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The Alien Registration Number or A-number is, in brief, an identifying number assigned to a noncitizen by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the government agency within the Department of Homeland Security that oversees lawful immigration to the United States. An "alien" is any person who is not a citizen or national of the United States. The A-number is yours for life, much like a social security number.
An Alien Registration Number is a noncitizen's legal US identification number, the identifier that will open the door to a new life in the United States.
Apply for Immigrant Status
It identifies the holder as someone who has applied for and been approved as an officially designated immigrant to the U.S. Aliens must go through an extremely rigorous eligibility process. Most individuals are sponsored by a close family member or an employer who has offered them a job in the United States. Other individuals may become permanent residents through refugee or asylum status or other humanitarian programs.
Creation of the Immigrant A-file and A-number
If approved as an official immigrant, that person's A-file is created with an Alien Registration Number, also known as an A-number or Alien Number. The USCIS defines this number as "a unique seven-, eight- or nine-digit number assigned to a noncitizen at the time his or her Alien file, or A-file, is created."
The Immigrant Visa
Toward the end of this process, immigrants have an appointment at the U.S. embassy or consulate for their official "immigrant visa review." Here, they are given documents where they will see their new A-number and their Department of State Case ID for the first time. It is crucial to keep these in a safe place so that the numbers are not lost. These numbers can be found:
- On an immigrant data summary, stapled to the front of the individual's immigrant visa package
- At the top of a USCIS Immigrant Fee handout
- On the immigration visa stamp inside that person's passport (the A-number is called a "registration number" here)
If an individual is still unable to find the A-Number, he or she can schedule an appointment at the local USCIS office, where an immigration services officer can provide the A-number.
The Immigrant Fee
Anyone immigrating to the United States as a lawful new permanent resident must pay the $220 USCIS Immigrant Fee, with few exceptions. The fee should be paid online after the immigrant visa is approved and before traveling to the United States. USCIS uses this fee to process the immigrant visa packet and produce a Permanent Resident Card.
What If You Already Live in the U.S.?
This process can get more complicated for an individual already living in the United States. That person might have to leave the US during the application process to wait for a visa to become available or for an immigrant visa interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate. For anyone in the U.S. under more or less murky circumstances, staying in the country during the process boils down to being eligible for Adjustment of Status. Those who need more details might want to consult an experienced immigration attorney.
Getting the Permanent Resident Card (Green Card)
Once in possession of the A-number and having paid the visa fee, the new permanent resident can apply for the Permanent Resident Card, also known as the green card. A green card holder (a permanent resident) is someone who has been granted authorization to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis. As proof of that status, this person is granted a Permanent Resident Card (green card).
The USCIS says, "the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services number the letter A followed by eight or nine digits listed on the front of Permanent Resident Cards (Form I-551) issued after May 10, 2010, is the same as the Alien Registration Number. The A-number can also be found on the back of these Permanent Resident Cards." Immigrants are legally obligated to keep this card with them at all times.
The Power of the A-Number
While A-numbers are permanent, green cards are not. Permanent residents must apply to renew their cards, usually every 10 years, either six months before expiration or after expiration.
Why have A-numbers? The USCIS says that "alien registration began in August 1940 as a program to record every non-citizen within the United States. The original Act of 1940 was a national security measure and directed the former INS to fingerprint and register every alien aged 14 and older within and entering the United States." These days, the Department of Homeland Security assigns A-numbers.
Being in possession of an Alien Registration Number and Permanent Resident Card (green card) is certainly not the equivalent of citizenship, but it is a powerful first step. With the A number on a green card, immigrants are able to apply for housing, utilities, employment, bank accounts, aid and more so that they can begin a new life in the United States. Citizenship might follow, but lawful permanent residents with a green card must apply for it.