Ask an Immigration Lawyer: What Happens If Your Green Card Expires After Applying For Citizenship?

Art by Alan López for Remezcla

It’s a frightening time for immigrants. Although previous presidents have deported immigrants in large numbers, many – especially those without criminal records – felt a relative sense of normalcy. But with an administration that is outwardly hostile toward immigrant populations, any comfort previously felt is gone. As Donald Trump attempts to tighten immigration laws and cut down on even legal forms of migration into the United States, it can be difficult to keep up with the changing landscape.

That’s why we have launched the Ask an Immigration Lawyer column. Twice a month, Angela Fernandez – a Columbia University School of Law graduate with 20 years of experience and the executive director of Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights – answers your questions about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and more. This column is not meant to be construed as legal advice. You should not act upon any information provided without seeking the advice of an attorney licensed to practice law in your state. 

Submit a question here and check out previous columns here.

Dear Angela: My mom is fortunate to have her permanent resident status and has had it for a number of years. In mid-2017, she decided to apply for citizenship. It has now been nearly nine months, and she has not received any information about taking her citizenship test, and her green card expired at the end of March 2018. What does this expiration mean for her status considering her citizenship application is under review? Should she renew her green card ASAP?

Concerned Daughter of an Immigrant

Dear Concerned Daughter of an Immigrant: Your mother’s experience is very common. US Citizenship applications are being delayed by up to 18 months when previously it would’ve taken approximately six months to complete the naturalization/citizenship process. If she is working with an attorney, she should ask her attorney to make an inquiry to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regarding the status of her application. She may also want to consider calling USCIS directly at 1-800-375-5283. USCIS has recently started a pilot program where one can check on the processing times of their applications/petitions here.

With regard to the expiration of her legal permanent residency card (green card, as it is known informally), she should submit an I-90 (Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card) in order to renew her card, as her citizenship process may be further delayed.

In terms of her legal permanent residency status itself, even if her card is expired, she continues to be a legal permanent resident (whether her card is expired or not). Another way to understand it is when a US citizen’s passport expires; their status as a US citizen does not expire, only their passport has. So your mother continues to be a legal permanent resident, even when her card expires. But I strongly recommend that she submit the I-90 application as soon as possible, so that she may receive a new card while she awaits the completion of her citizenship process.

Please note that if one has had any interaction with the criminal justice system, no matter how minimal, one must speak to an immigration attorney about it before moving forward with any kind of immigration application or petition.

If you have additional questions about immigration law, please email or visit 5030 Broadway, Suite 639 (Between 213th and 214th Streets), New York, New York 10034 for free consultation and/or free legal assistance.

Angela Fernandez is Executive Director and Supervising Attorney of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights (NMCIR). NMCIR is a 501-c-3, non-profit, founded in 1982 with the goal of educating, defending and advocating for immigrant rights. NMCIR is recognized by the US Department of Justice to provide immigration legal services.