If your green card (the card showing that you are a U.S. lawful permanent resident) is about to expire or you have lost it, or if it has been stolen or destroyed, you will need to apply for a new one. Not only is this card a convenient way to prove your identity as well as your eligibility to work in the U.S. and return to the U.S. after foreign travel, but the law requires you to carry your green card with you at all times.
This article will explain how to fill out the relevant application form, namely Form I-90, issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and available for free on the I-90 page of its website.
How Often Your Green Card Will Expire
U.S. green cards expire every ten years. It’s best to plan ahead and apply for renewal when that expiration date on your green card is six months into the future. If that date has already passed, don’t panic – you are still a permanent resident. But apply as soon as possible.
(The only people who should panic are “conditional residents,” whose green card shows a two-year expiration date – their status really does expire at the end of the two years, unless they take steps to become conditional residents, as explained in “Marriage-Based Conditional Residents: When and How to Apply for a Permanent Green Card” and “EB-5 Investor Visa.”
Line-By-Line Instructions for Filling Out Form I-90
Now let's look at the various questions on Form I-90.
Part I. Information About You. This opening section is largely self explanatory. You will need to enter your full name, and mention any name changes since getting your green card. This is important, so that USCIS can both check your immigration records and enter the correct name on your new card. You’ll also need to attach evidence of any name changes since you received your green card, such as a court order or, if your name change was the result of marriage or divorce, the certificate or decree showing this.
Question 4 asks for your mailing address. If you don’t have a stable address or don’t trust the mail delivery there, you can have USCIS send correspondence to you in “care of” (“C/O”) someone else. That person’s name should go on the C/O line. But if you choose that option, you will need to put the address of the actual place where you live in Question 5. (If you simply put your home address in Question 4, you can leave Question 5 blank.)
For Question 12, “Class of Admission” you will need to enter the type of visa or remedy through which you got your permanent residence. It’s easiest to use the code for this; you will find yours listed under "Category" if you have a current-style green card. Some common codes include “AS6” for asylee; "IR1" for the spouse of a U.S. citizen; "DV1" for diversity visa lottery immigrants; "E11" for priority workers with extraordinary ability; “E21” for a professional holding an advanced degree or of exceptional ability; “E31” for a skilled worker;” "IR2" for the child of a U.S. citizen; "RE" (plus a number) for various types of refugees; and so on.
Question 13, "Date of Admission," asks for the date when you were approved for U.S. permanent residence or entered the U.S. on an immigrant visa. Check your green card for this date, under "Resident Since."
Part 2: Application Type. In Question 1, you need to check a box stating whether you either are a permanent resident (the regular sort), a permanent resident in commuter status (meaning you live on near the U.S. border in either Canada or Mexico, but have a special green card allowing travel back and forth) or a conditional resident (in which case you need to go to Section B, which offers a shorter list of choices, reflecting the fact that you cannot use this form to deal with the expiration of your card).
Whether you use Section A or B, pick one and only one box, to tell USCIS why you need a new card. Also note that the category you choose will determine what documents you need to include with your application, which documents are described in USCIS’s instructions to go with the form. For instance, if you were to choose Section A, Item H2, “I am a commuter who is taking up actual residence in the United States,” the instructions would tell you that you need to provide proof of your U.S. address, and explain what types of documents will work for this.
Part 3: Processing Information. This starts by asking for your parents’ first names (to help identify you correctly) and goes on to ask various questions about your receipt of U.S. residence.
Question 3 asks where you were living when you applied for your green card, either in the form of an immigrant visa (if you were coming from overseas) or adjustment of status (if you were already living in the U.S.). For example, if you were living in Qingdao, China, or instead Bellevue, Washington, while going through the green card (immigrant visa) application process, you would enter that city here.
Question 4 asks which office actually granted your visa or green card. So the person from Qingdao would most likely answer Beijing, China (where the nearest U.S. consulate is), while the person from Bellevue would most likely answer Seattle, Washington (where the USCIS office handling interviews and adjustments of status is).
Question 6, which asks whether you have ever been ordered removed from the U.S., is meant to find out whether you have been in deportation proceedings in immigration court. Green card holders can be deported from the U.S. for various reasons, such as commission of crimes, as described in “Grounds of Deportability: When Legal U.S. Residents Can Be Removed.”
People who did not apply to adjust status (from within the U.S.), but instead came to the U.S. with an immigrant visa also need to answer Question 5. Destination literally means the address where you told the officer at the U.S. airport of border you would be living. So, for instance, if you came from China, landed in San Francisco, and gave the officer an address in Vallejo, California, you would put Vallejo, California here.
If you answer yes to Question 6, or to Question 7, which seeks to find out whether you have abandoned your U.S. residence by making your home in another country, you should absolutely see an experienced immigration attorney before continuing with your I-90 application. (See “Keeping Your Green Card After You Get It” for more information on abandonment of resident.)
Part 4: Accommodations for Individuals With Disabilities or Impairments. This portion of the application ensures that people who need extra support to get through the application process can get it. You will, for instance, be called in for fingerprints, so if you have a disability or impairment that makes that difficult, and a particular accommodation can be arranged to make it easier, list it here. (You are unlikely to be called in for an interview, however; though you may want to mention any accommodations that would help with that, just in case.)
Part 5: Signature. You must sign and date your application. If you forget, USCIS will return it to you for completion.
Including the Required Evidence and Fees
Filling out the form I-90 is not the end of your task when applying for a renewal or replacement green card. You will also need to submit supporting evidence, as described in detail within the USCIS instructions.
Most applicants will need to pay a filing fee for their new card. The exception is if USCIS made a mistake – for example, it never sent you the card, or it sent you a card with a misspelled name or other wrong information. You also do not need to pay the fee if you are turning 14 and need to register but your card will not expire before you turn 16.
Most applicants will also need to pay a biometrics or fingerprinting fee, depending on the reason for applying. If you never received your card, you do not have to pay the biometrics fee.
As of early 2015, the fees were $365 for the application and $85 for biometrics, but check the Forms page of the USCIS website for the latest fees.
Form I-90 may be filed and paid for via the Internet using a system called USCIS ELIS, or mailed to USCIS. The address is on the website. Filing electronically is convenient for payment purposes, but it’s not a one-step process -- you will need to send your supporting documents by mail.