How Long Does a Green Card Last?


Are you worried about your immigration status now that your green card has expired? Do you fear that you are now at risk of being deported? You’re not alone. With 12.6 million green card holders across the United States, it’s safe to say that quite a few immigrants accidentally let their card expire each year.

To avoid this common mistake, it’s important to understand how long a standard green card lasts, and the steps you must take to renew it before it expires. That said, extremely long wait times with USCIS means even an early application for renewal could take longer than expected, leading to an expired green card — so it helps to understand what happens when your green card expires.

What is a Green Card?

A green card, also known as the Lawful Permanent Resident Card, gives you the right to permanently live and work in the United States. After you have obtained a green card, you are now recognized by U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to be a lawful, permanent resident of the United States.

Additionally, your green card allows you to apply for social security, return to the United States from foreign countries, and obtain a driver’s license. So, it’s not just a symbol of your legal immigration status — it’s a valuable form if identification that you’ll need to carry with you at all times.

How Long is My Green Card Valid?

Once issued, a green card is valid for 10 years. If you obtained a green card after the 1980’s, the expiration date will be listed directly on the card. USCIS recommends periodically checking your green card’s expiration date so you have adequate notice when it’s close to expiring.

Some green cards given out in the 1970’s – 1980’s do not list an expiration date and do not need to be renewed. However, USCIS still recommends renewing your green card so you can update your picture. 

What Happens if My Green Card is Expired?

Up until now, your green card has been a source of immigration security, allowing you to comfortably reside in the United States as a Lawful Permanent Resident. It serves as a fast and easy way to verify your immigration status to employers and government officials.

Fortunately, an expired green card will not cause your status as a legal resident to change, nor will it have an effect on your current employment or driving abilities. In short, an expired green card doesn’t immediately affect your immigration status.

However, federal law does require you to renew your green card, and there can be negative repercussions for letting your green card expire.

While you won’t be at risk of losing your legal immigration status and being deported, an expired green card makes it harder to prove your immigration status to employers, law enforcement, and border officials when traveling. You’ll have to perform some extra steps to verify your identity and immigration status, and you may run into some difficulties in the following areas: 

  • Traveling in and out of the country
  • Obtaining new employment
  • Applying for citizenship

Also, keep in mind that your Lawful Permanent Resident status hinges on your obeying US laws. One of those laws is that Lawful Permanent Residents must carry a valid green card at all times and furnish it to authorities upon request. So, if you have an expired green card, you’re technically in violation of the law.

Will an Expired Green Card Affect My Travel Plans?

When you travel internationally, it’s not easy re-entering the United States with an expired green card. An expired green card is not considered a valid form of identification, and immigration officials may not allow you back into the country if you don’t have another valid form of identification. Failure to carry a valid green card when re-entering the country can also result in fines and significant delays at border checkpoints.

With that understanding, it’s a good idea to avoid traveling internationally with an expired green card. If your green card is expired or close to expiring, postpone your travel plans until you’re able to renew your card or obtain a temporary green card while your application is being processed.

Will I Lose My Job if My Green Card Expires?

You are not at risk of losing your job if your green card expires, but you will not be able to start a new job. That may not sound like a big deal if you have a secure career, but remember that layoffs can happen to anyone and you could quickly find yourself in the job market without the means to obtain new employment.

Why do you need a green card to get a job? When starting a new job, the employer must submit Form I-9 to verify your identity and your authorization to work in the United States. Without a valid green card, you can’t complete and submit this form.

Can I Apply for Citizenship with an Expired Green Card?

Having an expired green card will not disqualify you from applying for citizenship. However, the process will definitely take longer. You’ll have to renew your green card before finalizing your citizenship application, which can add months to over a year to your citizenship application process.

How to Apply for Citizenship

USCIS provides an easy-to-follow 10 step process on their website. We recommend consulting with an immigration attorney before getting started, as an experienced attorney can significantly improve your chances of approval and drastically reduce processing time.

If you need to renew your green card before your citizenship application is finalized, you will have to pay the green card renewal fee in addition to any fees that are involved in the citizenship application process. Given the standard processing times, we recommend planning ahead and applying for citizenship no later than 6 months before your green card expires.

How to Renew a Green Card

Renewing a green card is a fairly simple process. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Fill out Form I-90 (online or by mailing a hard copy)
  2. Pay the renewal fee of $540
  3. Wait 5-6 months for your green card to arrive in the mail

You’re allowed to start the renewal process up to 12 months before your card expires. Given the expected processing time of 6 months, it’s a smart idea to file for renewal as early as possible in case the processing takes longer than usual. We recommend filing for renewal at least 8 months in advance to avoid any trouble.

Call our Immigration team at (480) 626-2388 to discuss your case today.

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