U. S. Department of Justice

Immigration and Naturalization Service

A Guide To Selected U.S. Travel/Identity Documents For Law Enforcement Officers

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Prepared by:

Law Enforcement Support Center

U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service

70 Kimball Avenue

South Burlington, VT 05403

Forensic Document Laboratory


8000 Westpark Drive

Suite 325

McLean, VA 22102

M-396 (Rev, 8/1/98)


Alien Status
Arrival/Departure Record (I-94)
Alien Registration Receipt Cards
Alien Registration Receipt Card (I-151)
Border Crosser Card, Form I-586
Border Crosser Card (Rev.I-586)
Border Crossing Card. Form DSP-150
Certifcate of Naturalization
Employment Authorization Document, Form 1-766
Employment Authorization Document, Form I-688B
Employment Authorization Card (I-668A)
Non-Immigrant Visas
Permanent Resident Card (I-551)
ReEntry Permit, Form 1-327
Refugee Travel Document, Form 1-571
Resident Alien Card (I-551)
Social Security Cards
Temporary Resident Card (I-688)
US Passport

This guide has been prepared to assist law enforcement officers in recognizing travel and employment authorization documents. The guide contains color photographs of the most commonly used documents, but it is not comprehensive. There are earlier valid revisions of the illustrated documents and other less common documents that are not included.

Because the attachments are reproductions, the exact size and color may deviate from the original. Do not make identifications based on size and/or color alone.

If you have any questions concerning the authenticity of one of these documents, you are encouraged to contact your local INS office.



In accordance with the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, any person born in and subject to the jurisdiction of the United States is a citizen of the U.S. at birth. U.S. citizenship may also be acquired through DERIVATION from U.S. citizen parents when children are born abroad or through NATURALIZATION after meeting the necessary residency requirements. All persons not citizens or nationals of the U.S. are aliens which generally are classified as PERMANENT RESIDENTS (Immigrants), NON-IMMIGRANTS, or UNDOCUMENTED ALIENS.

PERMANENT RESIDENT ALIENS enjoy almost all of the same rights as U.S. citizens. This status may be obtained through a number of different procedures and, unless taken away by administrative hearing, is granted for life. Aliens with permanent residency must carry evidence of their status. The Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS) no longer requires permanent residents to report their address annually.

NON-IMMIGRANT ALIENS are admitted to the U.S. for a temporary period of time and for a specific purpose, most often as a tourist. There are different classes of non-immigrants, and they are identified through letter/number symbols (i.e. B-2). Non-immigrants are also required to present evidence of their lawful status in the U.S. to officers of the INS. This will usually consist of a passport containing a visa and an 1-94 Arrival/Departure Record.

UNDOCUMENTED ALIENS are those who may have crossed the border illegally and/or been smuggled into the interior of the U.S., or those who have violated their non-immigrant status by accepting unauthorized employment, remaining longer than permitted or committing some other violation. Some of these aliens purchase counterfeit documents or assume another person's identity by using fraudulently obtained genuine documents.


A UNITED STATES PASSPORT is a document that is issued by the State Department to persons who have established that they are citizens of the United States, whether it is by birth, naturalization or derivation. The primary purpose of the passport is to facilitate travel to foreign countries by establishing U.S. citizenship and acting as a vehicle to display any appropriate visas and/or entry/exit stamps that may be necessary.

Passports are also very reliable documents which may be used within the United States to establish citizenship, identity and employment authorization.

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NOTE: There are approximately fifteen different versions of the US passport that are presently valid which vary from the 1994 version illustrated above.


Although there have been many different revisions of the CERTIFICATE OF NATURALIZATION, there are two common versions. The present version has a green color background design and contains a gold embossed Great Seal of the United States in the top center portion. Earlier versions were gray or beige and did not contain the embossed seal. Regardless, all certificates of naturalization are printed on watermarked paper.

The watermark design of the Department of Justice seal and the letters "USA" becomes visible when the document is held up to a strong light.

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Alien Registration Receipt Cards

INS Forms 1-151 and 1-551, are issued to aliens who have been granted permanent resident status in the United States. They retain this status while in this country. The bearer is required to have this card in his/her possession at all times.

The first ALIEN REGISTRATION RECEIPT CARD, Form 1-151, was introduced in 1946. Through 18 years of various revisions, it remained primarily green in color causing it to become known as a "green card." This term is still commonly used today although the cards have not been "green" since 1964. These cards contained no expiration date and were only required to be renewed if the recipient was under the age of 14 at the time of issuance, or if the card was lost or stolen.


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NOTE: As of March 20, 1996, the above form 1-151 is no longer acceptable as evidence of permanent residence.


The RESIDENT ALIEN CARD, Form 1-551 was introduced in January 1977 and phased in over a period of time. In addition to the photograph, the 1-551 will contain the bearer's signature and fingerprint.


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Form I-551


The RESIDENT ALIEN CARD, Form I-551,was revised in August 1989. This version was the first Alien Registration Card to contain an expiration date on every card. Usually, it is valid for ten years from date of issue. The expiration date indicates when the card expires and must be renewed. It does not indicate that the alien*s status has expired. The card was modified in January 1992 when a white box was added behind the fingerprint.

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The PERMANENT RESIDENT CARD, Form I-551, was introduced December 1997. Noticeable differences on the front of the card include: Change of card title from RESIDENT ALIEN CARD to PERMANENT RESIDENT CARD, three line machine readable zone and a hoIogram. The modified version is the card currently being issued.

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The Optical Memory Stripe contains encoded cardholder information as well as a personalized etching which depicts the bearer*s photo, name, signature, date of birth, alien registration number, card expiration date and card number.


The EMPLOYMENT AUTHORIZATION CARD, Form I-688A is the first card issued to aliens who qualified under the Amnesty Program" of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. It is produced with a Polaroid identification camera and covered with a special secure plastic laminate. The expiration date is found on the front of the card while the authorized use is explained on the reverse side.

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Form I-688A

The expiration date may be extended by placing a small sticker on the reverse side. There are two different types of extension stickers which have been used. One extends the expiration date for 90 days and the other for 1 year. Multiple stickers may be used for further extensions


INS Valid for 90 Days from Expiration Date

INS Valid for One (1) Year from Expiration Date


The TEMPORARY RESIDENT CARD, Form 1-688 is the second document issued to aliens who further quality under the "Amnesty Program" It is produced in the same manner as the l-668A and contains the same security features. The text statement on the reverse side is different and explains the privilages granted to the bearer.


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Form I-688


The 1-688 may be extended by placing a sticker on the reverse. Again, multiple stickers may be used to further extensions.

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Once the bearer becomes a permanent resident, a larger sticker is placed on the reverse which explains the new status of the bearer. With this endorsement, the bearer has the same privileges as a permanent resident.

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This Employment Authorization Document, Form I-688B, is issued to aliens who are not permanent residents byt have been granted permission to be employed in the U.S. for a specific period of time. The card originally was produced with a Polaroid process similar to the I-688 and-688A, but has the added feature of interlocking gold lines across the front.

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Form I-688B


In May 1995, some INS offices began issuing a modified I-688B. The most significant change was to the card stock which was changed from the Polaroid process to a synthetic material called Teslin on which the biometric and biographic data of the bearer are printed. Note that on this version, the name is printed on two lines.

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Form I-688B (May 1995)

In August 1995 changes were made to the software which prints the I-688Bs and the name reverted to the one line format similar to the original card.

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Form I-688B (August 1995)


In January 1997, INS began issuing a new Employment Authorization Document, Form 1-766.  The new card is a credit card type of document.  The front of the card contains a photo, figerprint and signature of the rightful holder.  The reverse contains a standard bar code, magnetic strip and  a two--dimensional bar code which will contain unique card, biographic and biometric data.

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Form I-766 (January 1997)


A REENTRY PERMIT, Form 1-327, is issued to a permanent resident alien in lieu of a passport. The reentry permit guarantees his/her permission to reenter the U.S. and is valid for a period of 2 years. It is not renewable.

The reentry permit contains a digitized photograph and many of the security features of the passport. Visas and entrylexit stamps may be applied to the blank pages.

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Form I-327


A REFUGEE TRAVEL DOCUMENT, Form 1-571, is similar to the reentry permit, but is used by aliens who have been classified as refugees or asylees. The security features and period of validity are also the same as the REENTRY PERMIT.

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Form I-571


There are 2 types of NON-IMMIGRANT VISAS. The non-machine readable visa is printed with a multicolored ribbon while the machine readable visa is a sticker which is applied to the passport page. The visa is used for entry purposes and must be valid on the date of entry into the U.S. It is not necessary for the visa to be valid after entry.

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When an alien has been granted admission into the U.S. by an Immigration Inspector at an authorized Port of Entry, he/she will be issued an 1-94, ARRIVAL/DEPARTURE RECORD, which is stapled to a page in the passport. This document will explain how long the bearer may remain and the terms of admission.

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The BORDER CROSSER CARD, Form I-586, is issued to Mexican nationals who reside in Mexico and frequently cross into the U.S. for visits, shopping or to conduct commerce. The status granted to the bearer is B-1/B-2. A visitor for business or pleasure. The bearer of this card is not entitled to work in the U.S., is restricted to stays of no more than 72 hours, and man only travel within 25 miles of the border. This card is similar in design to the Resident Alien Card, except for the color.

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Form I-586


The BORDER CROSSER CARD, Form I-586 was revised in November 1990. The most noticeable difference between the original I-586 and the revised card is the color. The front of the revised card has a peach colored background and the color of the heading at the top of the card is teal.

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For I-586

[Note: The Border Crosser Card displaying the photo of GONZALEZ-MENDEZ, Cristina Marie, shows the reverse of the card illustrated on the previous page.  The reverse side of the Border Crosser Card that was revised in November 1990 is similar to the Revised I-551, in that it contains a machine readable zone.]

The U.S. Department of State introduced a new BORDER CROSSING CARD. Form DSP-150 in May 1998. The front of the card has a three line machine readable zone and a hologram. Bearers of this card are not entitled to work in the U.S.

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The Optical Memory Stripe contains encoded cardholder information as well as a personalized etching which depicts the bearer's photo, name, date of birth, and card expiration date.



Although SOCIAL SECURITY CARDS are not immigration documents, they are mentioned here because they are often used as identification and to establish employment authorization.

Social Security cards have been issued since 1936 and have been revised more than 20 times. Originally, the seal on the social security card read Department of Health, Education and Welfare. In May 1980, it was changed to the Department of Health and Human Services. In April 1 995, it was changed again to read Social Security Administration. Some counterfeiters have failed to notice these changes.

In October 1983, security features were added to the card. All social security cards issued since October 1983 have been printed with raised (intaglio) printing and the signature line consists of microline printing of the words "SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION" in a repeating pattern.

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