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How Naturalization and Renewing Your Green Card (Don’t Often) Work Together

Sometimes people don’t think about filing for Naturalization until their green card is about to expire. They look at the cost of applying for a Naturalization (the N-400 is $680.00) and then they look at the cost of applying for a green card renewal (the I-90 is $365.00) and decide it may be more cost-effective to just do Naturalization. Which may be true. But not always – it depends on the timing.

For several years, USCIS has taken the position that if you file an N-400 within six months of your green card expiring, you must also file the I-90 to replace/renew your green card. This is obnoxious because, in many jurisdictions, Naturalization cases are moving quickly. From the time of filing to the time of an interview in Atlanta, for example, it’s taking less than five months.

This means if you file your N-400 five months before your green card expires, you could be a US Citizen before your original card expires. And yet, USCIS has made you spend $365.00 on a green card renewal that will be denied now – denied because you’re a US Citizen who doesn’t need a green card!

A new policy has recently come out from USCIS that has many of us shaking our heads in disbelief. In this scenario, the individual has applied for Naturalization, has an expired (or soon to be expiring) green card, and would like to travel outside of the United States. In order to return to the US, they need proof that they are still a lawful permanent resident, though the green card has expired.

In the past, the procedure has been to take the N-400 receipt notice, the passport, and proof of travel to an InfoPass appointment and to ask for an I-551 stamp in their passport. The I-551 stamp is a temporary extension of the green card – it says that the person is a lawful permanent resident and has an expiration date, just like a green card. The expiration date, though, is short – as short as 30 days, maybe up to a year depending on individual circumstances.

Now, USCIS is saying that even with an N-400 pending that everyone who requests an I-551 stamp has to have an I-90 pending, too. Even if you’ve already had an interview on your N-400 application and just need a final decision or are waiting for the oath ceremony to be scheduled – if your green card has expired and you need to travel outside of the US you have to file an I-90 and spend $365.00 in order to obtain that stamp that will allow you to re-enter the United States. That makes no sense to me.

The moral of the story is to file for Naturalization long before your green card expires, I suppose. Who would know about these policies, though? You won’t find this information on the USCIS website. This is just another example of how the laws of immigration may not change, but the policies – the way that the laws are implemented and how the day to day practice of immigration benefits are allocated – change daily and keep us all on our toes.

– Tracie

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