What Is a Green Card Renewal?

Green card renewal must occur every 10 years by filing a Form I-90 before the current green card expires. Green card holders can't, however, file this form more than six months before expiration. Applicants can complete this application online but must mail supporting documents to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Green cards are the official documentation for permanent resident status. 

Renewing a green card is important, as it shows eligibility for employment and allows international travel without hassle. The USCIS recommends replacing older cards without an expiration immediately with a Form I-90. Upon filing the Form I-90, applicants will receive a Form I-797, or Notice of Action, within two to three weeks.

Why Is a Green Card Renewal Important?

The Form I-90, or Application to Replace a Permanent Resident Card, is important for several reasons, including:

  • Proving eligibility of employment
    When a green card holder applies for a job, he or she must fill out an I-9. This form verifies identity and legality to work in the United States via a passport, driver's license, or green card. Each of these documents satisfies the "List A" document requirements. An expired green card will not be accepted. Permanent citizens also need valid green cards to apply for licenses in careers such as nursing, real estate, and insurance.
  • Traveling freely both internationally and domestically
    Most airlines won't allow the holder of an expired green card to board a flight. If they do, many require a Form I-797. This form shows that a person has applied for a green card renewal with the Form I-90. When re-entering the country from abroad, Customs and Border Protection require proof of permanent residency via a green card. Without it, they might deny entry to the country. If an expired card holder does gain entry, he or she might be subject to a re-entry fee of $585.
  • Renewing a Driver's License
    Most states need proof of residency and legal status to issue a new driver's license. If a green card expires, this could affect driving privileges until a new green card arrives. An I-551 temporary stamp might work. However, green card holders should check with their state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
  • Buying a Home
    Permanent residents can get a mortgage just like U.S. citizens can. This includes FHA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac home loans. Lenders need a photocopy of a green card and a Social Security number during the application process. 

Expired green cards make it difficult for aliens or permanent residents to gain these perks. If the green card does expire, however, you don't lose your permanent resident status. 

All green cards fall under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Section 264 reads that every U.S. citizen shall receive a green card under the law. This also requires immigrants to carry their green card at all times if over age 18. Failure to carry a green card can result in a misdemeanor. However, the U.S. government rarely enforces this. 

If you need confirmation of your status while waiting for a new green card, schedule a meeting with the USCIS using Infopass. You will get an I-551 stamp on your passport until your new green card arrives. This allows you to get a job and travel internationally.

How Do I File for a Green Card Renewal?

To receive a new green card, applicants must fill out the Form I-90 and submit it via mail or online. If completing online, you can pay the application fee of $540 at the same time using an American Express, Mastercard, Visa, or Discover card.

If filing by mail, you can send the necessary forms via U.S. Postal Service by contacting 1-800-870-3676. After completing the form, mail it to:

USCIS
Attention: I-90
PO Box 21262
Phoenix, AZ 85036

For express mail and courier services, the address is:

USCIS
Attention: I-90
1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S Floor 1
Phoenix, AZ 85034 

Send the Form I-90 in with a cashier's check or money order made out to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. If you abbreviate this name, it will void the check.

What Information Does the Form I-90 Require?

When filing a Form I-90, you must include your:

  • Legal name including name changes
  • U.S. address
  • Place, date, and country of birth
  • Social Security number
  • Class of Admission
  • Date of Admission
  • Reason for Application
    • Check "Box F" for an expiring card. Check "Box J" for an old card without an expiration date
  • Parents' names
  • Consulate or USCIS office that issued the immigrant visa 
  • City of residence
  • A copy of the expiring green card

Reasons to Consider Renewing a Green Card

There are many reasons to renew a green card, including:

  • A lost or stolen card
  • A mutilated, illegible, or destroyed card
  • The card has misinformation such as name, country of birth, or birth date
  • The card wasn't received in the mail
  • Your name changed because of marriage or other legal reason
  • You reached the age of 14. Green card holders that received a card before age 14 must get a new one before 14 regardless of how long they've had it.
  • The card expires within six months
  • Employment
  • Reentering the U.S. from abroad
  • An old green card: Green cards issued before 1989 don't have expiration dates. They can be used for employment purposes. However, old photos might cause problems when re-entering the country, especially if the card holder no longer looks like his or her picture. Global Entry (GE) kiosks also require a new green card for re-entry to the country. Permanent residents that got a card between 1979 and 1988 should file a Form I-90 immediately.

Reasons You Don't Need to Renew a Green Card

Conditional permanent residents receive a different type of card. This card is only valid for two years. In this case, the Form I-90 doesn't apply. These types of residents must file one of two petitions. Each of these forms removes conditions from their green card.

  • Form I-751: This form applies to a conditional status based on marriage. It's also known as the Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence. The stamp is only valid for one year. This is a temporary fix, as it's time-consuming and the USCIS will still require stamp holders to file for a green card renewal.
  • Form I-829: This petition is for investors. It's also called the Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions on Permanent Resident Status.

After filing either of these forms, applicants will receive a new green card. This card is then valid for 10 years. Once this card is received, the Form I-90 applies for renewal purposes.

In some instances, conditional permanent residents can use a Form I-90. This includes reasons such as:

  • A mistake on the card
  • The card was mutilated or destroyed
  • The card was lost, stolen, or never received
  • The name on the card has changed legally 

Reasons for Green Card Renewal Denial

Even if green card holders follow the proper renewal process, the USCIS can deny green card renewal. Thousands of Form I-90s get denied and 9 percent are rejected. The most common cases for denial are:

  • Criminal Activity: A person convicted of a felony is often denied during a green card renewal. If convicted of a felony, green card holders are no longer considered a value to the country. Minor crimes such as misdemeanors and traffic tickets are usually not considered.
  • Adjustment of Immigrant Category: This reason for denial means your citizenship status changed. This is typically due to divorce from a U.S. citizen.
  • Missing a Biometric Appointment: If the applicant misses a fingerprinting appointment, denial is possible.
  • Failure to Present Requested Information: If the form isn't filled out correctly or information is missing, denial may happen.

When a green card renewal gets denied, the USCIS will inform the applicant. If a green card renewal is denied, there's still a chance to get it overturned. Denied applicants can submit a motion to reopen the renewal application. If filing a motion to reopen, state and provide evidence why the case needs a re-examination. The USCIS will reconsider the application at this point.

How Much Does a Green Card Renewal Cost?

Submitting a Form I-90 comes with two fees:

  • Filing Fee: $455
  • Biometric Fee: $85, which covers fingerprinting, signature, and photograph costs, but doesn't always apply to each applicant.

Other fees might apply if you hire a third party to file the paperwork on your behalf. If you file on your own, the total cost is $540 if fingerprinting is necessary.

What If I Can't Afford the Fee?

If you can't afford the fee, you can request it be waived. To be considered for a fee waiver, applicants must fill out a Form I-912, or a Request for Fee Waiver. You must file this form with the original Form I-90. The USCIS will review your case to see if you can afford it. It also offers Fee Waiver Guidance to those in financial distress. It's important to note that there's no clear set of rules on who qualifies for a fee waiver. However, those that receive a fee waiver typically have:

  • Income at 150 percent or less of the national poverty line
  • Financial burden due to medical bills
  • Public assistance

The prior year's tax return is usually enough proof to qualify for a fee waiver.

Green Card Renewal Timeline

Once you file a green card renewal application, it can take four to five months to receive a new one. These noteworthy milestones during this process show that the process is moving along:

  • One to Three Weeks - Receipt of Application: After one to three weeks, applicants get a receipt of application. This is also known as the Form I-797C, or Notice of Action. If the form is filled out incorrectly, applicants receive a Notice of Action rejection. This might come with a Request for Evidence that needs further documentation. Applicants should save this notice and write down the 10-digit receipt number. This number can be used to check the status of application online. Applicants can also check their status with the 10-digit number by calling 1-800-375-5283.
  • Three to Five Weeks - Appointment Notice for Biometrics: Also known as a biometrics screening, this appointment is when the USCIS collects fingerprints, a signature, and photograph. These appointments take place at an Application Service Center (ASC) and include a security clearance and a criminal background check. If the applicant can't attend the appointment, he or she must contact the USCIS to reschedule or come in early.
  • Five to Eight Weeks - Biometrics Appointment: Applicants must bring the biometrics appointment letter and acceptable identification. This includes a current green card, driver's license, passport, military ID, or state-issued ID card. This appointment usually lasts 30 minutes.
  • Five to Six Months - Receipt of Green Card: After the biometrics screening, the USCIS processes the Form I-90. After approval, the applicant receives the card in the mail. Green cards can only be mailed to U.S. addresses or the port of entry. If there's an address change, applicants must notify the USCIS within 10 business days of the application. If the application is denied, the USCIS sends a letter explaining the reason for denial.
  • After Six Months: If an applicant still doesn't receive a green card after six months, he or she can make a case inquiry to find the status of the application.

In some instances, the USCIS might require an interview to grant a new green card. During this interview, applicants take an English language and civic knowledge test.

What Happens if a Green Card Expires?

There are two different scenarios if a green card expires:

  • If a green card expires within the U.S., an I-551 stamp provides temporary proof of residency. When applying for this stamp, immigration officers will most likely require a Notice of Action.
  • When the green card expires, is stolen, or lost outside of the United States, the holder must visit the nearest U.S. consulate. A Form I-131A, or Application for Travel Document (Carrier Documentation), is required. After filing, permanent residents receive a transportation letter or boarding foil. This allows re-entry to the United States. Upon re-entry, expired card holders must file a Form I-90 for green card renewal. Because of the hassles and time involved, permanent residents need to understand the risk of traveling with an expired card.

There is no penalty or fee if a green card expires. It just causes travel, employment, and identification problems.

Permanent Resident vs. U.S. Citizen

Becoming a U.S. citizen gets rid of all the hassle of renewing a green card. When gaining citizenship, a person can travel freely with a U.S. passport and will not incur the costs of green card renewal. 

Renewing a green card is stressful if you aren't sure where to start. If you need help filing for a green card renewal or filling out any other form, make sure to post your job on UpCounsel.