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A green card, or Form I-551, is an immigrant’s most critical status before they eventually apply for United States citizenship. What happens if it expires or is about to expire and you need to prove your status? You can avoid specific problems involving a lost, stolen, or expiring green card with a temporary evidence stamp. The validity of Form I-551 is ten years; however, some green cards are valid for 2 years and must be renewed if one chooses to remain a permanent resident or obtains U.S citizenship. Learn everything about how the I-551 temporary evidence stamp can hold you over while you wait for your green card.
Form I-551 is essentially your proof that you have secured a U.S. permanent status. The number on Form I-551 is the identification number for your permanent resident card. This card, along with the identification number of the form, acts as proof that you have obtained a green card and are allowed to live and work in the U.S. on a permanent basis. Additionally, the card allows you to travel to many countries without a visa.
Immigrants must maintain their permanent resident status by having a valid green card (Form I-551). However, there may be circumstances where a renewal is in order. One reason is simply that the green card expires after ten years. The need for a temporary evidence stamp on Form I-551 (for your green card) comes into play when considering the lengthy filing times for an I-90 form. Specifically, USCIS issues the I-551 stamp to two different categories of people as follows:
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 expires. This process can take up to 6 months or more. As a result, you might be in a situation where your green card is expired but you need to prove permanent residency status. You can use the I-551 stamp while waiting for a green card as temporary evidence of lawful permanent resident status. For example, in an emergency, an I-551 stamp can prove legal status. This is important if USCIS doesn’t issue the new green card before the expiration date of the existing card.
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It is important to note that using the I-551 stamp should be a last resort if possible. You should always apply to renew your green card well before the expiration date. Of course, USCIS often takes much longer to process than expected, so it can be challenging.
You’ll notice in the Green Card sample above that in the top left-hand corner, it says Form I-551. This designation indicates your status as a permanent resident in the U.S. and allows you to work and travel.
Immigrants arriving in the United States for the first time are also issued a temporary evidence stamp, the I-551 form, otherwise known as a machine-readable immigrant visa (MRIV). U.S. Custom and Border Protection (CBP) issues this and will place it on your passport. It also contains your date of entry to the United States.
The MRIV comes with the following text: “UPON ENDORSEMENT SERVES AS TEMPORARY I-551 EVIDENCING PERMANENT RESIDENCE FOR 1 YEAR.” The text demonstrates 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 I-551, you still have one-year validity.
NOTE: The one-year validity period on your I-551 doesn’t mean you only have one year to stay in the United States. It means that even if it takes up to a year for the USCIS to issue you a green card, the I-551 temporary evidence stamp is legal proof until USCIS generates the new green card. 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.
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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 an 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.
You may need a temporary evidence stamp when your green card expires. The temporary evidence stamp also helps in other situations. For example, you can apply for it if you lose or damage your card. Generally speaking, a green card comes with a validity of 10 years. While your non-conditional permanent resident status does not expire, having a valid, unexpired green card is still essential.
It is essential because you may need to travel abroad for less than a year and may want to re-enter the country while your card expires in the interim. In addition, your unexpired card serves as proof of several vital things. These include your status and authorization to work in the United States. It also permits you to return to the U.S. following a trip abroad of less than one year.
You also need a valid green card or confirmed I-551 temporary evidence status for work authorization and driving licenses.
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 on your passport. USCIS issues stamps based on the applicant’s unique situation. Generally, though, USCIS issues I-551 temporary evidence stamps for six to 12 months. You can request an appointment to get your I-551 stamp in your passport by calling USCIS at 1-800-375-5283.
If you are short on time and circumstances require a quicker resolution, the USCIS caters to walk-in appointments. However, this service varies in terms of procedures from office to office. USCIS will typically issue the I-551 stamp with 6 to 12 months of validity. If your passport expires before that time, the stamp will likely reflect the passport’s expiration date.
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 you haven’t done your biometrics for the pending I-90.
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 affect your I-551 validity length. If your passport is due to expire sooner, USCIS will likely issue the temporary evidence stamp with a shorter validity period.
Take the following documents with you to your appointment with USCIS when you seek an I-551 stamp:
Circumstances differ from person to person. You may need a temporary stamp because you must travel abroad soon or for 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.
Below you will find answers to the most commonly asked questions about I-551:
What is the Temporary Evidence Stamp Fee?
The USCIS I-551, temporary evidence issued-stamp in your passport, does not have a fee. Again, this is for both walk-in and appointment services.
Will my employer accept Form I-551 as a valid I-9 document?
They should as long as it is valid. The MRIV and the stamp together are List A documents to prove your identity and work authorization. Learn more about Form I-9 acceptable documents.
Can I Travel with I-551 Stamp?
Yes, you can travel with your I-551 stamp on your passport. The stamp serves as a temporary verification of your U.S. permanent resident status. However, you should know that the stamp has an expiration date. If your stamp expires and you go abroad, you may have difficulties re-entering the U.S. For this reason, you should pay close attention to when your stamp will be out of date before you make any travel plans.
Where is the stamp placed?
USCIS places the stamp in your passport.
What happens when the stamp expires?
At that point, you need to be able to provide the official green card. You should expect to receive the 10-year permanent resident card within 45 days after arriving in the U.S. and paying the USCIS immigrant fee. Contact USCIS if you have not received it within this window at 1-800-375-5283.
What is an ADIT stamp (Alien Documentation, Identification, and Telecommunication systems)?
This is the same as the I-551 stamp while waiting for a green card. The stamp indicates your status as a lawful permanent resident, your date of admission, and the date of expiration of your temporary I-551 stamp. This, along with the MRIV, proves your status for no more than one year from your date of entry into the United States. Essentially, these two symbols allow you to live in the U.S. as if you had an official green card for the duration they are valid (1 year).
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Who is eligible for a permanent I-551?
Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are eligible as are refugees, asylum seekers, individuals who meet the employment-based category criteria and Diversity Visa lottery winners. If you are an asylum seeker, know there is no hard and dry limit on the number of green cards issued annually in this category. For immigration purposes, foreign nationals who marry a U.S. citizen are immediate relatives. If you marry a U.S. citizen, they can file for an I-551 on your behalf.
Why is someone granted a temporary I-551?
USCIS would grant someone temporary status if they are a lawful permanent resident or green card holder awaiting their renewal; those with a pending I-90, and those waiting for an I-751 (permanent resident status via marriage).
How much does Form I-551 permanent resident card cost?
There is no fee explicitly for a temporary I-551. However, if you’ve lost your green card, you will need to file a Form I-90, and the cost is $455 with a possible $85 biometrics fee.
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
You need a green card renewal when a 10-year permanent card expires or will expire within the next six months. If you have a green card without an expiration date, you have an old version. Regardless of how long you have been using it, this type of green card may no longer be valid. Therefore, you would need to apply to renew it.
Conditional Resident Status
A conditional permanent resident card is another reason for a green card renewal application. You will need to apply for a renewal before the card expires. You must file the petition for renewal 90 days before the expiration of the conditional green card. If USCIS approves your renewal petition, you won’t have any more conditions on your permanent residency. You will get 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:
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 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 when you enter the United States.
The other route is through a nonimmigrant visa with the dual intent option (e.g., H-1B visa to a 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 indicating your lawful permanent resident status.
Immigration law is complicated, and the consequences of mistakes can be devastating. For example, an expired green card is problematic if you don’t 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 need a temporary evidence stamp, hiring an immigration attorney can go a long way in helping.
Schedule a consultation with VisaNation Law Group’s immigration attorneys for a private discussion of your specific case. They’ll walk you through what you need to know to apply for a temporary evidence stamp on time.