A green card, formally known as a permanent resident card, is proof of your permanent resident status in the United States. It also serves as a identification document and proof that you are eligible to live and work in the United States. It’s important to keep your card up-to-date. Without a valid card, it may be difficult for you to prove that you are a permanent resident, and this could also affect your ability to reenter the U.S., accept employment, and take care of other important responsibilities.
When to Renew a Green Card
It’s best to start the green card renewal process six months (but no less than five months) before the expiration date on the card. You don’t want to submit it too early or too late for various reasons.
Renew a Green Card Too Late
If your card expires, you could be without a valid proof of permanent resident status. You won’t lose permanent resident status as a result of an expired green card, but you will not have proof required for important events such as:
- Employment: A green card provides proof of your right to work in the U.S. Employers are required to check.
- Travel: Valid, unexpired proof of permanent residence is required to re-enter the United States after traveling abroad.
- Driver’s License: Most states will not renew a driver’s license without a valid, unexpired green card.
- Home Mortgage: Home lenders require proof of permanent residence when you purchase a home or re-finance.
Renew a Green Card Too Early
USCIS has indicated that they will likely reject your application if you submit it more than six months prior the expiration date. Therefore, the ideal time to begin the green card renewal process is five to six months prior to the expiration date of your current green card.
RECOMMENDED: Expired Green Card Creates 5 Big Problems
Application to Renew a Card
If you have a 10-year green card, you’ll need to file Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card. Despite the name, this form is also used to renew a card. Individuals with a 2-year conditional green card must follow a different procedure described below.
USCIS does offer online filing for this form. However, what you save in filing time can cost you later. Mistakes, oversights and omissions are the overwhelming reason for processing delays and Requests for Evidence. In fact, denials for Form I-90 are on the rise. These delays can add up to several months very quickly. That’s why submitting a clean, well-prepared application package is more important than ever. CitizenPath helps our customers with the green card renewal process with online software designed by immigration attorneys. The affordable web-based process makes it easy to prepare Form I-90. We also guarantee USCIS approval. It’s like insurance to make sure your green card renewal is processed quickly. Learn more >>
Outside the United States
If you’re outside the United States, you won’t be able to file Form I-90. You may only file once you return.
Provided that you’ve been abroad for less than one year (or two years with reentry permit), you can likely return. Check with your airline to confirm they will allow you to board with an expired green card. U.S. Customs and Border Protection does allow this, and most airlines will accommodate you. However, if they will not accept your expired green card, you may need to file Form I-131A at a U.S. embassy to request special carrier documentation.
However, individuals that have been absent from the U.S. for one year or more without a reentry permit have generally abandoned their permanent resident status. If this is your situation, consult with an immigration lawyer to determine if you may be eligible for a returning resident visa. If not, you may be required to apply for a green card once again.
Supporting Documents for Renewal
In addition to Form I-90, you will need to submit a few documents that support your application. Many people may be able to simply send a photocopy of their existing green card (front and back) and the current USCIS filing fee.
The list of supporting documents for your specific situation can vary. That’s because it depends on your answers in Form I-90. For example, if you’ve had a name change after marriage or divorce, you must submit proof of that legal name change. Generally, a marriage certificate, divorce decree or other legal name change document will do.
In addition to your prepared Form I-90, CitizenPath provides you with a set of personalized filing instructions. Our filing instructions are customized to your answers in the application so you know what to do for your specific situation. The filing instructions provide detailed directions on supporting documents, how to organize your application, and where to mail it.
Green Card Renewal Processing Time
Generally, it takes about 10 to 12 months to process a green card renewal, but it can take longer. That’s why it is important to eliminate delays in the processing time. When USCIS rejects an application or requests additional information, several weeks are added to the process. To see what happens after filing Form I-90, see the Form I-90 processing time line.
Conditional Green Card Renewal Process
Conditional permanent residents cannot “renew” a green card. Instead, they must remove the conditions on residence.
If you’ve obtained permanent resident status through marriage or investment, you likely have a conditional green card that’s valid for a period of two years. In order to remove the conditional status and convert to a 10-year green card, you must file a different form. If your conditional residence (and conditional green card) is expiring within the next 90 days, do not file this application. Instead, file:
- Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence if you became a conditional resident through marriage to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident; or
- Form I-829 Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions if you became a conditional resident based on a financial investment in a U.S. business.
RECOMMENDED: Renewing a Green Card After 2 Years
Escape the Green Card Renewal Process through Naturalization
Naturalization is the best way to avoid the entire green card renewal process. When you become a U.S. citizen, you’ll never have to pay a USCIS fee again. To become a U.S. citizen, you’ll need to meet certain eligibility requirements. Then, submit Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.
The lifetime costs of renewing a green card be extraordinary. Use the Citizenship Cost Calculator to see the costs of green card renewal fees over a lifetime compared to the cost of becoming a U.S. citizen.
CitizenPath offers a free ebook for permanent residents that want to become U.S. citizens through the naturalization process. The downloadable guide includes 44 pages of tips and valuable information about the naturalization process. It even includes 100 sample test questions and a necessary vocabulary list.
Although no one can know what happens next, one thing seems certain — USCIS will continue to increase the fees for services.