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What to do if you lost your Green Card but you’re eligible to Naturalize

You’re approaching your fifth year as a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) and decide it may be time to apply for U.S. citizenship, but to your dismay, you realize your Green Card is expired, lost or stolen, or even expired and lost.  You are now wondering if you are still eligible to naturalize or if you must renew and/or replace your Green Card.  Well, the answer to that depends on who you are asking.  

Although U.S. immigration law does not explicitly require an applicant to possess a valid Green Card to apply for naturalization, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on the other hand, does.

If you ask USCIS, they will likely tell you that an unexpired green card is required before you can apply for U.S. citizenship.  Specifically, they would remind you that under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), a lawful permanent resident is required to have valid, unexpired proof of lawful permanent residence in his or her possession at all times and that applying for naturalization does not change this requirement.  Although, in practice this is rarely enforced, USCIS urges LPRs to renew their expired Green Card or replace it before applying for naturalization.  

Apply for Naturalization with an Expired or Expiring Green Card

If your Green Card is expired or expiring, you do not lose your immigration status as a permanent resident of the United States.  However, there are other practical reasons for renewing your Green Card, in addition to applying for U.S. citizenship, including:  

  • Travel – Valid, unexpired proof of permanent resident status is required to re-enter the United States after traveling abroad.  An expired Green Card is not valid for re-entry to the Untied States.  It will be left to the discretion of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer to let you enter the U.S. or not.
  • Driver’s License – Many states will not renew a driver’s license without proof that you hold permanent resident status.  
  • Employment – Employers are required to obtain proof from their employees that they are authorized to work in the United States.  As an LPR, your proof is your Green Card.  With a Green Card, an LPR can generally work anywhere.  However, without a valid, unexpired Green Card, it is difficult to prove you are authorized to work and most employers will not wait for you to renew it.  

While it is possible to apply for naturalization with an expired Green Card, it is worth considering renewing it to avoid any potential issues with USCIS.  

Lost or Stolen Green Cards 

USCIS takes bigger issue with LPRs applying for naturalization with a lost or stolen Green Card.  At your Oath Ceremony, USCIS will confiscate your Green Card and provide with a Certificate of Naturalization.  Therefore, if you do not have a Green Card because it is either lost or stolen, USCIS recommends you replace your Green Card using Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card. 

Renewing or Replacing Your Green Card

If you choose to replace or renew your Green Card ahead of applying for naturalization, it is not necessary to wait until you have the physical Green Card in hand to apply for U.S. citizenship.  Generally, within two weeks of filing Form I-90 to replace or renew your Green Card, you will receive a Form I-797C Notice of Action.  This is also known as a “receipt letter.”  Once you have this receipt letter, you may file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.  

If you find yourself in this scenario, your green card is either lost or expired, do not panic! Instead, contact Berardi Immigration Law to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today!  Our attorneys are happy to strategize the best approach to your circumstances and ensure a smooth naturalization process.