Renewing an Expiring Green Card

Make sure to keep your green card up to date and valid; or to apply for U.S. citizenship in lieu of renewing your green card.

By , J.D., University of Washington School of Law

If you are a permanent resident of the United States (not a conditional resident), your status does not expire: You are a U.S. permanent resident for life (or until and unless you do something that makes you deportable and causes your residence rights to be taken away, such as committing a crime or living for too long outside the United States and thus abandoning your residence).

However, the physical green card that proves your U.S. residence does expire, every ten years. When the expiration date on your green card is six months away, you will need to apply to renew it. If that date has already passed, apply as soon as possible. This article will discuss:

  • how to submit a green card renewal application (Form I-90), and
  • why applying for naturalized U.S. citizenship might be a better alternative.

Green Card Renewal Application Process

The application process for a new U.S. green card requires filling out and submitting USCIS Form I-90, which is available for free download from the USCIS website. Or, you can also submit this form to USCIS online—though you will need the technology to scan in your supporting documentation, such as a copy of your green card. (See USCIS's tips for filing online.)

Filling Out and Submitting Form I-90 to USCIS

Most of the questions on this form are self-explanatory. In Part 2 of Form I-90, check either 1a or 1b. Then check 2f in section A. Don't check any other boxes in Part 2.

You will need to pay a fee for this application. Check the USCIS website for the latest figure, especially since fee changes will take effect April 1, 2024.

You must pay by credit card if filing online, though if you file by mail, your options include by check, money order, or by filling out and submitting USCIS Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions.

You will be called in for a biometrics appointment at a USCIS Application Support Center (ASC) some weeks after submitting your renewal application. Your fingerprints will then be checked against an FBI database. If any crimes are found on your record that could make you deportable from the U.S., you could be placed in removal proceedings and lose your right to U.S. residence. See a lawyer if you have any concerns about the contents of your FBI record.

Form I-90 comes with a fairly complete set of instructions, and you can read more on the USCIS website.

Note that Form I-90 is also the one you would use if your green card was lost, stolen, or destroyed before the expiration date. That means many of the questions won't be relevant to you. (See How to Get a New Green Card If Yours Has Mistakes or Is Lost or Stolen for more on this topic.)

What If USCIS Doesn't Approve Your Green Card Renewal Before Its Expiration?

Backups and long waits are common when dealing with USCIS. In light of that, the Form I-90 receipt notices it sends out routinely provide an automatic extension of green card validity. As long as you file a complete I-90 application and fee, you will get this automatic extension.

The extension is normally 12 months, but because of extraordinarily long wait times of late, was extended to 24 months (see USCIS's 2022 announcement on this).

If you need to prove your permanent resident status, for example when traveling or job-hunting, you can show the receipt notices along with your expired green card.

Alternative: File for U.S. Citizenship

If you are ready and eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship, you can submit the citizenship application instead of renewing the green card. USCIS does not mind if you carry around an expired green card once you have the N-400 application for naturalization on file.

In fact, a new USCIS policy means the agency officially extends your green card eligibility for two years once it receives your naturalization application; you'll see a notation on your receipt notice (the Notice of Action Form I-797).

If you need to start a new job or travel outside the U.S., presenting this notice, along with your expired green card, is considered valid, unexpired evidence of your permanent resident status. It's also considered valid employment authorization under List A of Employment Eligibility Verification (for purposes of filling out the Form I-9 for your new employer and providing acceptable documents).

Nevertheless, you might want to renew the green card as an easier way to prove to the rest of the world that you are still a permanent resident.

For more information on the naturalization process, see the articles under How to Become a U.S. Citizen.

Why Can't Conditional Residents Use the Same Form to Extend Their Green Card?

If you are a conditional resident of the U.S., the two-year expiration date shown on your card is more than a mere date upon which the card stops being valid—it is the date on which your entire status in the United States, and right to remain here, expires, unless you take steps to do something about it.

Two categories of green card applicants start out as conditional residents: spouses of U.S. citizens whose marriages were less than two years old at the time of their approval for U.S. residence or entry to the U.S. on an immigrant visa; and investors who gained their U.S. residence in category EB-5 of the visa system.

For More Information and Help

For details on the process of applying to convert from conditional to permanent resident status, see U.S. Immigration Made Easy, by Ilona Bray (Nolo). If you still have questions, would make to make your life easier in the face of a complex law and tricky paperwork requirements, consider hiring an experienced immigration attorney.

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