Getting your green card and becoming a permanent resident of the United States is a wonderful feeling. Thankfully, that status does not expire — once you get your green card, you remain a permanent resident of the United States until you either become a U.S. citizen or you lose or abandon your status.
So the status doesn’t expire, but the green card itself is only good for 10 years, at which point you must renew your green card using form I-90 (note: if you are a conditional permanent resident whose green card is expiring, your status does expire along with the card, and you must file form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence, to remain in the U.S.).
Even though your permanent resident status doesn’t expire when your card does, problems come up when you let your green card expire. For starters, U.S. law requires that you carry a valid green card with you at all times, and letting your card expire breaks this law and could get you charged with a misdemeanor crime. In addition, four things become difficult or downright impossible with an expired green card:
- Getting a job
- Renewing your driver’s license
- Buying a home
To do any of these things, you need to show proof of your permanent residency, and an expired green card does not work as proof.
Your best bet is to start the renewal process six months before the card is set to expire, thereby avoiding these headaches in the first place.
But, of course, mistakes happen. Maybe you didn’t realize the expiration date was near, or perhaps you didn’t have the $540 fee to renew. For whatever reason, you may find yourself with an expired green card on your hands. Let’s look at these four common problems that arise from an expired green card and their solutions.
1. You want to… travel
Three main problems present themselves when you’re trying to travel with an expired green card.
Problem #1: Most airlines will not let you fly if your green card is expired. You can purchase a ticket, but they could refuse to board you at the gate if they wish.
Solution: As soon as you realize your card is expired, file form I-90, the green card renewal application. Two to three weeks after you file the I-90 you’ll receive a Notice of Action (aka form I-797), which verifies you are in the process of renewing your green card.
Then find out if the airline will accept the Notice of Action along with your expired green card to fly with them; many do.
Problem #2: Customs & Border Protection may not let you re-enter the U.S. Anytime someone who is not a U.S. citizen tries to enter the U.S., they are subject to an immigration review. Part of this review is showing proof of lawful permanent residency, and an expired green card is not acceptable proof. At best you’re looking at a long delay and an expensive re-entry fee; at worst, you could be denied re-entry.
Solution: As soon as you realize your card is expired, file a renewal application, form I-90. Then, schedule an appointment with your local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office to get a temporary I-551 stamp inside your passport (note: you will likely be required to show the USCIS officer your Notice of Action that proves you filed your green card renewal application). The I-551 stamp indicates you have permanent resident status for a year from the date of the stamp. A passport with a temporary I-551 stamp is acceptable proof of permanent residency to re-enter the U.S. at Customs & Border Protection.
Problem #3: Your green card expires or gets lost, stolen or damaged while you are abroad. Perhaps you didn’t realize the expiration date was approaching when you traveled outside the U.S., or maybe your green card was lost, stolen or damaged during your travels. Still, you’ll have the same problem when trying to re-enter the U.S. at Customs & Border Protection — no valid proof of residency.
Solution: Find your nearest U.S. embassy or consulate and file form I-131A, Application for Travel Document (aka Carrier Documentation). This document lets you re-enter the U.S. if you’ve been overseas for less than one year and your green card has been lost, stolen or damaged.
2. You want to… get a job
Everyone who starts a new job in the U.S. must file a form I-9, the Employment Eligibility Verification form, with their employer. The I-9 verifies your identity and permission to work in this country. Before or on your first day of work, your employer will ask you to fill out the form and present a valid green card. Of course, if your green card is expired, you don’t have valid proof of residency, and you won’t be able to start your job.
Solution: The I-551 stamp to the rescue again. The only way you’ll be able to legally start at a new job (besides waiting for your green card renewal to go through) is to get a temporary I-551 stamp inside your passport, which proves you have permanent resident status for a year from the date of the stamp. The instructions to getting a I-551 stamp are outlined in the solution to problem #2, above — “Customs & Border Protection may not let you re-enter the U.S.” But we’ll recap them again here:
- As soon as you realize your green card is expired, file a renewal application, form I-90
- Schedule an appointment with USCIS to get a temporary I-551 stamp inside your passport
- Take your Notice of Action — which proves you’re in the process of renewing your green card — with you to your appointment
- Get the I-551 stamp from the USCIS officer and present it to your employer as valid proof of residency
3. You want to… get or renew a driver’s license
The rules for getting and renewing a driver’s license vary by state, but all 50 states have one thing in common: They all require proof of identity and residency to obtain a driver’s license. A valid green card satisfies this requirement; an expired one does not.
Solution: Contact your state’s department of motor vehicles to find out if you can use a passport with the I-551 stamp as valid proof of identity/residency. The instructions to get the stamp are outlined in both sections above.
4. You want to… buy a house
The process for getting a mortgage is the same for permanent residents as it is for U.S. citizens, and every lender is going to require either proof of citizenship or proof of permanent resident status before they will give you a mortgage. Of course, if your green card has expired, you can’t provide this.
And that could mean losing your loan and losing the house you wanted while you wait for your renewal to go through.
Solution: Once again, the solution is the I-551 stamp. Follow the above steps to getting the stamp in your passport. Once you have it, ask your lender if they will accept it as proof of your permanent resident status. Some will; it’s totally up to their discretion.
Two important things to note
1. Ask about the six-month stamp at your biometrics appointment. When you apply for any of the following — work permit, green card, green card renewal or naturalization — USCIS requires you to go to a biometrics appointment. Here, USCIS takes your photograph and gets your fingerprints and digital signature to confirm your identity and perform background checks. If you’re renewing your green card or applying for citizenship, you may be able to get a stamp in your passport at this appointment which serves as valid proof of permanent residency. The stamp is good for six months. But, according to USCIS, the availability of this stamp depends on the USCIS office and the circumstances of the appointment.
2. It currently takes USCIS more than a year to process a renewal application. When we spoke to USCIS in June 2017, the time to process a green card renewal application was 13 months. The I-551 stamp is only good for one year, however. If you filed to renew your green card and got an I-551 stamp as a temporary solution to prove permanent residency, and that one year time period is almost up and you still haven’t received your renewed green card, you’ll have to get another I-551 stamp. The process is the same as the steps above.
Renew your green card before it expires
The best solution is to avoid these problems in the first place and begin the green card renewal process six months before your card is set to expire. SimpleCitizen can help you prepare and submit form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card. We can even have it reviewed by a professional immigration lawyer. Start a Green Card Renewal Application today.