Should We Change?

Q: “I READ a recent column you printed about an exemption period for green cards issued between 1977 and 1989. I came to the U.S. in 1963. I was sponsored by an American company as I acted as a troubleshooter for the U.S. military. I had my green card approved by the embassy in Dublin.

“In November of 1964 I brought my wife and family of four to San Francisco, all with green cards issued through the embassy, and all legal requirements of the time fulfilled. But for some reason, we never obtained U.S. citizenship. Really, it was because I was too busy, and I set a bad example.

“We all were issued new green cards in 1996 and 2006. But do you know if we had to actually do this? We were admitted as permanent residents. We completed all medical exams, and there was no existence of contagious diseases. Monetary status had to be attested to by me prior to my family’s arrival. Your assistance would be greatly appreciated.”

A:  IT’S quite amazing the number of questions this column continues to receive about so-called “old” green cards issued during the late 1970s-early ‘80s. How come all you folks didn’t apply for U.S. citizenship long ago, thus negating the need for any kind of green card at all?

This week’s questioner asks if he and his family needed to replace their 1960s green cards with the newer models, even though they passed all the required steps to becoming legal residents when they were going through the process. The answer is absolutely yes – though let it be said that, even if they didn’t, their status as legal permanent residents would not be impacted. 

The green card serves as tangible proof of that status, much as a passport proves a holder’s citizenship. If the passport goes out of date, it doesn’t mean that the person’s citizenship expires as well.

Problems, however, would come into play in a number of situations for people using older model green cards. Chief among them is travel abroad. 

The old green card would not be valid as a document allowing for re-admission to the U.S., given its lack of security features. And the 1960-era green card would also not suffice as proper proof of legal status for any number of government benefits, for instance unemployment.

Present-day green cards contain photos, fingerprints and other security enhancements to make them tamper proof, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is on a constant mission to keep the cards as immune as possible from fraud – thus necessitating the requirement for permanent residents to update their cards every 10 years.

Presumably, this week’s questioner may still enjoy trips back and forth to Ireland or other foreign locales, and undoubtedly some if not all of his immediate family members do. Therefore, the green card updates they’ve completed have been both wise and necessary -- but going through the naturalization process really isn’t difficult at all, and will erase all future need to update in the future.

The time will eventually come, as a USCIS spokesperson told this column, for the late 1970s-early ‘80s permanent residents to replace their green cards with the new models. As it stands they are encouraged to immediately do so, and no doubt the vast majority are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. 

Visit for all the relevant information if you and your family decide to become U.S. citizens.