How To Get An I-551 Visa Stamp

Written by J. Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

When individuals are given permission to visit the United States, they are usually given temporary travel documents that expire after months or years. If someone wants to stay in the country permanently, he might need to get the I-551 visa stamp. Here is how to get an I-551 visa stamp.

"USCIS Form I-551 Also Known as the Green Card"

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) calls the Form I-551, the United States Permanent Resident Card. It is also known as the Green Card or Alien Registration Card. When you hear the "visa stamp" term used, it is actually a sticker identifying your immigration status and category in the United States.

A foreign permanent resident of the United States must have his original passport along with the Green Card. If he holds the I-551, then he is lawfully admitted to permanently reside and work in the United States. This is a key advantage over a temporary residence permit or work permit, which must be continually renewed.

The time span for these other travel documents is quite limited. The Green Card is usually a step in the immigration process towards full American citizenship. The permanent Form I-551 is issued to certain foreign investors and immediate relatives and must be renewed after 10 years.

"Qualifications for the I-551 Visa Stamp"

A foreign citizen married to an American citizen may receive the I-551 visa stamp. A foreign citizen working in the United States may also receive the stamp. Both will be marked "conditional," meaning they must still pass certain qualifications for citizenship. After two years, the conditions may be removed from the marriage visa. Foreign investors can receive a conditional Green Card for the first two years too.

When applying to become a full citizen, the holder of the I-551 visa stamp must hand it into the appropriate government agency. A full United States citizen cannot hold an American passport and Green Card at the same time.

Also be aware that the holder of a Green Card can still be deported. The commission of serious crimes can lead to the loss of the Green Card privileges. Only full United States citizens cannot be deported.

For tax purposes, Green Card holders should file as "residents." It is possible to hold the Form I-551 your entire life without becoming an American citizen.

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