Information adapted from CitizenPath.
The green card has changed many times since its inception in 1940 after World War II.
The First Green Card (1940-1977)
The Alien Registration Act of 1940 required all foreign-born persons in the U.S. 14 years of age and older to be fingerprinted and register their presence at a U.S. post office. The forms were forwarded to the Immigration and Nationalization Service (INS), which processed the forms and mailed out AR-3 receipts. Only legal immigrants could exchange their AR-3 cards for a Form I-151. The pale green Form I-151 card (or Alien Registration Receipt Card) conferred onto its holder the right to live and work in the U.S. indefinitely. However, Form I-151 was made out of paper and lacked many security measures, so it was often counterfeited. To combat counterfeit green cards, the INS issued 17 different versions of the card from 1952 to 1977.
Form I-551 Resident Alien Card (1977-1989)
In 1977, INS developed a new machine-verifiable card made of plastic that was more durable and resistant to fraud. Renamed I-551 and dubbed the Resident Alien Card, these light yellow cards included a fingerprint, signature, and A-number. These cards do not have document numbers or expiration dates.
Business Friendly Green Card (1989-1997)
Because of the large variety of green cards in circulation, employers found it difficult to verify identity. In response, the INS issued a new peach-colored version with expiration dates. In addition, the first green cards issued prior to 1977 became obsolete, effective March 20, 1996.
Permanent Resident Card (1997-2010)
In continued efforts to prevent counterfeit cards, INS issued yet another more secure version, this time with unique document numbers. These white and green cards were renamed Permanent Resident Cards but kept the I-551 form number. In May 2004, the cards were slightly modified with the Department of Homeland Security seal and a detailed holographic design on the front. These cards are still valid today and the last ones will expire in 2020. In fact, this is the type of card I hold!
The Modern Green Card (2010-present)
The current version of the green card features state-of-the-art security technology to combat document fraud, such as colorful holographic images, laser engraved fingerprints, high-resolution micro-images, and radio frequency identification (RFID).