How to Read a Permanent Resident Card

Table of Contents

Permanent resident cards– green cards— issued to immigrants act as primary identification for those who are granted permission to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis, and it contains vast information about the holder. The cards, which are issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), use both the front and the back of the card to list identifying information. The front of the green card contains straightforward, self-explanatory information while the codes on the back of the card center on regulatory categories as defined by immigration rules.

For example, the biographic information listed on the front of a permanent resident card includes the immigrant’s photo as well as the owner’s name, country of birth, birth date, sex, the date of admission, and the card’s expiration date. Also on the front of the card is the USCIS#, which lists the cardholder’s alien registration number— the “A-number.”

The back of a permanent resident card is more complex and goes into more detail about each permanent resident’s specific situation. It also contains the permanent resident card number which is also known as Green Card number, case number,  receipt number, and i-551 number. This number is used to check the case status of an application. The information listed on the back of the card is readable by human eyes as well as computers. Some of the information duplicates the biographic details listed on the front of the card, but also includes immigrant category codes. USCIS breaks down how back-of-the-card information is listed on a permanent resident card. Descriptions include the lines used on the back of the cards as well as where information is slotted within each line:

  • First line: Spaces 1–2 shows C1 or C2. C1 represents a resident within the United States while C2 represents someone who lives in the bordering countries of either Canada or Mexico but commutes to the United States for work. Spaces 3–5: USA– the United States as the card’s issuing country. Spaces 6–14 lists a 9-digit alien number. Space 15 represents the application receipt number, and spaces 16–30 represents the immigrant case number that resulted in the approved green card. The “<” symbol is representative of a blank space
  • Second line: Spaces 1-6 show the cardholder’s birth date formatted as  YY/MM/DD. Spaces 7 shows not documented, assumed to be a check digit. Space 8 shows gender. Spaces 9-14 lists the card’s expiration date, which is shown in YY/MM/DD format. Space 15 shows not documented, assumed to be a check digit. Spaces 16-29 is the country of birth. Space 30 is not documented, assumed to be a check digit.
  • The third line lists the cardholder’s last name, first name, middle name, first initial of the father, first initial of the mother. The line is spaced with “<<” between the last name and first name. The mother’s and father’s initials could be omitted if the spelling of the cardholder’s name uses the spaces.

USCIS offers more guidance on immigration categories through the Federal Register and a Foreign Affairs Manual from the U.S. Department of State.

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