A green card is a physical representation of a person’s legal right to live and work in the United States as a permanent resident.
For this reason, losing your green card can be a terrifying experience.
Luckily, there are several steps you can take to rectify the situation once you realize that your card is missing or damaged beyond repair.
In this article, we’ll outline the basics of how you can replace a lost, stolen, or damaged green card.
However, please keep in mind that you retain all of your rights as a permanent resident despite the fact that you no longer have your green card.
The card itself is simply easily recognizable and verifiable proof of your legal status as a permanent resident.
For this reason, you shouldn’t worry too much about a lost, stolen, or damaged green card, as it’s more of an inconvenience than a true problem.
Just follow the steps we outline below (and the information on the USCIS website), and try to avoid any live events that may require proof of your legal status (especially traveling outside the country).
How to Replace Your Green Card: The Basics
When you become a permanent or conditional resident of the United States, the government will issue you a green card that acts as proof of your legal status.
It’s important for your to keep your green card with you at all times, as it acts as physical, easily producible proof that you can live and work in the country legally.
For this reason, you should take immediate action if you ever lose your green card, or if it’s ever stolen or damaged beyond repair.
Or, to expand on this fact a little, if you are a lawful permanent resident you must replace your green card if:
- Your green card has expired, or will expire within the next six months.
- Your green card was “lost, stolen, mutilated, or destroyed.”
- You legally changed your name or otherwise need to update critical information on your green card.
- You never received the previously issued green card, such as if it was lost in the mail.
While other reasons certainly exist, these are a few of the most common.
In the contexts of this article, we’re especially interested in the “lost, stolen, mutilated, or destroyed” bullet, as this will be the legal reason you put down on your application for a new green card.
Where to Start: The Importance of Form I-90
Green cards go missing all the time.
Whether you left it in your wallet in the back of a taxi or your dog decided it looked like a nice treat, you should remember that, whatever the case may be, it’s probably happened before.
Because of this, USCIS created a general “I need a new green card” form to deal with such situations.
This form is known as Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card, and it has a variety of interesting uses.
In the case that you lost your green card, all that you really need to do is submit this form to USCIS and then follow the general procedures to receive a new green card in the mail.
While this may sound like a bit of work at first, it’s actually surprisingly easy to do.
Best of all, you can file Form I-90 both online, meaning that you can complete all but one of the steps in the process from the comfort of your own home.
We’ll outline the basic steps below, but please keep in mind that it’s always recommended for you to speak with an immigration attorney about your case if you experience any complications (and preferably before you even send in the documents).
Note: If you lose your green card outside the country, or you left the country without your green card, you should immediately contact the closest U.S. Consulate or USCIS office before you file Form I-90, as the facts of your case may change your responsibilities.
4 Steps to Replacing Your Lost, Stolen, or Damaged Green Card
Step 1: Submit Form I-90 to USCIS
Once you download Form I-90 from the USCIS website (or enter their application portal if you choose to file online), you can proceed through the form as if you were renewing your green card.
In fact, the only real difference lies in the section titled “Reason for Application” (which you can see pictured in the previous section).
In order to replace your lost, stolen, or damaged green card, you just need to check box 2.a, “My previous card has been lost, stolen, or destroyed.”
In addition to this form, you will also have to submit various supporting documents.
These documents will help prove your status as a conditional or permanent resident, your age, and other pieces of information required by USCIS.
It will also usually require a filing fee of anything from $455 with an added $85 for biometrics services to create a total of $540.
When you file online, you can apply using your phone, computer, or tablet, as well as a number of updates on your applications status.
USCIS will notify you as soon as it receives your application for a green card replacement, and you’ll be able to track its status online.
Always review your application for errors or omissions.
If you are unsure about how to fill out the I-90 Form, you should contact an immigration lawyer to help you.
Step 2: Attend Your Biometrics Appointment
Around a month after you submit your Form I-90 to USCIS you will receive a notice to attend a biometrics appointment at your local FBI field office.
Much like when you applied for your green card in the first place, this appointment is basically a way for USCIS to get updated fingerprints and I.D. pictures for you.
Make sure to bring all the appropriate documentation with you when you go to this appointment (including the notice that told you the date and time of your biometrics appointment), and dress appropriately, since the picture they take will be the one printed on your new green card.
Step 3: Wait for USCIS to Finish Processing Your Application
After you submit Form I-90 to USCIS and attended your biometrics appointment, you’ll have to wait for the Potomac Service Center to finish processing your application.
You can check the expected processing time for your application on the USCIS case processing time page, but you should expect to wait somewhere between 7 to 12 months.
Be sure to tell any law enforcement or other officers who may speak to you that your application for a new card is currently processing.
Step 4: Don’t Complicate Things, Just Be Patient
While you’re waiting for your application to process, don’t do anything to further complicate your case.
Don’t commit any crimes or leave the country.
Be careful when you are applying for new jobs and consult with an attorney or a legal aid office if you need to apply for any benefits that require legal status.
Again, if you have already left the country, or you lost your green card while you were abroad, you should contact the nearest US Consulate, USCIS office, or port of entry before you file the Form I-90.
Exceptions and Things to Look Out For
What happens if USCIS denies my replacement?
Sometimes USCIS will deny green card replacement applications.
If they do, you will receive a letter explaining why they have denied your application.
Your next step would be to file a motion asking the USCIS to reconsider their decision, using Form I-290B, within 30 days of receiving their decision.
This form requires an additional $675 filing fee.
This is one reason why it’s very important that you fill out your Form I-90 perfectly the first time without any errors, omissions, or inconsistencies.
Such issues with your application can cause delays or even long-term immigration problems.
What happens if I lose my green card while outside the United States?
Generally speaking, you should also prepare the Form I-131A, or the Application for Travel Document, and file it with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
You can then file the I-90 when you get back to the United States.
If you have been outside of the US for one year or more without a reentry permit, you should contact an immigration attorney before trying to reenter.
Replacing a lost, stolen, or destroyed green card isn’t actually that hard, it’s just time-intensive.
In general, the only steps you have to follow are:
- Submit a completed Form I-90 to USCIS.
- Attend a biometrics appointment.
- Wait for USCIS to finish processing your application.
- Don’t complicate things while you wait for your new green card to come in the mail.
While you shouldn’t need an attorney to apply for a new green card, you should most certainly speak with one if you have any questions or if anything goes wrong with your case.
Especially if you hired an attorney to help with your original green card application, you should at least chat with an attorney to make sure everything goes smoothly in your case.