Permanent Residents: What’s Next?

For many MurthyDotCom readers, the focus of their lives for years is obtaining U.S. lawful permanent residence (LPR), commonly known as the “green card.” They just want to complete the immigration process and hold their I-485 approval notices in their hands. For these people, nothing is better than reading the letters from their respective lawyers with the magic words that say it all:

“Congratulations, you are now a U.S. permanent resident.”

We at Murthy Law Firm address for our readers the questions that come after one has digested the good news and the excitement of the long-awaited green card approval. We touch upon LPR status documented by the physical, plastic card, itself, how to extend the card upon its expiration, and how to obtain proof of permanent resident status if the card is lost or stolen.

The Physical Green Card, Itself

The Notice of Approval, Form I-797, is the document issued to successful applicants for Adjustment of Status to Permanent Residence (Form I-485). However, it is not this document that actually changes the person’s status and “makes” one a permanent resident. The grant of permanent residence is done on an internal U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) document, contained within the individual’s file. Most people will never see this form and have no need to do so. The plastic card (which undergoes changes in appearance and color, at times not even being green, as the government tries to stay ahead of counterfeiters) is the physical proof of this status. In some situations a temporary evidence stamp  in the passport is available as proof of permanent residence. This proof, generally, is needed to live and work in the United States, and to enter the U.S. from abroad.

Procedures After the I-485 is Approved

In the past, it was necessary for the new permanent resident to appear at the local USCIS office to undergo the procedures necessary to obtain proof of the new status. The local office personnel would stamp the passport with temporary evidence, known as the I-551 stamp and requested card production. The stamp in the passport stated, “temporary evidence of I-551, work and travel authorized,” and served as evidence of one’s permanent resident status. In 2009, the USCIS announced that it would be phasing out the I-551 stamp.

Work and Travel Authorized

The stamp I-551 providing temporary evidence of permanent resident status is valid for a year. It is valid proof of permanent resident status for employment and travel purposes. Permanent residents are authorized to work in the United States and to travel and reenter routinely. There is no need to worry about traveling on such a simple looking stamp. The ink used is security ink. The port of entry (POE) officers can quickly determine if a stamp is genuine. Those with genuine stamps can travel in the same manner as individuals who have received the plastic green card. The temporary stamp, which is valid for one year, sometimes can be renewed if needed and if allowed by the local USCIS office.

Best Not to Relocate until Card is Received

The internal Form I-181, used by the USCIS to approve the I-485, is sent to a green card production facility for issuance of the plastic card. If at all possible, it is best not to relocate until the plastic card is received. The cards will not be forwarded by the U.S. Postal Service to a new address. Updating addresses is not a guarantee that the card will be properly routed. Cards that are returned to the USCIS as undeliverable are destroyed after a short waiting period. If this kind of a mix-up occurs, it may be necessary to file for a replacement card, using the I-90. In that case, there will be additional expense and delay before receiving the plastic card. The instructions for filing the I-90 for cards which were never received are on the USCIS WebSite.

Carry Evidence of LPR Status at All Times

Permanent residents are required to carry proof of their status under federal law. Prior to September 11, 2001, this was not an issue of great concern. In this post-9/11 era, however, it can be important in a variety of situations where one may encounter law enforcement authorities. This can range from domestic travel to routine traffic stops for speeding. In these situations, it may be vital to be able to document lawful immigration status.

Expiration Date of the Card

The plastic card bears an expiration date. For most people, the card is valid for ten years. What this means is that only the card, which is the physical proof of status, expires after ten years; not the LPR status itself. It is a security measure, as the cards are changed periodically to enhance security features. As the expiration date draws near, it is necessary to check the procedure for renewal. This procedure generally involves filing the Form I-90 for a replacement card. The details regarding where and how to file the I-90 are available on the USCIS WebSite. The same procedure is needed for children who were under 14 at the time of the green card approval. These children will need new cards at 14 years of age.

Of course, one way to ensure that a person’s I-551 card or green card does not expire is to file for naturalization to become a U.S. citizen.

The expiration date has a different significance for an individual with a conditional green card, obtained via marriage to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The green card will have two years to the expiration date. The status will expire at that point, unless the necessary Form I-751 to remove the conditions on residency is timely filed and finally approved.

The expiration date does not provide protection against potential loss of permanent resident status, due to abandonment or the commission of certain crimes. These matters are discussed in more detail in future articles.

Lost Cards

From time to time, green cards can be lost or stolen. While, obviously, it is best to be careful, if something should happen while in the U.S., it is necessary to obtain a new stamp in the passport and apply for a replacement green card.

Future articles on the topic of permanent residents will include such important issues as filing immigration petitions to sponsor relatives to become lawful permanent residents, losing permanent resident status through long absences outside the U.S. or criminal activity, and naturalization issues.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.