Certain foreigners are allowed to live and work in the United States by virtue of holding a permanent resident card, colloquially referred to as a "green card" due to its green color. The cards are authorized and issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), and you can verify them by understanding the information and features contained on a legitimate card. A permanent resident card offers important benefits and is just one step short of citizenship, so there's a potential it could be counterfeit. It contains identifying features that can help with permanent resident card verification.
Permanent resident cards, while essentially the same size as a driver's license or a credit card, are chock full of information. To verify the validity of a permanent resident card, ensure that all of the following standard information about the bearer is present:
- card number, also known as document number
- alien number
- USCIS number
- birth date
- card expiration date
A valid green card will have three important numbers: the card or document number, the alien number and the USCIS number. The alien number and the USCIS number are very similar, with one important difference. The alien number begins with the letter "A" and is found on the back of the card. The USCIS number is the same number without the "A" prefix, and is found on the front of the green card.
The document number is on the back of the card and is exactly 13 alphanumeric characters – three letters followed by 10 numbers.
A valid permanent resident card has a host of security features, much like a current driver's license. These high-tech security solutions are almost impossible to duplicate and include the following:
- high-resolution photo-like image of the cardholder etched into the surface of the card with a laser
- micro-imaged security images with resolutions of 25,000 dots per inch
- a covert diffractive image that can be revealed with a security tool
- storage of tamper-proof digital information that includes biometrics
- ISO standard data structure
These enhanced security features became standard-issue for green cards since May 2010.
Inconsistencies and Other Errors
As with currency or other counterfeit items of value, one of the easiest ways to spot a phony green card is by noticing inconsistencies or obvious errors. For example, if the permanent resident alien card number isn't three letters followed by 10 numbers, it's not legitimate. The same holds true if there are misspellings on the card.
Other errors may be less obvious, but are still giveaways that a card is not genuine. For example, if you see a card issued in 2004 or later that references the "INS," it's a forgery because the Immigration and Naturalization Service became part of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003. Also, the lines of code on the back of the green card should contain the alien number, card number, card expiration date and the holder's date of birth.
Electronic Checks for Employers
If you are an employer and you wish to check verify a potential employee's employment eligibility, including his or her permanent residency, then the government has made life a little easier for you. The Department of Homeland Security offers an electronic verification service via its E-Verify website. Employers who sign up to the voluntary service can verify information taken from a potential employee’s Form I-9. E-Verify then automatically compares that information to records held by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. You should get a response almost instantaneously.
John Csiszar earned a Certified Financial Planner designation and served for 18 years as an investment counselor, having firsthand experience of the legal requirements of the financial services industry. He now writes and edits articles on finance for various private clients. In addition to the thousands of online articles to his credit, Csiszar has published five educational books for young adults.