Chapter 1 - Purpose and Background

A. Purpose

USCIS issues a variety of documents that establish identity and immigration status in the United States. These include, but are not limited to, Employment Authorization Documents, travel documents, Permanent Resident Cards, and naturalization and citizenship certificates.

B. Background

In 1946, the U.S. government began issuing different types of registration documents based on an noncitizen’s status in the United States. The Identification Card for the Use of Resident Citizen in the United States (Form I-179; later known as Form I-197) was introduced in 1960 to provide naturalized U.S. citizens living along the Mexican border with identification to facilitate border crossings between the United States and Mexico. Legacy Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) guidance provided that the identification card could only be issued in certain districts of the Southwest United States. The card was issued until February 1973. [1] 

Lawful permanent resident (LPR) cards were first issued as Form I-151. Between 1952 and 1977, legacy INS issued 17 different re-designs of the card. In 1977, the Permanent Resident Card (PRC) (Form I-551) replaced Form I-151 as evidence of LPR status. In 1989, legacy INS introduced a new version of the PRC with a 10-year validity period. [2] 

USCIS currently issues a number of documents for travel and identity purposes. These secure identity documents often serve multiple purposes; they may also be used as proof of a noncitizen’s immigration status, employment authorization, and as travel authorization. [3] 

USCIS has also increased the security, integrity, and efficiency of secure identity document delivery, and maintains better tracking and accuracy of delivery. Various USCIS initiatives work to confirm that secure identity documents are delivered to the right address and person, an important step in the delivery of sensitive documents, which may be subject to abuse. [4] 

C. Legal Authorities

  • 8 CFR 103.2 - Submission and adjudication of benefit requests

  • 8 CFR 103.8 - Service of decisions and other notices

  • 8 CFR 103.16 - Collection, use and storage of biometric information 


[^ 1] Although Forms I-179 and I-197 are no longer issued by USCIS, valid existing cards continue to be acceptable documentation of U.S. citizenship. See 8 CFR 235.10.

[^ 2] Except for conditional permanent residents, who are issued Forms I-551 with an expiration date of 2 years, after the date on which the person became a conditional permanent resident.

[^ 3] For more information, see USCIS to Issue Employment Authorization and Advance Parole Card for Adjustment of Status Applicants: Questions and Answers

[^ 4] USCIS previously was unable to confirm the status of the delivery of secure identity documents, the accuracy of the delivery address, or who signed for the document. This left USCIS vulnerable to persons seeking to obtain sensitive immigration documents by theft or other illicit means. Advances in USCIS’ delivery of sensitive documents have significantly reduced this risk. 

Current as of July 26, 2021