Oh Sh*t I Lost My Green Card

by Protima Daryanani

You know the feeling. You know exactly where you put it in your wallet. But it isn’t there. You search all the sections of your wallet, twice. It was just here. Frantically, you search your bag. Maybe it fell out. Where is it??? And then slowly you come to accept that you have lost that most valuable document that took you years to obtain: your Green Card.  After many expletives (okay, maybe that was just me!) you realize you have an international trip in three weeks. What a nightmare! 

The solution to the problem starts with an application to US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) using Form I-90. This form is used for applications to renew or replace Green Cards. This includes ten-year Green Cards that are expiring, Green Cards that have errors or after a name change, and Green Cards that have been lost or mutilated. The I-90 cannot be used to extend or replace expiring conditional (i.e. two-year) Green Cards. 

The I-90 along with supporting materials must be submitted to a specific mailing address dependent on the reason for the filing. The correct fee must also be included. Once USCIS receives the application, they will issue a receipt and ask the applicant to attend a biometrics services appointment at a local application support center. Thereafter it takes about six to eight months to process the application and to receive the new card in the mail. While the application is pending and if I-90 applicants need proof of their Green Card status, they can make an appointment with the local office using InfoPass and ask for an I-551 stamp in their valid passport. The I-551 stamp in the passport is the functional equivalent of the Green Card and, as such, can be used to travel internationally and as evidence of Green Card status for I-9 purposes during the validity dates on the stamp.

A piece of good news for those who must replace the Green Card in a hurry (probably everyone!): the I-90 can now be filed online (in most cases) via the USCIS.gov website. The benefit of filing online is that the receipt is issued immediately upon payment of the fee by credit card.  This, in turn, allows the applicant to make the InfoPass appointment and obtain the I-551 stamp faster. Once applicants have the receipt for the e-filed application they must submit the supporting materials in hard copy to the address on the receipt.  In future months (or years), a complete electronic filing for I-90s may be possible through the ELIS system

After the initial panic of losing the card subsides, the I-90 application process is one of the easiest applications with USCIS (I swear!). That said, there are some things that applicants should keep in mind about completing the I-90 form itself:

  1. They should check the mailing address of where to submit the I-90 carefully as the address varies depending on the reason for the I-90 filing;
  2. The I-90 asks a lot of questions about the Green Card being replaced. If the card is lost, it makes it difficult to answer the questions. We always suggest that Green Card holders make several copies of the Green Card and keep them in a safe place. But if applicants do not have copies, they can use the A# on the receipts for their original Green Card filing, if available;
  3. Applicants should also check to see if they have to do biometrics again. The reason for the I-90 filing will determine if biometrics are required; and
  4. Applicants should ensure the mailing address they list on the I-90 form is correct.  The replacement Green Card will be mailed to this address. It will not be forwarded by the postal service if the address has changed.

If applicants follow the instructions for the I-90 carefully, they will have the replacement Green Card in no time at all—well, six to eight months, which for USCIS is a fairly fast response time. And once they get their new Green Card, they should ensure they make extra copies and keep them in a safe place. Which might keep swearing to a minimum if the card is ever (God forbid!) lost again.

UPDATE (April 2, 2015): USCIS announced earlier this week that Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card, is available in the ELIS system after a short trial period last year. Lawful permanent residents may now use ELIS to apply for a replacement or renewal of their existing permanent resident card (i.e., Green Card). Conditional permanent residents may use ELIS to apply only for a replacement of an existing Green Card; they may not use this form to apply for an extension or renewal of their status.