How to Read a Green Card
The current version of the Permanent Resident Card, best known as a “green card,” was introduced by U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) in May 2010. Unlike its predecessors, the current green card utilizes some significant new security features. State-of-the-art technology prevents counterfeiting, obstructs tampering, and facilitates quick and accurate authentication of the card.
How to Read the Front of a Green Card
The front of a green card is mostly self-explanatory. It includes biographic information such as name, country of birth, birth date, sex, card expiration date, and the date of admission as a permanent resident. USCIS# describes the cardholder’s alien registration number or “A-number.” Dates are generally in the MM/DD/YYYY format. All permanent residents have a unique 8- or 9-digit A-number.
Perhaps the most mysterious information on the front of a green card is the category. Category describes the immigrant visa category that was used to admit an immigrant to the U.S. as a permanent resident or conditional permanent resident. The field is also known as “class of admission” in other USCIS documents. The field is typically one or two letters followed by a number.
Not all green cards include the holder’s signature. In limited cases, USCIS waives the signature requirement for certain people, such as children under the age of consent or individuals who are physically unable to provide a signature. Since February 2015, USCIS has been waiving the signature requirement for people entering the United States for the first time as lawful permanent residents after obtaining an immigrant visa abroad from a U.S. Embassy or consulate. Cards without a signature will say “Signature Waived” on the front and back of the card where a signature would normally be located.
Note: Green cards issued between 1979 and August 1989 do not have expiration dates and do not need to be renewed unless you want to use the GE kiosk. GE kiosks cannot read the old format green cards.
How to Read Back of a Green Card
The back of a green card is a bit more cryptic and difficult to read. In fact, some of the micro images are so small, they might go unnoticed. Tiny images of state flags and U.S. presidents border an optical stripe. The optical stripe can be quickly scanned by government agencies to gather all of the relevant card information. In the white space below the optical stripe, there are human-readable characters that have meaning if you know how to read them. Here is a look line by line:
1–2: C1 or C2 (C1 = Resident within the United States C2= Permanent Resident commuter living in Canada or Mexico)
3–5: issuing country (USA)
6–14: 9-digit number A-number
15: application receipt number
16–30: immigrant case number (first three letters represent service center code)
The “<” symbol represents a blank space
1-6: birth date (in YY/MM/DD format)
7: not documented, assumed to be a check digit
9-14: expiration date (in YY/MM/DD format)
15: not documented, assumed to be a check digit
16-29: country of birth
30: not documented, assumed to be a check digit
Third Line of Characters
Last name, first name, middle name, first initial of father, first initial of mother (this line is spaced with “<<” between the last name and first name). Depending on the length of the name, the father’s and mother’s initials may be omitted. For additional information about the newest version of the green card including a fact sheet that describes its security features, see the USCIS press release.