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What is an Alien Registration Card?

Felicia Dye
Felicia Dye

In immigration terms, an alien generally refers to an individual who is not a citizen of the country that she is in. An alien registration card is a document that identifies such individuals. In some cases, these documents are only issued to people with a certain immigration status, such as permanent residents. In other instances, however, the card can be issued to various types of aliens.

Although the terms of qualifying for an alien registration card can vary from one country to another, there are some characteristics these documents generally have in common. Most modern alien registration cards are similar in size to a credit card and effort is made to reduce the possibility of fraud. They are usually issued by immigration authorities. Holders of such cards are generally required to carry them at all times. There are also usually grounds which allow a person’s alien registration card to be revoked.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

In the United States (US), an alien registration card is sometimes referred to as a permanent resident card. This plastic, machine-readable document is issued to people from other countries who have been granted certain privileges. When a person has an alien registration card, she is permitted to be a permanent part of society in the US. She can live within the US territory and she can legally gain employment. This document does not, however, grant a person United States citizenship.

A qualified person can obtain her alien registration card from United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). The document she receives should include a photograph and name her as the owner. It will also include other information, such as the date that she acquired permanent residency and the authority that issued the document.

Such documents are not exclusive to the US. The Philippines also issues such cards, which are formally known as Alien Certificates of Registration or ARC I-Cards. In the Philippines, the card has an imbedded computer chip and digitalized fingerprint images. The owner of the card is also identified with a tamper-proof photograph. There is a wide range of information displayed on the card, including demographics such as name, place of birth, and country of citizenship.

There is a major difference between the alien registration cards issued in the Philippines and those issued in the US. An ARC I-Card is not restricted to permanent residents. The card can be issued to people with other immigrations statuses. The card communicates which status a person has.

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Discussion Comments


I wish they would change the name of these cards. I know it is just a name, but alien just seems so brutal and harsh. I think they should use fingerprints not only in the Philippines on these cards, but also in the United States. Fingerprints seem like the way to go to prevent most fraud.

It seems like you would want to keep an alien registration card on you at all times. You never know when you might need to show it! Also, it seems like people wanting to live and work in a foreign country should register for this card as soon as possible. You do not want to risk the chance of being deported or not having access to a lot of the same right's as everyone else in that particular country.


@CaithnessCC - I spent a year in Japan on a study program, so had to register as a temporary visitor.

Stupidly I lost my alien registration card one day. It was my own fault for not keeping it in a safe place, and as I was due to take a short trip out of the country the following week it was a really nerve wracking time. Without it I'd have had to pay a fine and perhaps not been allowed to return.

Luckily for me someone actually posted it back to me a few days later. I never knew who found it or helped me out that way - but I'm eternally grateful.


@wander - I worked in South Korea too, and I remember waiting impatiently for my alien registration card to arrive. It seemed to take forever but at last I was able to buy a cellphone, sign up for Internet and do a hundred other things that this status made possible.

I know most people treated theirs like gold dust, because losing it meant you were at risk of a fine. It's just a pity they have to be surrendered when you leave the country for the last time. It would have made a nice souvenir I think.


The alien registration card that the Philippines gives out to foreigners who want to stay in their country for a short time or permanently sounds really neat.

All the information that it has embedded in it would be great for identification purposes. And having fingerprints in it would help anyone looking for positive ID. The best part is that it can't be used by anyone else.

With our large population, it probably wouldn't be practical in the U.S. because of the huge cost. But it's something we could be thinking about.


I'm not sure of all the circumstances that will allow you to get an alien registration card. I know if you are a student who wants to go to school in America, you can get a card.

Also, if you are a foreigner and marry an American, or if you want to work here, you can apply or an alien card. I know a number of foreigners who work for an American company in their own country, and are sent here temporarily to work. In this case, it is fairly easy to get a card.

The process can be time consuming and frustrating. I think it is just a backlog of cases and not enough employees.


@Sara007 - I'm pretty sure that it's the same process as for any country. Your best bet might be to get a job with a multinational company in Canada and then see if you can get transferred to the US. Or, even easier, fall in love with one of your friends and marry him! (Obviously, only if you really want to get married, 'cause otherwise I think it's fraud.)

I remember hearing that when they were getting ready to start filming Lost, they had trouble with work permits. They were shooting in Hawaii and Evangeline Lilly, the actress who played Kate, is Canadian. Apparently, any time you want to hire a foreigner for a job in the US, you just about have to prove that there's no American suitable for the position.

They almost had to recast the part, but fortunately for the show, her work permit came through at the last minute.


Does anyone know if it is difficult to get an alien registration green card for the USA if you are citizen of Canada? Is it the same process that all other citizens of other countries go through?

I have been considering making the cross-border move so that I can be closer to my friends in the states. I have heard that the green card application form can be really tedious to fill out and it can take years to get approval. I am really wondering if the whole thing would be worth it, or if I should just stick to road trips every month.


When I was working in South Korea as an ESL teacher I had to have an alien registration card number so that I could have access to services like health care and pension. It was really a good thing because it solidified my visa status for the year I was working there and gave me rights with the labor board.

I think that if you are seeking work in a new country, the first thing you should do is see what you can do about getting an alien registration card. It really affords you a lot of rights you wouldn't have otherwise. This can be really important if any legal matters arise.

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