If you’re a green card holder, you know how precious that document is. You guard it with your life, since it’s proof that you’re a permanent resident in the United States. Whenever you leave the country, you must show your card to get back in. It’s also proof that you’re eligible to work here; you need it if you’re starting a new job.

So if your green card (officially, Form I-551) has been lost, destroyed or stolen, you must replace it immediately. Be sure you notify the police right away and get a police report that you can show when you file for a replacement (as evidence that you didn’t sell your card). If your name has changed (say, through marriage), you should apply for a card in your new name.

A green card is good for ten years, but if yours will expire within six months, you should file for a new one. Note that you can’t do that earlier than six months before the expiry date. 

Do This Now

Before you read any further, get out your green card and scan or make a copy of it. Can’t do that at home? Take it to the nearest copy shop. That way, if you ever lose your card, you’ll have all the numbers and other information needed to replace it. Also, you must submit a copy of your card with your application.

Here's the Process

The same form, I-90, is used to apply for a replacement card whether your card is missing, you’ve changed your name or your card is about to expire. You can get the form at a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office, by mail (call 800-375-5283) or by downloading it from the USCIS website using the latest version of Adobe Reader. The form can be submitted on paper or electronically (the acronym ELIS stands for Electronic Immigration System, an online service). 

It should take only about 15 minutes to complete Form I-90. It’s eight pages, but there aren’t that many items to fill in (several pages are intended for an interpreter or other preparer). Before you start, download the detailed instruction sheet and read it carefully.

Some of I-90’s “Hard” Questions

Part 1, Item 1: Alien Registration Number (A-Number). That’s simply the 8- or 9-digit number on your green card under “USCIS#.” 

Part 1, Item 2: USCIS ELIS Account Number (if any). If you’ve used the electronic immigration system before, you will have been issued an account number. If not, leave this space blank.

Part 1, Item 11: Class of admission. This appears on your green card under “Category.” It’s usually one or two letters followed by a number (e.g. NP5). 

Part 1, Question 12: Date of admission. Again, right there on your card, as “Resident since.” 

Part 3, Item 1: Location where you applied for an immigrant visa or adjustment of status. Give the location of the U.S. embassy, U.S. consulate, or USCIS office where you filed your original application. “Adjustment of status” means you were already in the U.S. under another immigration status when you applied for your green card. 

Part 3, Item 2: Location where your immigrant visa was issued or USCIS office where you were granted adjustment of status. Give the location of the U.S. embassy, consulate or USCIS office where you were issued an immigrant visa or granted permanent resident status. 

Part 3, Item 3a: Destination in the United States at time of admission. You only need to fill this in if you entered the U.S. with an immigrant visa. Where were you planning to go?

Part 3, Item 3a1: Port-of-Entry where admitted to the United States. Again, complete this only if you entered with an immigrant visa. Which city or town did you arrive in? Indicate the type of port-of-entry, such as an airport, bridge or tunnel. 

What if I Need Help?

If the instruction sheet doesn’t answer your questions, call USCIS customer service at 800-375-5283.

How Much Does it Cost?

The application fee is $450, which includes $85 for biometric services: fingerprinting, photographing and capturing your signature. You’ll receive notice of your appointment for that once your form has been processed. 

How Do I Submit My Application?

You can file the form online or mail it in with the payment. Consult the USCIS website for the correct mailing address (it’s currently in Phoenix). If you file electronically you may ask to be notified when the form has been accepted. Before you submit, of course, you should check the application over carefully and print (or save) a copy for your records.

What's Next?

The USCIS will send you an appointment for biometrics. You must show up at the designated office to have a photo taken, be fingerprinted and submit your signature.

How Long is the Wait for My New Card?

It can take anywhere from two to six months for the new card to arrive. Unfortunately, there’s no way to expedite it; all applications go through the same process. You can use your USCIS ELIS account to check the progress of your application.

What if I Need Proof of Status Before I Get It?

When you go for your biometrics appointment, take your passport with you and ask the official to stamp it to indicate that you have permanent resident status and have filed for a new card. That should be all you need for travel and employment purposes. 

(You may also be interested in reading How to Pass The U.S. Citizenship Test and Tax Rules For Resident And Nonresident Aliens.)

The Bottom Line

Replacing or renewing a green card is neither fast nor cheap, but it is simple. The key: Always have a copy of your current green card on hand, in case yours is lost or stolen. 

To get started, consult the USCIS website for the latest version of the form and updated information. Filling out the I-90 incorrectly may delay processing, so ask for help if you hit a snag: Call the USCIS at 800-375-5283.

If you have complicating factors such as a criminal record, however, you may need to consult an immigration lawyer. 


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