How to Replace or Renew Your Green Card

by Protima Daryanani

Whether it is a lost Green Card (you know the feeling when you have searched everywhere and slowly come to the dreaded realization that it’s gone) or an expired ten-year Green Card, or even if there is a mistake on your Green Card, you will have to get a new card. And, of course, this type of thing always seems to happen when you have to travel internationally or are starting a new job in a few days. What to do???

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, currently, about eight to twelve 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 ELIS system on the website. The benefit of filing via the ELIS system 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. Lawful permanent residents can use the ELIS system to apply for a replacement or renewal of their existing 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. 

Once applicants determine which filing method they will use, the good news is that 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. Those filing the paper version of the form 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;
  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;
  5. Applicants should check again the USCIS website instructions to ensure they are using the latest version of the form; and
  6. Applicants should carefully check which documents must be submitted with their application. For example, if there is a mistake on the Green Card, applicants must send the Green Card with the mistake back to USCIS. 

Those who lose their Green Card while traveling internationally—which, of course, can be especially nerve-wracking—must follow a slightly different procedure. They must go to a US Embassy/Consulate to file Form I-131A, Application for Travel Document (Carrier Documentation), a new form that allows lawful permanent residents to apply for a travel document (carrier documentation) if they are returning from temporary overseas travel of less than one year, and their Green Card has been lost, stolen, or destroyed. But before applying in person at the US Embassy/Consulate, lawful permanent residents must submit the I-131A filing fee online at the USCIS website and ensure they bring evidence to the Embassy/Consulate that they paid this fee. US Embassy/Consulates will typically issue the carrier documentation within a two-week timeframe.

They should then present this carrier documentation, which may be a boarding foil (similar to a visa) or transportation letter, instead of their Green Card. Although the carrier document is not a guarantee of admission, Customs and Border Protection will perform inspections when they arrive at a US port of entry and make the final admittance determination. Note filing a Form I-131A does not result in the issuance of a new Green Card to the lawful permanent resident. To apply for a new Green Card, they must file Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card, as discussed above.

If applicants follow the instructions for the I-90 carefully, they will have the replacement Green Card in no time at all—well, eight to twelve months, which for USCIS is a fairly fast response time. And once they get their new Green Card, individuals should check it to ensure the information on it is correct (seriously, you would be surprised how often we find a mistake) and make extra copies of the card. Then, it’s time to take a deep breath, give that Green Card a little hug (okay, maybe that’s just me), and, most importantly, keep the Green Card safe (this should be everyone).