A green card, or Form I-551, is the most important status an immigrant achieves before he or she eventually applies for United States citizenship. This means that, until you qualify for naturalization, your green card is an important document. What happens if it expires or is about to expire and you have to travel? We provide details on the I-551 temporary evidence stamp below.
Form I-551 is the official name for the “green card” in the government’s immigration and citizenship system. The validity of Form I-551 is 10 years. It must be renewed if one chooses to remain a permanent resident or obtains U.S citizenship. Certain problems involving a lost, stolen, or expiring green card can be avoided with a temporary evidence stamp.
Who is Issued an I-551 Temporary Evidence Stamp?
An immigrant must maintain their permanent resident status by having a valid green card (Form I-551) at all times. There may be circumstances where a renewal is in order. One is simply because the green card expires after a 10-year period. The need for a temporary evidence stamp on Form I-551 (for your green card) comes into play when you consider the generally lengthy times for an I-90 form filing. Specifically, the I-551 stamp is issued to two different categories of people as follows:
Permanent Residents Whose Green Card Renewal Application Is Pending
The first category of people is permanent residents whose I-90 forms are pending with the USCIS. The I-90 Form, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card, is used to renew a green card when the existing one is set to expire. This process can take up to 6 months or more. As a result, you may see yourself in a situation where you need proof of your permanent residence status while your actual green card has expired. The I-551 stamp can be used as temporary evidence of a person’s status as a lawful permanent resident. For example, if you are in an emergency situation that requires international travel or if you are in need of certain benefits that require proof of legal status, the I-551 stamp can help. This is important if the new green card is not issued before the expiration date of the existing card.
It is important to note that using the temporary evidence stamp should be a last resort if possible. You should always apply to renew your green card well before the expiration date to best avoid being caught with an expired one. Of course, the USCIS often takes much longer to process documents than expected, so it can be difficult to account for it.
Newly Arrived Immigrants From a Foreign Country
Immigrants arriving in the United States for the first time are also issued a temporary evidence stamp, I-551 form, otherwise known as a machine-readable immigrant visa (MRIV). This is issued by the U.S. Custom and Border Protection (CBP) and will be placed on your passport as an indication that you were admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident. It also contains your date of entry to the United States.
The MRIV is usually issued with the following text on it: “UPON ENDORSEMENT SERVES AS TEMPORARY I-551 EVIDENCING PERMANENT RESIDENCE FOR 1 YEAR.” The text is to demonstrate that you have permanent resident status valid for one year from the date you were admitted. Even if the statement “FOR 1 YEAR” does not appear on your own I-551, that doesn’t change the fact that you have up to a one-year validity period.
NOTE: The one-year validity period on your I-551 doesn’t mean you only have one year to stay in the United States. What it means is that, even if it takes up to a year for the USCIS to issue you a green card, the I-551 temporary evidence stamp has you covered as legal proof for the whole period while the green card is being generated. In most cases, the USCIS issues a green card to a newly arrived immigrant within 120 days after entry. And once you have your green card, you can live and work in the United States for as long as you want as long as you don’t violate your resident status and face deportation.
The idea behind the I-551 stamp is to help you demonstrate your eligibility for various benefits permitted within the context of your permanent resident status. For instance, if you are looking to gain employment, your MRIV (I-551 stamp) can be tendered as acceptable List A document, and your employer won’t have to worry about your eligibility to work in the U.S. List A documents are documents that establish both your identity and employment authorization.
When Do You Need It?
A temporary evidence stamp may be needed when a green card is scheduled to expire. The temporary evidence stamp also helps in other situations. You can apply for it if your card is lost, stolen, or damaged. Generally speaking, a green card is issued with a validity of 10 years. While your non-conditional permanent resident status does not expire, it is still important to have a valid unexpired green card.
The reason it is important is that you may need to travel abroad for less than a year and may want to re-enter the country while your card expired in the interim. Your unexpired card serves as proof of a number of important things. These include your status and authorization to work in the United States. It also gives you permission to return to the U.S. following a trip abroad of less than one year.
You need a valid green card or confirmed I-551 temporary evidence status for work authorization and driving licenses as well.
Obtaining the I-551 Temporary Evidence Stamp
If you find yourself with a pending I-90 and need proof of your status, then the local USCIS office responsible for your jurisdiction can issue a temporary I-551 stamp in your passport. Stamps are issued based on the applicant’s unique situation. Generally, though, USCIS-issued I-551 temporary evidence stamps are issued for a period of 6 to 12 months.
You may kick-start this process by obtaining an InfoPass appointment from the USCIS website. If you are short on time and circumstances require a quicker resolution, then the USCIS also caters to walk-in appointments. However, this service varies in terms of and procedures from office to office. USCIS will normally issue the I-551 stamp with a validity period of 6 to 12 months. If your passport expires prior to that time, then the stamp will likely reflect the expiration date of the passport itself.
You will also need to have completed your biometrics. This should not be a problem in cases where an I-90 has been pending for a while. This is so because, with an I-90 filing, you would need your biometrics to be completed within the next 30 days. USCIS has the right to further limit the validity of the stamp to a 30 to 60 day period if your biometrics have not yet been captured for the pending I-90.
How Long Is an I-551 Stamp Valid?
A temporary evidence stamp (I-551) is typically valid for six months to a year. However, each applicant’s situation will determine the validity period. For example, your passport’s expiration date may play a role in your I-551 validity length. If your passport is due to expire sooner, say in the next three months, then the temporary evidence stamp will most likely be issued with a three-month validity period.
Take the following documents with you to your appointment with USCIS when you seek an I-551 stamp:
- Valid passport
- InfoPass appointment notice (if applicable)
- Form I-90 receipt notice
- Proof of residence within the jurisdiction of the USCIS office
- Copy of expired/lost green card, if available
- Copy of date-stamped ASC appointment notice showing biometrics capture (if applicable)
Circumstances differ from person to person. You may need a temporary stamp because you need to travel abroad soon or for something like an emergency or a medical procedure. Bring evidence for all such situations such as a booked flight, a death certificate, a company letter if emergency travel is work-related, or a medical letter from your doctor or information on a scheduled procedure.
Temporary Evidence Stamp Cost
While filing an I-90 has a cost associated with it ($455 with a possible $85 biometrics fee), the USCIS I-551 temporary evidence issued-stamp in your passport does not have a fee. This is for both walk-in and appointment services.
I-551 Temporary Evidence Stamp: Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between green card renewal and replacement?
To start with, there is a difference between green card renewal and replacement even though they both require the same I-90 form.
Green Card Renewal
10-Year Green Card: Green card renewal is needed when a permanent card issued with a 10-year validity period has expired or is going to expire within the next six months. If your green card was issued without an expiration date on it, that means you have an old version. Regardless of how long you have been using it, this type of green card is now outdated and may no longer be valid. Therefore, you would need to apply to renew it.
Conditional Resident Status: Another reason for a green card renewal application is if you were issued a conditional permanent resident card, which valid for only two years. You will need to apply for a renewal before the card expires. The petition for renewal must be filed 90 days before the expiration of the conditional green card. If your renewal petition is approved, the conditions on your permanent residency will be removed, and you will be issued a new green card with a 10-year validity period.
However, unlike other green card renewal applications, you cannot use the I-90 form as the petition to remove the conditions on a green card with a two-year validity period. There are two different application forms for this purpose, depending on your specific status:
- If your conditional resident status was for a marriage-based green card, you will need to file the I-751 form, otherwise known as the Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence.
- If your resident conditional status was based on an entrepreneur or investor green card, then you will need to file an I-829 form, which is also known as the Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions on Permanent Resident Status.
Failure to remove the conditions on your green card before it expires can lead to a loss of your permanent resident status, regardless of whether it is a marriage-based or investor/entrepreneur-based green card.
Green Card Replacement
You will need to apply to replace your green card if you need to change any information on your existing green card or if the card has been damaged, stolen, or lost.
Green card replacement is also required if your permanent resident status was issued when you were younger than 14 years old. Now that you are older than 14, your existing green card will need to be replaced.
What are the best ways to obtain an I-551 stamp?
There are several ways through which a foreign national can come to the United States, obtain an I-551 stamp, and become a permanent resident. You can achieve this by applying for an immigrant visa and becoming eligible for an I-551 the moment you are admitted to the United States.
The other route is through a nonimmigrant visa that has the dual intent option (e.g. H-1B visa to green card). Once you have a dual intent nonimmigrant status, you can apply to adjust your status to an immigrant visa, which will lead to a permanent residency in the U.S.
Regardless of the route you take, once you are successful with the application, you will receive an I-551 stamp on your foreign passport as an indication of your lawful permanent resident status.
How Our Immigration Attorneys Can Help
Immigration law can be complicated and the consequences of mistakes can be devastating. Finding yourself with an expired green card could be extremely problematic for your case if you do not obtain an I-551 temporary evidence stamp. The best way to handle this is to avoid the situation altogether and renew your green card on time. However, if you do find yourself in need of a temporary evidence stamp, hiring an immigration attorney can go a long way in helping you do things the right way.
For a private discussion of your specific case, schedule a consultation with our team of professional immigration attorneys. We’ll walk you through what you need to know in order to apply for a temporary evidence stamp in a timely manner.