Permanent residence (United States)

Permanent residence (United States)

thumb|A_United States Permanent Resident Card (green card)] A United States Permanent Resident Card, also known as a green card, is an identification card attesting to the permanent resident status of an alien in the United States of America. "Green card" also refers to an immigration process of becoming a permanent resident. The green card serves as proof that its holder, a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR), has been officially granted immigration benefits, which include permission to reside and take employment in the USA. The holder must maintain permanent resident status, and can be removed from the US if certain conditions of this status are not met.

Green cards were formerly issued by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). That agency has been absorbed into and replaced by the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS), part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Shortly after re-organization BCIS was re-named to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

An alien with a green card application can obtain two important permits while the case is pending. The first is a temporary work permit known as the Employment Authorization Document (EAD), which allows the alien to take employment in the United States. The second is a temporary travel document, advance parole, which allows the alien to re-enter the United States. Both permits confer benefits that are independent of any existing status granted to the alien. For example, the alien might already have permission to work in the United States under an H1-B visa.


The official name of the card is "Permanent Resident Card" (form I-551). The name "green card" comes from the fact that the predecessor, "Alien Registration Receipt Card" (form I-151), introduced at the end of World War II, was printed on green paper. [ [ U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services History] , "USCIS Website", retrieved on June 3, 2008] Form I-551 was adopted in 1979 and has been printed on paper of various colors, none of which was green, but the term "green card" has nonetheless remained in use. Currently, the card is mostly yellowish-white and the only prominent green feature is the background of the lettering on the back. A card includes the holder's name and photograph, and other information, and has been updated over the years with numerous anti-counterfeiting devices.

Reading a Permanent Resident Card

Most of the information on the card is self-evident. [ [ List of Immigration Codes] SSA - POMS: SI 00502.215 - The Affidavits of Support] The computer and human readable signature at the bottom is not. The format is (digit range: expected data (information contained)):
*First line::1-2: not documented, assumed to be location of the receipt:3-5: USA (issuing country, United States):6-14: 9-digit number (A#, alien number):15: not documented, assumed to be a check-number:16-30: immigrant case number that resulted in the approved green card. The "<" symbol represents a blank space
*Second line::1-6: birth date (in YY/MM/DD format):7: not documented, assumed to be a check digit:8: not documented, assumed to be sex:9-14: expiration date (in YY/MM/DD format):15: not documented, assumed to be a check digit:16-29: country of birth:30: not documented, assumed to be a check digit
*Third line::last name, first name, middle name, first initial of father, first initial of mother (this line is spaced with "<<" between the name and first name). Depending of the length of the name, the father's and mother's initials may be omitted.

Path to U.S. citizenship

A Lawful Permanent Resident can apply for United States citizenship, or naturalization, after five years of residency. This period is shortened to three years if married to a U.S. citizen, or four years if permanent residency was received through political asylum. Lawful Permanent Residents may submit their applications for naturalization as much as 90 days before meeting the residency requirement. Citizens are entitled to more rights (and obligations) than permanent residents (who are still classified as aliens in this respect). Lawful Permanent Residents generally do not have the right to vote, the right to be elected in federal and state elections, the ability to bring family members to the United States (however permanent residents are allowed to sponsor certain family members), or eligibility for certain federal government jobs. Male permanent residents between the ages of 18 and 26 are subject to registering in the Selective Service System. Permanent residents pay taxes on their worldwide income, like U.S. citizens. Certain conditions that may put a permanent resident in deportation proceedings do not apply to U.S. citizens.

Types of immigration

U.S. immigration legislation in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) stipulates that an alien may obtain permanent resident status only through the course of the following proceedings: [ [ Lawful Permanent Residence ("Green Card")] , "USCIS Website", retrieved on December 3, 2007]
*immigration through a family member
*immigration through employment
*immigration through investment
*immigration through the Diversity Lottery
*immigration through "The Registry" provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act

Immigration eligibility and quotas

Application process

An immigrant usually has to go through a three-step process to get permanent residency. The whole process may take several years, depending on the type of immigrant category and the country of birth.

#Immigrant Petition — in the first step, USCIS approves the immigrant petition by a qualifying relative, an employer, or in rare cases, such as with an investor visa, the applicant himself. If a sibling is applying, she or he must have the same parents as the applicant.
#Immigrant Visa Availability — in the second step, unless the applicant is an "immediate relative", an immigrant visa number through the National Visa Center (NVC) [ [ National Visa Center] , "U.S. Department of State", retrieved December 3,2007] of the United States Department of State (DOS) must be available. A visa number might not be immediately available even if the USCIS approves the petition, because the amount of immigrant visa numbers is limited every year by quotas set in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). There are also certain additional limitations by country of birth. Thus, most immigrants will be placed on lengthy waiting lists. Those immigrants who are immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen (spouses and children under 21 years of age, and parents of a US citizen who is 21 years of age or older) are not subject to these quotas and may proceed to the next step immediately (since they qualify for the IR immigrant category).
#Immigrant Visa Adjudication — in the third step, if an immigrant visa number becomes available, the applicant must either apply with USCIS to adjust their current status to permanent resident status or apply with the DOS for an immigrant visa at the nearest US consulate before being allowed to come to the United States.
#*Adjustment of Status (AOS) — Adjustment of status is submitted to USCIS via form I-485, "Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status". [ [ Application To Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, form I-485] , "USCIS Website", retrieved on December 3, 2007] The USCIS conducts a series of background checks (including fingerprinting for FBI criminal background check and name checks) and makes a decision on the application. Once the adjustment of status application is accepted, the alien is allowed to stay in the United States even if the original period of authorized stay on the Form I-94 is expired, but he is not allowed to leave the country until the application is approved or rejected. If the alien has to leave the United States during this time, he/she can apply for travel documents at the USCIS with form I-131, also called "Advance Parole". [ [ Application for Travel Document] , Documentation for form I-131, "USCIS Website", retrieved December 3, 2007] If there is a potential risk that the applicant's work permit (visa) will expire or become invalid (laid off by the employer and visa sponsor) or the applicant wants to start working in the United States, while he/she is waiting for the decision about his/her application to change status, he/she can file form I-765, to get "Employment Authorization Documents" (also called "EAD") and be able to continue or start working legally in the United States. [ [ Employment Authorization] , "USCIS Website", retrieved December 3, 2007] [ [ Application for Employment Authorization] , Documentation for form I-765, "USCIS Website", retrieved December 3, 2007] In some cases, the applicant will be interviewed at a USCIS office. If the application is approved, the alien becomes an LPR, and the actual green card is mailed to the alien's last known mailing address.
#*Consular Processing — this is an alternative to AOS, but still requires the immigrant visa petition to be completed. If the applicant is outside of the USA (or selects this option instead of AOS), he/she may make an appointment at the U.S. embassy or consulate in his/her home country, where a consular officer adjudicates the case. If the case is approved, an immigrant visa is issued by the U.S. embassy or consulate. The visa entitles the holder to travel to the U.S. as an immigrant. At the port of entry, the immigrant visa holder is processed for a permanent resident card and receives an I-551 stamp in his/her passport. The permanent resident card is mailed to his/her US address within several weeks.

Application process for family-sponsored visa

Green card holders and nuclear families

Green card holders married to non-U.S. citizens are unable to legally bring their spouses (or families) to join them in the USA. The foreign spouse of a green card holder must wait for approval of an 'immigrant visa' from the State Department before entering the United States. Due to a backlog in processing, such visas can take up to five years to be approved. In the interim, due to immigration intent, the spouse cannot enter the United States on any other visas not even as a visitor. This puts LPRs in a uniquely disadvantaged situation:
* visitors and non-immigrants coming to the USA on temporary visas for work, business, or study (including H1, L1, B, and F1 visas) can sponsor their dependent spouses to travel with them;
* U.S. citizens can sponsor their spouses to come to the USA in non-immigrant status; the spouse can then convert to an immigrant status under the Legal Immigration and Family Equity Act of 2000 (the "LIFE Act").The issue of LPRs separated from their families for years is not a new problem. A mechanism to unite families of LPRs was created by the LIFE Act by the introduction of a 'V visa,' signed into law by President Bush. It effectively expired and is no longer available. Bills HR1823 and HR4448 are in the U.S. Congress. The proposal for reviving the V visa is based on something that has little controversy &mdash; family unity &mdash; but passing such a bill into law is not a small matter.

Application process for employment-based visa

Many immigrants opt for this route, which requires an employer to "sponsor" (i.e. to petition before USCIS) the immigrant (known as the "alien beneficiary") through a presumed future job. The three-step process outlined above is described here in more detail for employment-based immigration applications. After the process is complete, the alien is expected to take the certified job offered by the employer to substantiate his or her immigrant status, since the application ultimately rests on the alien's employment with that company in that particular position.
#Immigrant Petition - the first step includes the pre-requisite labor certification upon which the actual petition will reside.
#*Labor Certification — the employer must legally prove that it has a need to hire an alien for a specific position and that there is no minimally qualified U.S. citizen or LPR available to fill that position, hence the reason for hiring the alien. Some of the requirements to prove this situation include: proof of advertising for the specific position; skill requirements particular to the job; verification of the prevailing wage for a position; and the employer's ability to pay. This is currently done through an electronic system known as PERM. [cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Permanent Labor Certification | work = | publisher = Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor| date = | url = | format = | doi = | accessdate = 2006-12-31 ] The date when the labor certification application is filed becomes the applicant's "priority date". In some cases, for highly skilled foreign nationals (EB1 and EB2 "National Interest Waiver", e.g. researchers, athletes, artists or business executives) and "Schedule A" labor [cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = What is Schedule A and who qualifies? OFLC Frequently Asked Questions and Answers | work = | publisher = Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor| date = | url =| format = | doi = | accessdate = 2007-01-06 ] (nurses and physical therapists), this step is waived. This step is processed by the United States Department of Labor (DOL).
#*Immigrant Petition — the employer applies on the alien's behalf to obtain a visa number. The application is form I-140, "Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker", [ [ Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, form I-140] , "USCIS Website", retrieved on December 3, 2007] and it is processed by the USCIS. There are several EB ("employment-based") immigrant categories [cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Employment-Based Visas | work = | publisher = US Department of State| date = | url = | format = | doi = | accessdate = 2006-12-31 ] under which the alien may apply, with progressively stricter requirements, but often shorter waiting times. Many of the applications are processed under the EB3 category. [cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Immigration Statistics| work = | publisher = U.S. Department of Homeland Security| date = | url =| format = | doi = | accessdate = 2006-12-31 ] Currently, this process takes up to 6 months. Many of the EB categories allow expedited processing of this stage, known as "premium processing".
#Immigrant Visa Availability. When the immigrant petition is approved by the USCIS, the petition is forwarded to the NVC for visa allocation. Currently this step centers around the priority date concept.
#*Priority date — the visa becomes available when the applicant's "priority date" is earlier than the "cutoff date" announced on the DOS's Visa Bulletin [ [ Visa Bulletin] , "U.S. Department of State", retrieved on December 3, 2007] or when the immigrant visa category the applicant is assigned to is announced as "current". A "current" designation indicates that visa numbers are available to all applicants in the corresponding immigrant category. Petitions with priority dates earlier than the cutoff date are expected to have visas available, therefore those applicants are eligible for final adjudication. When the NVC determines that a visa number could be available for a particular immigrant petition, a visa is tentatively allocated to the applicant. The NVC will send a letter stating that the applicant may be eligible for adjustment of status, and requiring the applicant to choose either to adjust status with the USCIS directly, or apply at the U.S. consulate abroad. This waiting process determines when the applicant can expect the immigration case to be adjudicated. Due to quotas imposed on EB visa categories, there are more approved immigrant petitions than visas available under INA. High demand for visas has created a backlog of approved but unadjudicated cases. In addition, due to processing inefficiencies throughout DOS and USCIS systems, not all visas available under the quota system in a given year were allocated to applicants by the DOS. Since there is no quota carry-over to the next fiscal year, for several years visa quotas have not been fully used, thus adding to the visa backlog. [October 2006, fall 2006.pdf Business Immigration Review, Issue Fall 2006, "Immigration Support Services", retrieved December 3, 2007]
#Immigrant Visa Adjudication. When the NVC determines that an immigrant visa is available, the case can be adjudicated. If the alien is already in the USA, that alien has a choice to finalize the green card process via adjustment of status in the USA, or via consular processing abroad. If the alien is outside of the USA he/she can only apply for an immigrant visa at the U.S. consulate. The USCIS does not allow an alien to pursue consular processing and AOS simultaneously. Prior to filing the form I-485 (Adjustment of Status) it is required that the applicant have a "medical examination" performed by a USCIS-approved civil surgeon. The examination includes a blood test and specific immunizations, unless the applicant provides proof that the required immunizations were already done elsewhere. The civil surgeon hands the applicant a sealed envelope containing a completed form I-693, which must be included unopened with the I-485 application. [ [ Medical Examination of Aliens Seeking Adjustment of Status] , form I-693 description, "USCIS Website", retrieved December 3, 2007]
#*Adjustment of Status (AOS) — after the alien has a labor certification and has been provisionally allocated a visa number, the final step is to change his or her status to permanent residency. Adjustment of status is submitted to USCIS via form I-485, "Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status". If an immigrant visa number is available, the USCIS will allow "concurrent filing": it will accept forms I-140 and I-485 submitted in the same package or will accept form I-485 even before the approval of the I-140. [cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Government Announces Concurrent Filings of I-140's and I-485's| work = | publisher = Miller Mayer. Attorneys at Law| date = | url =| format = | doi = | accessdate = 2006-12-31 ]
#*Consular Processing — this is an alternative to AOS, but still requires the immigrant visa petition to be completed. In the past (pre-2005), this process was somewhat faster than applying for AOS, so was sometimes used to circumvent long backlogs (of over two years in some cases). However, due to recent efficiency improvements by the USCIS, it is not clear whether applying via consular processing is faster than the regular AOS process. Consular processing is also thought to be riskier since there is no or very little recourse for appeal if the officer denies the application. [cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Revisiting the Debate : Adjustment of Status vs. Consular Processing| work = | publisher = Murthy Law Firm| date = | url =| format = | doi = | accessdate = 2006-12-31 ] [cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Consular Processing vs. Adjustment of Status| work = | publisher = Law Offices of James D. Eiss| date = | url =| format = | doi = | accessdate = 2006-12-31 ]

Recent developments

After a significant forward movement in the cutoff priority dates was announced on the June 2007 Visa Bulletin, the July 2007 Visa Bulletin witnessed another unprecedented jump — after years of backlog stagnation, all of the EB preference categories became "current" (except "Other Workers"). After the DOS issued a revised July Visa Bulletin on July 2 (which set all priority dates as "unavailable") and later nullified it, the USCIS clarified via USCIS Update on July 17, 2007 [July 17, 2007, [ Visa Bulletin Update] , "USCIS Website", retrieved on December 3, 2007] that the USCIS will keep the applications filed and will re-open filings for a 31-day period from July 18 through August 17, 2007, in order to provide the same filing window to applicants who would have had been eligible to file if the July 2 actions had not taken place. Applicants will be able to pay I-485 form filing fees according to the July fee schedule during the entire window period.

In May 2006, the United States Senate passed the "Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006", which would have substantially increased the available numbers of green cards and relieved many applicants, who are currently "stuck" and waiting for the ability to file the Adjustment of Status application, due to the backlog created by the Department of Labor (DOL) in the past, which was resolved by the introduction of the PERM process in early 2005. The House of Representatives, however, refused to pass any legislation pertaining to legal immigration issues before attempting to solve the problems of illegal immigration. ["Immigration Reform", "Business Immigration Review, Fall 2006" Issue, [ electronic copy] ]

New fee schedule

Since August 2007, the USCIS has assessed new rates for filing adjustment of status. The previous cost was a $325 base fee plus a $70 biometrics fee (for applicants between 14 and 79 years of age) to file form I-485. The new cost is $930 plus an $80 biometrics fee. However, this new fee is a "package fee": the initial filings of form I-765, "Application for Employment Authorization", and form I-131, "Application for Travel Document", are free (whereas the previous costs were $180 and $170 respectively). [May 29, 2007, [ USCIS Fee Schedule] , "USCIS Website", retrieved on December 3, 2007]

Green card lottery

Each year, around 50,000 immigrant visas are made available through the Diversity Visa (DV) program, also known as the Green Card Lottery to people who were born in countries with low rates of immigration to the United States (fewer than 50,000 immigrants in the past five years). Applicants can only qualify by country of birth, not by citizenship. Anyone who is selected under this lottery will be given the opportunity to apply for permanent residence. They can also file for their spouse and any unmarried children under the age of 21.

If permanent residence is granted, the winner (and his/her family, if applicable) receives an immigrant visa in their passport(s) that has to be "activated" within six months of issuance at any port of entry to the United States. The new immigrant receives a stamp on the visa as proof of lawful admittance to the United States, and the individual is now authorized to live and work permanently in the United States. Finally, the actual "green card" typically arrives by mail within a few months.

Green card lottery scam

There is a growing number of fraudulent green card lottery scams, in which agents take money from applicants by submitting application forms for them, usually for a fee between US$50 to US$250. Some claim that they can increase the chance of winning the lottery. This is not true &mdash; in fact, they may delay or not submit the application. Likewise, some claim that they provide free airline tickets to winners or other benefits, such as submissions in future years and even cash funds. There is no way to guarantee their claims, and there are ample reasons for them not to fulfill their promises.

Both the Department of State and the Federal Trade Commission have issued warning statements about this type of fraud or similar business practices. [cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Website Fraud Warning| work = | publisher = US Department of State| date = | url =| format = | doi = | accessdate = 2006-12-31 ] [cite web | last = | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = FTC Consumer Alert: Diversity Visa Lottery: Read the Rules, Avoid the Rip-Offs| work = | publisher = Federal Trade Commission| date = | url =| format = | doi = | accessdate = 2006-12-31 ]

Recent developments

Over 6.4 million applications for the 2008 Diversity Visa Lottery were submitted. This is an increase from the more than 5.5 million applications submitted in the 2007 Diversity Visa Lottery. Taking into account dependents, there are more than 10 million participants in the 2008 Diversity Visa Lottery. Most of the applications were from Africa and Asia: 41 percent of the total came from Africa, 38 percent from Asia, 19 percent coming from Europe, and two percent from South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. The largest number of applicants came from Bangladesh (more than 1.7 million applicants) followed by Nigeria (684,735) and Ukraine (619,584).

Conditional permanent residence

As part of immigration reform under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), as well as further reform enacted in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRAIRA), persons who are eligible and properly apply for permanent residence based on either a recent marriage to a U.S. citizen or as an investor are granted permanent residence on a conditional basis for two years. An exception to this rule is the case of a U.S. citizen legally sponsoring a spouse in which the marriage at the time of the adjustment of status (I-485) is more than two years old. In this case, the conditional status is waived and a 10-year Permanent Resident Card is issued upon USCIS approval of the case. A permanent resident under the conditional clause may receive an I-551 stamp as well as a Permanent Resident Card. The expiration date of the conditional period is two years from the approval date. The immigrant visa category is CR (conditional resident).

When this two-year conditional period is over, the permanent residence automatically expires and the applicant is subject to deportation and removal. To avoid this, 90 days or less before the conditional residence expires, the applicant must file form I-751 "Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence" [ [ form I-751] , "USCIS Website", retrieved on December 3, 2007] (if conditional permanent residence was obtained through marriage) or form I-829 "Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions" [ [ form I-829] , "USCIS Website", retrieved December 3, 2007] (if conditional permanent residence was obtained through investment) with USCIS to have the conditions removed. Once the application is received, permanent residence is extended for 1-year intervals until the request to remove conditions is approved or denied. The USCIS requires that the application provide both general and specific supporting evidence that the basis on which the applicant obtained conditional permanent residence was not fraudulent. For an application based on marriage, birth certificates of children, joint financial statements, and letters from employers, friends and relatives are some types of evidence that are accepted. A follow-up interview with an immigration inspector is sometimes required but usually waived if the evidence is sufficient. This is to ensure that the marriage was in good faith and not one of fraudulent means with a sole intention of obtaining a green card. Both husband and wife must attend both interviews under most circumstances. The applicant receives an I-551 stamp in their foreign passport upon approval of their case. The applicant is then free from the conditional requirement once the application is approved. The applicant's new Permanent Resident Card arrives via mail to their residence several weeks to several months later and replaces the old two-year conditional residence card. This new card must be renewed after 10 years, however permanent resident status is now granted for an indefinite term provided that residence conditions are satisfied at all times. USCIS may request to renew the card earlier due to security enhancements of the card or as a part of a revalidation campaign to exclude counterfeit green cards from circulation.

It is important to note that this two-year conditional residence period counts towards time as a permanent resident for all purposes including naturalization. However, the application for the removal of conditions must be adjudicated before naturalization can be granted to the applicant.

The card must be in the possession of the U.S. permanent resident at all times. This means that the permanent resident must have a currently valid card on the person at all times and be able to show it to a USCIS officer, if requested. Though aliens with permanent resident status are required to carry these identification cards, American citizens are not required to carry any citizenship identification. Before the September 11, 2001 attacks, while status was checked when the permanent resident returned from foreign travel, the requirement to carry the green card was almost never enforced when residents traveled domestically. After that, officials from the United States Department of State began occasionally asking people if they were U.S. citizens or not, and in the latter case require that the person present their Permanent Resident Card or other proof of legal status.

Under certain conditions, permanent residence status can be lost. This includes committing a criminal act that makes a person removable from the United States. A person might also be found to have abandoned their status if he or she moves to another country to live there permanently, stays outside the USA for more than 365 days (without getting a re-entry permit before leaving), or does not file an income tax return. Permanent resident status can also be lost if it is found that the application or grounds for obtaining permanent residence was fraudulent. The failure to renew the permanent resident card does not result in the loss of status, except in the case of conditional permanent residents as noted above.

A person who loses permanent residence status is immediately removable from the United States and must leave the country as soon as possible or face deportation and removal. In some cases the person may be banned from entering the country for three or seven years, or even permanently.

Green Card Relinquishment Sting

Due to the Heart Act [] foreign workers who have owned a green card in 8 of the last 15 years and choose to relinquish it will be subject to taxation on unrealized gains above $600,000. However this will only apply to those people who earn greater than $139,000 a year or have a worth of more than $2 million. [] [] [] . If the green card is not reliquished then the holder is subject to double taxation when working outside of the U.S. whether or not it is within their home nation.

ee also

* Immigration to the United States
* United States citizenship
* Canada Permanent Resident Card
* Blue Card (European Union)


External links

US Government immigration sites

* [ USCIS: Green Card]
* [ How Do I Get a Work Permit]
* [ How Do I Become a Lawful Permanent Resident While in the United States?]
* [ 2008 Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (DV-2008)]
* [ State Department warning on fraudulent diversity visa websites]
* [ State Department site with 2007 Diversity Lottery results]
* [ Types of employment-based Green Card application categories]
* [ Information for Permanent Residents]
* [ Petitioning Procedures: Bringing a Spouse (Husband or Wife) to Live in the United States]
* [ General Tips on Assembling USCIS Applications for Mailing]
* [ USCIS Civil Surgeons Locator]

Other immigration sites

* [] Discussing problems and solutions to the family-based green card process
* [ ImmigrationVoice] Discussing problems and solutions to the employment-based green card process, including backlogs in EB2 and EB3 visa categories
* [ Immigration Newsman] Covers news and features about permanent residents, steps to become one, columns from immigration attorneys, H-1B visas world, immigration forum and discussion board.

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