Conditional Residents With Expired Green Cards Have Trouble Getting I-551 Stamps, Due USCIS COVID-Related Office Closures

Don't leave the U.S. without an I-551 stamp if you're a conditional resident whose green card is past its expiration date.


If you're a conditional resident (whether based on marriage to a U.S. citizen or having obtained an EB-5 visa as an investor), you probably know that, two years after obtaining your initial green card, you'll need to take action to make sure it becomes permanent rather than being canceled altogether.

For marriage-based applicants, that means filing Form I-751 with U.S. Citizenship and Immgration Services (USCIS) . For EB-5 investors, that means filing USCIS Form I-829. The purpose in both cases is to give USCIS a second look at whether you truly qualify for U.S. permanent residence.

Some weeks after filing, USCIS sends you a receipt notice on Form I-797. It extends your residency for a period (normally 18 months) designated by USCIS.

The notice becomes your proof of your legal status after the expiration date shown on your green card passes, in combination with your expired green card (which has your photo on it, important for identification purposes).

Under normal circumstances, this works reasonably well. Either USCIS makes a decision within the 18 months or, if it's late, the person can call the USCIS Contact Center to make an appointment to go to a USCIS office and get what's called an I-551 stamp in his or her passport. This serves as evidence of status and lasts for a year.

We are not living in normal circumstances, however. Since the onset of the COVID-19 or coronavirus pandemic, USCIS offices have closed to all but emergency visits. Although USCIS is doing behind-the-scenes processing, it's delayed in this area as well, and a decision within 18 months cannot be counted upon.

If you have an urgent need for this stamp, be ready to convince the USCIS Contact Center officer that your case is an emergency. You'd have an especially good argument if you need to leave the U.S. for urgent reasons. If you fail to get the I-551 stamp before leaving, you might not be let back in.

Also consider filing for U.S. citizenship as soon as you are eligible.

Effective Date: May 11, 2020