What is a Green Card?
Also known as a Lawful Permanent Resident Card, a Form I-551, or an Alien Registration Receipt Card (ARC Card), a green card is issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to a lawful permanent resident of the United States. A green card is proof of your lawful permanent resident status, as well as proof of your ability to live and work in the country. On the green card, your photo, name, USCIS number, birth country, date of birth, signature, fingerprint, sex, category of admission, and other important details are displayed. When your green card has expired after its 10-year validity period, or is lost or stolen, you must apply for a green card renewal. Note: you can find the expiration date on the lower right of your green card.
Note that the 10-year validity is a more recent development in immigration law. Originally, U.S. immigration authorities issued cards (on green paper) that traditionally never used to expire and were truly permanent in nature. However, that practice was abandoned and now everyone needs to renew their green cards.
Why Renew Your Green Card?
An expired green card does not mean your lawful permanent resident status is revoked. It means that you will need to renew your green card so that you have the latest version, which will allow you to live and work lawfully in the U.S., as well as to re-enter the country after traveling. You need to be able to present a valid green card at all times, otherwise you can be fined up to $100 or jailed for up to 30 days as a part of U.S. regulation. Though rarely enforced, an expired green card can be a misdemeanor (which can cause problems if you choose to naturalize), and may eventually hinder your ability to renew a driver’s license, get a job, travel, open a bank account, and participate in other activities that require proof of permanent residence.
Generally speaking, here are examples of situations where you will need to renew or replace your green card:
- You lost your green card.
- Your green card is damaged or partially damaged.
- Your green card is stolen.
- Your green card was destroyed.
- Your green card is expired or will expire in the next six months.
- Your green card contains outdated information, such as a recent name change or sex change.
- Your green card reflects wrong information as an error on USCIS’s part, and
- You paid your taxes.
- You haven’t committed a crime that makes you deportable.
- You haven’t stayed abroad for more than 12 months.
- Your green card is an old version and does not have an expiration date.
- Your green card was meant to be sent to you, but you never received it.
- You are turning 14 years old (unless your green card expires before you turn 16).
- You are a permanent resident with a “commuter” status (you live in Canada or Mexico but travel to the U.S. for work).
- You are a “commuter” planning to reside within the U.S.
When to Renew Your Green Card
Ideally, you should renew your green card within six months of its expiration. Errors on your application could get you denied or have the process take considerably longer, so hiring competent representation can help avoid nightmare scenarios. Refrain from applying too early as USCIS can deny your application and keep your filing fee. Again, your immigration status will not be revoked, but you will be unable to do some of the things that having a green card allows you to do. Just make sure you renew your green card right away so you are in compliance with U.S. regulations.
This is especially important if you plan on traveling abroad. You need to start the renewal process in a timely manner because you will need to present a valid green card to be admitted back into the country. If you are outside of the country and your green card has expired, contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, or U.S. port of entry, and inform them of your situation before filing for renewal. You will be provided with specific requirements for your renewal.
General Eligibility Requirements for Green Card Renewal
1. You Must Be a Lawful Permanent Resident of the U.S.
To apply for a green card renewal, you must be a lawful permanent resident. This means that you must have already filed a Removal of Conditions petition as a conditional permanent resident (2-year green card holder) to receive your 10-year green card, which is the one you will renew. Note that the Removal of Conditions is an entirely different process and is not discussed in this guide. If you have spent over 6 months abroad, seek qualified legal representation who would be able to advise and properly advocate about consequences and issues that may come up as a result of longer than normal trips abroad.
2. You Must Properly File a Form I-90
Submitting a completed Form I-90 is just the start of the green card renewal process. You are required to file this form with its supporting documents as well as paying the filing fee.
3. You Must Attend a Biometrics Appointment
Like most green card processes, you are required to attend a fingerprint appointment scheduled by USCIS. At the appointment, a USCIS official will collect your digital fingerprints, photographs, and other relevant information that identifies you.
Required Documents and Fees for Green Card Renewal
Each case is unique. You may be required to specific documents depending on your situation. Submitting the wrong documents or failing to submit the required documents can delay your case or even result in a denial. If you are unsure about what you need to submit, reach out to an immigration lawyer for guidance. Here is a general list of the basic documents required for a green card renewal:
Form I-90 (“Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card”)
Depending on your case, there is a nonrefundable filing fee of $455.00 and a biometrics service fee of $85.00, costing a total of $540.00. However, there are situations where an applicant will not have to pay for one or either of those fees. Make sure to review the I-90 instructions to make sure you are paying the correct amount so that your application is accepted. Here are some general guidelines of common renewal situations and what the applicant will need to pay:
- Current green card was lost, stolen, or destroyed → Required to pay the filing fee and biometric services fee
- Current green card is expired or will expire in 6 months → Required to pay the filing fee and biometric services fee
- Current green card was issued but never received (undeliverable) → Not required to pay
- Current green card contains biographic information that has since changed since being issued → Required to pay the filing fee and biometric services fee
- Applicant is a permanent resident taking up commuter status → Required to pay the filing fee and biometric services fee
- Current green card has incorrect information due to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Error → Not required to pay
- Applicant has turned 14 years old and has a green card that will expire after their 16th birthday → Required to pay the biometric services fee only
You can pay these fees combined online via credit card (if you file online), with a check made out to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security”, by money order, or with a credit card by submitting Form G-1450 (“Authorization for Credit Card Transactions”) if you file via mail. If you anticipate having difficulties in paying these fees, you may waive them by filing Form I-912 (“Request for Fee Waiver”) with your application. For I-912, you will need to prove your financial difficulties based on your household income, current receipt of means-tested benefits, or financial hardship. Should you choose to waive the fee, you will be unable to submit your I-90 online: you must mail your application, waiver, and supporting documents by paper.
Green Card (or Another Form of Government-Issued ID If Missing)
Generally speaking, you will only need to enclose copies of the front and back of your current green card unless:
- You are applying for renewal because your current green card has outdated information. If this is true, then you must submit the original green card along with your application along with the evidence of the information that has changed. Suggested: Court documents such as marriage certificates, divorce papers, adoption papers, and birth certificates
- You are applying for renewal because DHS made an error on your green card. Provide: Your original Permanent Resident Card and proof of the correct data
- Your green card is lost, stolen, or destroyed, and you do not have a copy. If this is true, you may be able to submit a copy of another government-issued form of identification. Suggested: Passport, state-issued driver’s license, state-issued ID, employment authorization document (EAD), U.S. military card, U.S. military draft record, military dependent’s ID card
- You never got your green card even though it was issued by USCIS. Provide: Your government-issued ID, your latest Form I-797 (“Notice of Action”), or your passport page with an I-551 stamp
- You are a “commuter”, meaning you live in Canada or Mexico but travel to the U.S. for work. Along with your green card, you will need to bring evidence of your employment in the U.S. within the past 6 months. Suggested: Pay stubs, employment verification letter
- You were formerly a “commuter”, but you now live in the United States. You will need to bring your green card and proof of your residence in the country. Suggested: Lease agreement, utility bills dated within the past 6 months, property deed
Unless stated otherwise, you are permitted to submit photocopies of your supporting documents. If your supporting documents are written in a language other than English, you will need to provide a certified translation of those documents in your application. Make sure to completely fill out your form and sign it as USCIS will reject I-90s without signatures. If you are unsure of your particular situation, avoid the guesswork and review your application with a seasoned immigration attorney.
How to Apply for a Green Card Renewal
Applying for a green card renewal is relatively straightforward. Below is a quick outline of the process:
Step 1. File Form I-90
Step 2. Attend Biometrics Appointment
Step 3. Receive Your New Green Card
Step 1. File Form I-90
To start the process, you will need to successfully file Form I-90 along with the required supporting documentation and appropriate fees in a packet. The form can be filled out electronically (unless you are filing with a fee waiver), or printed out and physically mailed to the designated lockbox facility in Phoenix, Arizona:
P.O. Box 21262
Phoenix, AZ 85036
For express mail and courier deliveries, use this address:
1820 Skyharbor Circle S Floor 1
Phoenix, AZ 85034
I-90 has 7 pages for you to complete, as well as an additional 13 pages of instructions to assist you. However, much like most immigration forms, I-90 can be complex and even the simplest mistakes are extremely costly. You will not be refunded your filing fee if your I-90 is rejected, and you will need to pay it again on the next application. Work with an immigration attorney to make sure your I-90 is properly filed.
When your renewal has been accepted, USCIS will mail you a confirmation letter (Form I-797C, “Notice of Action”). This letter extends the validity of your green card for one year beyond its expiration date, and you may use your expired card along with the letter until you receive your new green card. I-797C also includes a receipt number you can use to check your case status online. If you did not make an online account, USCIS will make you one and post the same notification. If you would like to receive a text message or an email notification when your form is accepted, fill out Form G-1145 (“e-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance”) and submit it with your green card renewal application.
Step 2. Attend The Biometrics Appointment
About two to four weeks after USCIS has received your green card renewal application, you will most likely receive a notice in the mail to attend a biometrics appointment that includes a time, date, and location. Don’t forget to bring your appointment notice and a valid photo ID with you to this appointment. This is mandatory even if you have previously undergone a biometrics appointment. Your fingerprints, photographs, signature, and other identifying information will be taken for a criminal background check and security clearance.
If you are renewing within the U.S., your appointment will take place at the nearest USCIS Application Support Center (ASC). If you are renewing from outside of the U.S., your appointment will take place at the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy.
Step 3. Receive Your New Green Card
After the biometrics appointment, USCIS will process your application. If all goes well, you will be mailed a new green card. Green cards are not mailed to addresses outside of the U.S., so if you are a commuter, your green card will be mailed to the port of entry you indicated on your application.
If USCIS has denied your application, you will be mailed a notice that explains why you were denied the renewal of your green card.
Green Card Renewal Tracking, Processing Time, and Timeline
You can track the status of your green card renewal online through USCIS’s Case Status page using your receipt number or you can call the USCIS National Customer Service Center (NCSC) at 1-800-375-5283. Make sure to have your receipt number, Alien Registration Number, address, email, and date of birth ready when you call. The processing time depends on many factors, such as location, situation, current workload, and whether or not USCIS makes a request for additional information. Generally speaking, your I-90 can take approximately anywhere between 2 to 12 months to process. You can also check the current processing times on USCIS’s website.
For the entire green card renewal process, here is a general timeframe of each step:
- USCIS Receipt Notice ≈ 1-3 weeks from filing date
- Biometrics Appointment Notice ≈ 2-6 weeks from filing date
- Attending Your Biometrics Appointment ≈ 6-10 weeks from filing date
- Receiving Your New Green Card ≈ 3-10 months from filing date
Reasons for Denial and Red Flags
If you have had issues relating to immigration, taxes, were arrested, or worse, your renewal was denied, you will want to hire an immigration attorney with experience in this area of law. By receiving expert legal advice, you can avoid having your application denied. Read on to learn more about how you can counter USCIS’s denial.
The best way to avoid being denied your green card renewal is to hire a competent green card immigration attorney, make sure you have carefully followed instructions, and have continuously abided by the law. Generally speaking, here a non-exhaustive list of reasons why a green card renewal can be denied:
- You committed a crime. Note that any kind of crime does not reflect well on your immigration status, but certain crimes can make you deportable. Please speak to an attorney if you have ever been arrested.
- You used the wrong form. This is a common mistake. If you are a conditional resident with a two-year green card, you should not be submitting I-90.
- You have unpaid taxes. You are required to file an income tax return every year, so make sure to sort this out before submitting your renewal. Consider setting up a payment plan.
- You travel abroad frequently and/or you stayed abroad for more than 6 months. USCIS will assume that you have no intent to reside in the U.S. and you have abandoned your green card. To prevent this situation, make sure to update USCIS whenever you leave and why. Respond to every correspondence in a timely manner so that USCIS does not have any reason to believe you are abandoning your green card. If possible, you should also reduce the amount of time and the frequency of your travels abroad. Alternatively, if you are unable to avoid frequent traveling, apply for a reentry permit with USCIS using Form I-131 before you travel.
- You applied too early. Per USCIS’s request, you should only apply within six months of your green card’s expiration date.
- You applied too late. It is important to also be careful not to apply for green card renewal too late as that could cause issues as well. It is your responsibility to keep your green card up to date.
- You made a mistake on your Form I-90. This could be because you did not fill it out correctly, you submitted the wrong fee, or you forgot to sign it. Again, small mistakes are costly. You may want to review your I-90 with an attorney before submitting.
- You intentionally lied on your Form I-90 or any other immigration application. USCIS will investigate your mistake and make a conclusion on whether or not it was intentional. To prevent this, make sure to completely follow USCIS’s directions and abide by the regulations. Translation errors may also contribute to mistakes. If you used a translator to fill out I-90, communicate that on your application.
- You were order removed. This means a judge ruled in favor of your deportation or removal.
- You are a public charge. This means you either depend largely or entirely on the government for public benefits. If you partake in social programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or SSI (Supplemental Security Income), you are likely to be considered a public charge.
Appealing a Denial
USCIS will state on your denial notice if their decision can be reconsidered. If this is true for your denial notice, you should work with a seasoned immigration lawyer to submit a motion to USCIS to appeal their decision. After submitting a motion, USCIS will either grant your request within a certain timeframe or forward your request to the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) for further review where they will make a decision typically within a year.
7. Frequently Asked Questions
Q. How often should I renew my green card?
A. If, and until you naturalize, you should renew your green card as much as you need to: every ten years, six months before your card expires. Note that if you are regularly applying for a renewal/replacement because you often misplace your card, USCIS may suspect you of green card fraud.
Q. Is there an interview for green card renewal?
A. While there is a chance you may be asked to attend an in-person interview, generally speaking, there is no interview required for Form I-90.
Q. Can I expedite the renewal process?
A. Yes, the renewal process can be expedited only in certain circumstances. These are decided on a case-by-case basis and if your application is expedited, your application timeline will be much shorter. USCIS may expedite your renewal if there is an emergency situation, compelling USCIS interest, a USCIS error, humanitarian reasons, or a situation of severe financial loss to a company or a person. As a general policy, doing things right the first time is the best way to ensure your green card is processed as quickly as possible. Even small issues, such as typos, can cause delays or denials.
Q. What if I am a conditional permanent resident?
A. If you are a conditional permanent resident, you are unable to renew your two-year green card. Instead, you will need to apply for removal of conditions by filing Form I-751 (“Petition to Remove the Conditions on Residence”) or Form I-829 (“Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions”) depending on your circumstances.
Q. What if I haven’t received my new green card and I need to travel abroad?
A. If this is your situation, you need to call USCIS Contact Center at 1-800-375-5283 to request a I-551 stamp in your unexpired passport and schedule an appointment. A I-551 stamp is valid for one year and serves as proof of your lawful immigration status.
Q. Will a misdemeanor affect my case?
A. It may. You should speak to an immigration attorney before filing Form I-90 as USCIS will discover this misdemeanor during a background check. The Immigration and Nationality Act lists 3 crime-related reasons that will bar you from a renewal, including specific criminal convictions, multiple criminal convictions, and controlled substance trafficking. Arrests or convictions could deny you entry into the US or get your green card revoked. To get a better understanding, schedule a strategy call with one of our green card immigration lawyers.