The Alien Registration Act of 1940 was the first law requiring immigrants to register their presence with the government. Most of them did this at the post office, which then forwarded the paperwork to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). These individuals were then mailed a receipt, which was white in color.
At that time, immigrants were all classified into the same category, regardless of whether they were a student, seasonal worker, or seeking a path to citizenship. As a result, each one received a white receipt after registration had taken place.
After World War II, immigrants were then required to register directly with the INS rather than going through the post office. At that time, the agency began classifying immigrants into different categories, and issued different permits based upon each one’s status. Each one received a different colored receipt in order to help officials better keep track of them. Those who obtained permanent resident status were given a green receipt, hence the name “green card.”
Obtaining a green card was, and still is, a sign of status among immigrants. The actual card is no longer green, and has taken on many different forms throughout the years; however, for those who are awarded a “green card”, it symbolizes the hope of a better future for themselves and their families.