Can my Uncle travel on his old green card?

Posted by Debbie McGoldrick at 5/6/2009 10:28 AM EDT

Question:

Old Green Card

“MY uncle is originally from Ireland. He received a green card back in 1982 that has no expiration date on it, and it doesn’t look very good. As a regular reader of your column, I remember at one point you mentioning that these kinds of ‘old’ green cards would have to be replaced at some stage. He is planning to go away later this year, and I told him he’d have to get a new green card as he wouldn’t be able to travel on the one he has. Is this true? Or is the green card he has still good for travel?”

Answer:

You are correct in that we’ve discussed the issue of replacing green cards like your uncle’s that have no expiration date. Cards that were issued between the years 1977 and 1989 do not have expiration dates, whereas those issued since must be replaced every 10 years for security reasons.

When first reading your question I was inclined to agree that your uncle would immediately have to obtain a new green card, as the ones issued without 10-year expiration dates – and there were more than 700,000 between ’77 and ’89 – would now be null and void, given the ultra-security conscious, post-9/11 world we now live in.

In an August 2007 column we reported on a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) proposed rule that would require all holders of green cards without expiration dates to update their cards with new versions.

“To ensure that the permanent resident cards in circulation effectively serve their purpose as proof of identity and work-authorized status, USCIS now proposes to require lawful permanent residents to replace cards without an expiration date and terminate the validity of these cards,” the rule said.

The public would be given 120 days from the rule’s August 22, 2007 publication date to comment on the changes, either pro or con. USCIS said that it would publish its final ruling on the matter at some point after that.

Well, it’s now May of 2009, almost two years later, and guess what? USCIS still hasn’t made that final rule public, a fact we confirmed with a spokeswoman for the agency in Washington, D.C., who also said she was unaware as to when it will be issued.

Therefore, those “old” green cards like your uncle’s are still valid as proof of the holder’s right to U.S. permanent residency.

Having said that, it would be a great idea if your uncle updated his card with the current version, for any number of reasons. Though the card he has is still technically valid, it will very likely cause delay when he attempts to re-enter the U.S. given that its features are so outdated.

Modern day green cards include many enhanced security provisions and are as tamper-proof as possible. Obviously, this wouldn’t be the case with the card that your uncle now owns, and he could be subject to questioning as to why he hasn’t bothered to apply for the new one -– again, even though he’s not at this point in time legally obligated to do so.

Replacing the card with a new one can be done easily enough, initially through the USCIS website at www.uscis.gov. The necessary form for those doing so is the I-90, which can be filed online. However, the filer should expect to be called to a local USCIS support office for fingerprinting and final processing.

Your uncle is certainly eligible for U.S. citizenship at this stage, given how long he’s lived here. Has he considered taking that very wise step? He won’t have to worry about expiring green cards if he does so, and the benefits of citizenship are plenty, as we’ve outlined here so many times in the past.

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