What Is A Green Card?

A Permanent Resident Card, commonly known as a Green Card, is evidence of your status as a lawful permanent resident with a right to live and work permanently in the United States. It also is evidence of your registration in accordance with United States immigration laws. The Permanent Resident Card is also called Form I-551.

What Does the Law Say About Permanent Resident Cards (Green Cards)?
Section 264 of the Immigration and Nationality Act provides that, “Every alien in the United States shall be issued a certificate of alien registration or an alien registration receipt card in such form and manner and at such time as shall be prescribed under regulations.” It also states, “Every alien, eighteen years of age and over, shall at all times carry with him and have in his personal possession any certificate of alien registration or alien registration receipt card issued to him. Any alien who fails to comply with [these] provisions shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”

Green Card Eligibility Check List:
You may be eligible to apply for adjustment to permanent resident status if you are already in the United States and if one or more of the following categories apply to you.

  • You are the spouse, parent, unmarried child under age 21, the unmarried son or daughter over age 21, the married son or daughter, or the brother or sister of a United States citizen and have a visa petition approved in your behalf.
  • You are the spouse or unmarried son or daughter of any age of a lawful permanent resident and you have a family-based visa petition approved in your behalf.
  • You are an alien who has an approved visa petition filed in your behalf by a United States employer.
  • You were a fiancé who was admitted to the United States on a K-1 visa and then married the U.S. citizen who applied for the K-1 visa for you.
  • You are an asylee or refugee who has been in the United States for at least a year after being given asylum or refugee status.
  • You received notice from the Department of State that you have won a visa in the Diversity Visa Lottery. We encourage you to speak with a green card lawyer today.
  • You are a Cuban citizen or native who has been in the U.S. for at least a year after being inspected, admitted, or paroled into the United States.
  • You have been a continuous resident of the United States since before January 1, 1972 .
  • Your parent became a lawful permanent resident after you were born. You may be eligible to receive following-to-join benefits if you are the unmarried child under age 21 of the lawful permanent resident.
  • Your spouse became a lawful permanent resident after you were married.

Who Should Renew a Permanent Resident Card?
You should renew your permanent resident card if you are a permanent resident who was issued a Form I-551 valid for ten years, and that card is either expired or will expire within the next six months.

Please note: If you are a Conditional Resident and your status is expiring, these instructions do not pertain to you. You are to use Form I-751 (Petition to Remove the Conditions on Residence) to apply to remove the conditions on your permanent resident status.

How Do I Renew My Permanent Resident Card?
If you are a lawful permanent resident whose ten-year I-551 has expired or will expire within the next six months, you may renew your card by filing an Form I-90.

Please Note: This procedure should NOT be used by lawful permanent residents who are seeking to replace their permanent resident cards for reasons other than expiration of the card’s ten-year validity. For those seeking to replace their permanent resident cards for reasons unrelated to the ten-year expiration date (e.g., because the card has been lost, stolen, mutilated, or because biographical data has changed or is incorrect).

Exception: You may, however, request to change your name on your new card (because of marriage, legal name change, or divorce) at the time you file your application for a renewal card. To do so, you must provide a copy of your marriage certificate, divorce decree or court order as evidence of the legal name change.

If you are otherwise eligible, at the time you file your Form I-90, you will be provided with temporary evidence of your lawful permanent residence status. If your renewal application is approved, you will be mailed a new Permanent Resident Card with a ten-year expiration date.

How Do I Replace My Green Card?
Who Needs to Replace a Permanent Resident Card?
You will need to replace your permanent resident card if:

  • Your previous card was lost, stolen, mutilated, or destroyed;
  • Your card was issued to you before you were 14 and you have reached your 14th birthday;
  • You have been a commuter and are now taking up actual residence in the United States;
  • You have been a permanent resident residing in the United States and are now taking up commuter status;
  • Your status has been automatically converted to permanent resident status, this includes Special Agricultural Worker applicants who are converting to permanent resident status;
  • You have a previous version of the alien registration card (e.g., USCIS Form AR-3, Form AR-103, or Form I-151 – all no longer valid to prove your immigration status) and must replace it with the current permanent resident card (Form I-551);
  • Your card contains incorrect data;
  • Your name or other biographic information on the card has been legally changed since you last received your card; or,
  • You never received the previous card that was issued to you by the USCIS.

How Do I Apply to Replace My Permanent Resident Card?
If you are a permanent resident, who needs to replace your card, or conditional resident who needs to replace your two-year card, for any of the reasons listed above, you may apply for a replacement card by filing a USCIS Form I-90.

Please Note: This procedure should NOT be used by lawful permanent residents who are seeking to renew their ten-year card only because the card is expiring or has expired. The Service is providing separate instructions for the renewal of expiring or expired I-551s.

After receiving Form I-90, read it carefully and note the documentation and photos that must be submitted. Detailed information is provided in the instructions for Form I-90. Unless otherwise instructed, you should file the application (with supporting documentation and fees) in person at the local the USCIS office serving the area where you live. If your status as a special agricultural worker has been automatically converted to that of a permanent resident you should file Form I-90 at the USCIS Service Center that serves the area where you live.

If you are outside the U.S. and have lost your alien registration card, contact the nearest American Consulate, USCIS Office or Port of Entry before attempting to file a Form I-90.

If your Form I-90 application is approved, you will be mailed a replacement Permanent Resident Card,Form I-551, with a ten-year expiration date from the date of issuance.

How Do I Obtain Temporary Evidence of My Status For Travel or Employment Purposes, if Necessary, While the USCIS is Reviewing My Form I-90 Application?
At the time that you are completing the fingerprint and signature requirements (necessary for the adjudication of the Form I-90 and the issuance of the replacement card) at the appropriate USCIS office, you may request temporary evidence of your permanent resident status, valid for travel and/or employment purposes.

What If I am Outside of the United States?
If you are outside the United States, and your permanent resident card will expire within six months, (but you will return within one year of your departure from the United States and before the card expires), you should file for your renewal card as soon as you return to the United States.

If you are outside of the United States at the time of the card’s expiration, and you have not applied for the renewal card prior to your departure, you should contact the nearest American Consulate, USCIS office, or Port of Entry, before attempting to file Form I-90 for a renewal I-551 card.

How Can I Find Out the Status of My Application?
To check the status of your application, please contact the Application Support Center that receipted your application. You should be prepared to provide the USCIS staff with specific information about your application, such as your Alien Registration Number, name, and date of birth.

If My Application is Denied How Can I Appeal
If your application for a renewal of your permanent resident card is denied, you will receive a letter that will tell you why the application was denied. You will not be allowed to appeal a negative decision. However, you may submit a motion to reopen or a motion to reconsider with the same office that made the unfavorable decision. By filing such a motion, you may ask the USCIS office to reexamine or reconsider its decision. A motion to reopen must state the new facts that are to be provided in the reopened proceeding and must be accompanied by the appropriate documentary evidence. A motion to reconsider must establish that the decision to deny your application was based on an incorrect application of law or Immigration policy, and further establish that the decision was incorrect, based on the evidence in the file at the time the decision was made.

It is very important to remember that it is possible inadvertently abandon your green card status by remaining outside the U.S. for extended periods of time. In general, if you plan to be outside the United States for six months or longer you should consult with an immigration attorney about maintaining your green card status before departing.

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