The permanent resident card, commonly known as a green card, is proof that its holder is a lawful permanent resident who has been granted permission to live and accept employment in the United States. Needless to say, it’s a very important piece of identification. And green card renewal is an essential part of being a permanent resident. If your card expires, you do not surrender your permanent residence. You continue to be a permanent resident. However, traveling abroad, getting a job, and even renewing a driver’s license is impossible without a valid permanent resident card. So it’s vital that every permanent resident knows how to renew a green card.
Step 1: Preparing for Green Card Renewal
You may apply to renew your permanent resident card up to six months before it expires. Current processing times for green card renewal are approximately five to six months. So U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recommends that you renew your green card as early as possible. (However, USCIS also warns that they will reject your application if it is submitted more than six months prior to the expiration date.)
Use Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card, to renew a green card. You can download Form I-90 and the 13-page instructions from the USCIS website. Carefully read the instructions to ensure that you properly prepare the Form I-90. USCIS will reject incomplete or improperly prepared applications. In some cases these mistakes can create long-term immigration problems.
The vast majority of people do not need a lawyer to renew a green card. However, you should consult with an immigration attorney before you file if you’ve been arrested, have spent significant time outside the country (more than 180 days at one time), or have other immigration violations.
Tip: You may also use Form I-90 to replace a that is lost/stolen, damaged, never received, or contains incorrect information.
Step 2: Gather Documents and Mail with I-90
For most applicants, very few supporting documents are required when filing Form I-90. The majority of people will only need to submit the USCIS filing fee (currently $540) and a photocopy of their permanent resident card. However, some applicants will be required to submit additional documentation.
You are not required to send passport photos. USCIS eliminated this requirement a few years ago. USCIS will take a photo for your new green card when you attend the biometrics appointment (in step 4).
Make a copy of your entire green card renewal application and supporting documents. You can wait in line at the local USCIS office to submit your application, but why? Your local office will forward the application to a central processing center. Skip the local office and mail you application directly to:
P.O. Box 21262
Phoenix, AZ 85036
Tip: Mail your I-90 application via certified mail and save your receipt.
Step 3: Save Your Records
Within approximately 2-3 weeks, USCIS will mail you Form I-797C, Notice of Action. Save this important document. It’s a receipt letter and proof that you successfully filed your green card renewal application. The letter is not an approval; it’s simply proof that you’ve started the process.
The receipt letter will also include a receipt number that you can use to track the progress of your case. Visit the USCIS website’s Check Your Case Status feature to track your case’s progress.
Tip: If you file the optional Form G-1145 at the same time as Form I-90, USCIS will give you an email or text notification when they receive Form I-90.
Step 4: Attend your Biometrics Appointment
Approximately 3-5 weeks after filing the green card renewal, USCIS will mail you an appointment notice for a biometrics screening. The biometrics appointment includes fingerprinting and taking your photo for the new green card. The biometrics information will also be used for an FBI criminal background check.
Take your appointment letter, your existing permanent resident card, and any other information listed on the appointment notice. Read the letter carefully; it will explain all items that you should bring to the appointment. Although this appointment can be rescheduled, it will delay the renewal process.
Tip: If your green card already expired and you need proof of permanent residency, schedule a separate appointment with USCIS. They can provide an extension on your expiring card. (USCIS generally cannot provide this service at your biometrics appointment.)
Step 5: Receive your New Permanent Resident Card
Unless you had errors or other complications on your green card renewal application, most people receive their new card in approximately five to six months. But processing times do vary based on the workload and USCIS service center assigned your case. Your new green card may look slightly different and will be updated with several new security features.
Tip: Processing times can vary. Enter your receipt number (from your I-797) at My Case Status on USCIS.gov to check the status of your green card renewal.
Avoid the Renewal – Become a U.S. Citizen
Apply for U.S. citizenship and skip the green card renewal process. You’ll never be required to renew your card again. There are numerous benefits to becoming a U.S. citizen. And it might be easier than you think.
Did you know the average 35 year old permanent resident will pay another $5,313 in renewal fees over his life time? This doesn’t even account for fee increases which have risen astronomically over the past few years. In 2003, the cost to file Form I-90 was just $130. Today it costs $540 (including biometrics).
U.S. citizens have the benefits of:
- Never paying another USCIS fee
- The freedom and protections of a U.S. passport
- Security of never having permanent residence revoked
To apply for U.S. citizenship, a permanent resident must file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.