I.N.A. Section 101(b). It says that a child must be unmarried and under 21 years of age, which courts have interpreted to mean applies at the time the judge decides on your case. (See, for example, the Ninth Circuit case of Mendez-Garcia v. Lynch, 10/20/2016.)

Unfortunately, that means you will need to get through the immigration court proceedings before the child turns 21. This can be problematic: Immigration courts are quite backed up, and it might take more than one hearing date to get to the end of your testimony and cross-examination by the government attorney, after which you'll have to hope that the judge issues a decision in court or soon thereafter.

Meeting the "Exceptional and Extremely Unusual Hardship" Requirement

Every removal (deportation) causes hardship. To qualify for non-LPR cancellation, however, the hardship to the relative must be "exceptional and extremely unusual." The distinction between "hardship" and "exceptional and extremely unusual" is critical.

To be approved for non-LPR cancellation, it is not enough to show that a U.S. citizen or LPR relative would suffer financially, emotionally, and physically. Instead, the applicant must prove that the qualifying relative would suffer to a degree that goes above and beyond the type of suffering that would normally be expected when a close relative is deported.

For example, evidence of a minor child's severe illness and the lack of available medical care in the undocumented immigrant's home country might be enough. Evidence of a long history of living in the U.S., children who do not speak the language of the country to which you would be removed, and no support structure to rely on in your home country, might also be enough.

Meeting the "Good Moral Character" Requirement

An immigration judge will deny an application for non-LPR cancellation if the applicant does not have "good moral character". The judge will decide that the applicant does not have good moral character if the law specifically says that the applicant cannot have good moral character (because, for example, he or she is a "habitual drunkard") or if the judge decides that there are other "discretionary factors" indicating that the applicant isn't a "good person."

There are many reasons in the law for a judge to find that an applicant for non-LPR cancellation does not have good moral character. So, if you think that there are any negative facts in your case, such as criminal convictions, that might make you ineligible for non-LPR cancellation, talk to an attorney.

Difference Between LPR Cancellation and non-LPR Cancellation

Another remedy, LPR cancellation, should not be confused with this one. No hardship has to be shown and there are only three basic requirements: five years as an LPR; seven years of continuous residence in the U.S.; and no aggravated felony convictions. There is also no annual limit to the number of LPRs who can receive LPR cancellation. 

If You Win Your Cancellation of Removal Case

Nationwide, immigration judges can approve only 4,000 cancellation applications per year from non-LPRs (people without green cards). The cap is often reached very quickly. This means that even if you have an approvable cancellation application, the immigration judge will not be able to approve your application unless a "number" (in essence, a green card) is available.

Eventually, however, the court should issue you an approval, along with instructions for registering for your green card.

Allow us to help solve your immigration challenges

Trust Your Immigration to our dedicated team. Contact us for a consultation.
For assistance from an experienced attorney, please complete the form below.