A green card is also known as a Permanent Residence Card or permanent visa. It is an immigration document that shows an individual is permitted to reside within the United States. It also provides proof of an individual’s registration pursuant to immigration laws. If an individual obtains a green card, they can become a permanent resident of the United States.

A green card is different from a visa. A visa allows an individual to temporarily reside in the United States for a specific purpose and length of time. A temporary visa, also known as a nonimmigrant visa, permits an individual to study or work in the United States for a certain period of time. It is important to note that green cards are also called permanent visas, even though the term visa usually refers to temporary visa categories.

The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) is in charge of green cards. An individual can qualify for a green card in one of a few different categories. However, every category has a limit, or quota, on the number of green cards issued for individuals who fall into that category. Categories include:

  • Immediate family members visas;
  • Marriage visas;
  • Work visas; and
  • Long term illegal residents.

The emphasis of a green card is on citizenship and residency status. This is different from a visa, which focuses on admissibility into the United States. A green card is a plastic photo identification card that an individual receives upon being granted lawful permanent resident status.

There are common categories of foreign nationals that acquire green cards. These include:

  • Family sponsorships;
  • Employment;
  • Special immigrants;
  • Refugee/asylum seekers;
  • A victim of human trafficking or other victims of crime; or
  • Miscellaneous.

What is a Permanent Resident?

A permanent resident is an individual that has been granted the right to stay in the United States permanently. Lawful permanent resident status allows an individual to live in the United States as well as work in the United States. It is important to note that a permanent resident is not a citizen of the United States. Therefore, a permanent resident does not have the same privileges as United States citizens, including the right to vote in elections.

Acquiring a green card is an important step on the path to becoming a United States citizen. Obtaining a green card is the same thing as obtaining permanent resident status.

When Do I Need to Replace a Green Card?

An individual’s green card may need to be replaced in the following circumstances:

  • A green card contains erroneous information;
  • A green card was lost, stolen, mutilated, or destroyed;
  • An individual’s status has been automatically changed to permanent resident status;
  • The name or information reflected on an individual’s green card has been legally changed;
  • An individual never received their green card issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS);
  • An individual is changing their immigration status, such as from commuter status to permanent resident status;
  • An individual’s green card was issued before they reached age 14, and now they are older than 14 years old; or
  • The individual’s green card is no longer a valid version of an alien registration card.

How Can I Replace My Green Card?

In order for an individual to replace their green card, they will need to fill out Form I-90. This form is entitled, “Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card.”

It is extremely important to read the form carefully and follow any and all instructions. Ensure any document or photographs that are requested on the form are included when the form is submitted.

An individual should fill out the application and pay any applicable application or filing fees at their local USCIS office. If their request is approved, their green card will be mailed to the address they provide. The green card will expire in 10 years. If an individual loses their green card while they are outside the United States, they can contact an American consulate, a USCIS Office, or a Port of Entry (POE).

It is important to note that a replacement green card is not necessary if an individual seeks to renew their green card. Renewal of a green card is required if the green card has lapsed after 10 years or more.

What is a Port of Entry?

A Port of Entry (POE) is a place where an individual can lawfully enter a country. Generally, it is at a location such as:

  • An international airport;
  • A railway;
  • A ship dock; or
  • Various highways along the national border.

In the United States, a port of entry is generally manned with staff and security personnel who perform tasks, including:

  • Checking travel or immigration documents, including passports or visas;
  • Inspecting luggage for contraband or prohibited items;
  • Monitoring trade or commerce activities; or
  • Conducting surveillance for individuals crossing illegally into the country.

How Much Does It Cost to Replace My Green Card?

Form I-90, or the actual application to replace an individual’s green card is free. However, as of 2017, there is a filing fee of $450 associated with requesting a replacement green card. There is also an $85 biometric services fee that may be added to some filing fees if those methods are used.

Failure to pay the filing fee will result in an individual’s application being denied. A replacement green card may take between 2 and 6 months to process.

When Shouldn’t I Submit Form I-90?

An individual should not submit Form I-190 if they are currently under conditional resident status and are seeking to remove the conditions. Instead, these individuals should submit Form I-751 to remove conditions that are on a green card that was issued through a family connection or marriage. An individual should submit Form I-829 to remove conditions on their green card based on their status as an investor or an entrepreneur.

Knowing which form to complete and even filling out immigration forms in general can be an intimidating process. If an individual needs guidance on replacing their green card, they should consult with an experienced immigration attorney.

What Happens if I Don’t Replace My Green Card?

Individuals are required by immigration law to carry their green card at all times. If an individual fails to replace or renew their card when necessary, they may be charged with a misdemeanor. Misdemeanor charges can range from jail time to a fine, or both. If an individual fails to replace their green card, their chances of obtaining United States citizenship through naturalization may be negatively impacted.

In addition, if an individual does not have their green card, they cannot travel outside the United States. Lack of a green card may also hinder their ability to find employment or housing. Because of this, it is imperative that an individual promptly replace their green card when necessary.

Should I Hire a Lawyer?

Yes, it is important to hire an experienced immigration attorney to assist you with renewing your green card. You can face fines, penalties, and even misdemeanor charges for not having a current green card. Check your green card to make sure all information is current and accurate.

If you need assistance replacing your green card, an attorney will be able to help you fill out the correct form and file your application with the appropriate government agency.