citizenship with an expired green card

Can I Apply For Citizenship With An Expired Green Card?

Wondering if you can apply for citizenship with an expired green card? Well, the answer isn’t so simple. Applying for citizenship with an expired green card means that you currently have no valid proof of legal status. This is not good.

But, the cost to renew your green card so you can apply for U.S. citizenship can be too much for many applicants. It currently costs $540.00 to renew your green card which is why many people don’t bother to when they qualify for naturalization. Then you have to think about the  fee to submit the naturalization form N-400 which is $725.00.

You can see why many people choose not to renew an expired green card in order to apply for U.S. citizenship. They would much rather not apply for naturalization at all if it means avoiding the total cost of $1,265.00.

I personally waited an extra year after I qualified to naturalize to delay paying this fee. Legal immigration can be really expensive but I really wanted to become a U.S. citizen which is why I eventually applied.

So, will you be forced to renew your green card before you can apply for U.S. citizenship? NO! But, there’s a catch and we’ll discuss this later.

Case Example:

William has been a lawful permanent resident for almost 6 years and is currently married to a U.S. citizen. His 10 year green card expired 6 months ago and although his permanent resident status is still valid he has no valid document that can be used as proof of his legal status in the United States.

He wants to avoid paying extra fees to renew his expired green card so he decides to apply for U.S. citizenship with his expired green card. After submitting the N-400 petition, he gets the first notice of action (I-797) within 2 weeks and is now waiting for his biometrics appointment.

Apply For Citizenship With An Expired Green Card

Just because your green card has expired, doesn’t mean that you’re no  longer a permanent resident. Good news is that you will continue to be a lawful permanent resident even if your green card expired.expired green card

You just won’t have any proof of your legal status in the United States after the expiration date.

USCIS doesn’t specifically say that you have to have a valid green card before applying for U.S. citizenship. They have changed their policy many times in the past but I know that they want to encourage everyone who is eligible to apply for naturalization with form N-400.

But, USCIS doesn’t allow you to file for citizenship if your green card is lost or stolen. You must bring the green card with you to the oath ceremony whether it has expired or not because they will confiscate it when they give you the nationalization certificate.

The reason they do this is for security purposes as well as to reduce immigration fraud using false documents.

Although USCIS prefers that you apply for citizenship with a valid unexpired green card, they won’t deny your N-400 application if it has expired. As long as you have the physical card with you, you shouldn’t have a problem submitting the citizenship application.

Renewing Your Green Card To Apply For Citizenship

Okay, now that we know it’s possible to apply for citizenship with an expired green card, should you renew it?

The answer is obviously up to you. I will say that if it’s not required, I personally wouldn’t pay the extra fees just so I could have a valid green card that will be taken away at the oath ceremony.

The only reason to review your green card would be if you are going to delay your citizenship application by at least a year. This way, you will have a valid green card long enough for the cost to make sense.

To renew your green card, you simply complete form I-90. Thankfully, USCIS has made it really easy by allowing you to fill out this form on their website. You also don’t have to wait until you have the new green card in your hands before applying for U.S. citizenship. As long as you have the notice of action (form I-797) proving that you submitted I-90, USCIS will accept your naturalization application.

Naturalization With A Conditional Green Card

It’s a very different situation if you adjusted status to receive a green card because you married a U.S. citizen. In this case, the initial green card you received is conditional which means that it is only good for 2 years.

You will then be required to remove this 2 year condition before you are eligible to apply for citizenship. To do this, you need to submit form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions with your spouse. In the event of a divorce or annulment, you will need to submit I-751 with a hardship waiver to bypass the requirement for your U.S. spouse to jointly petition with you.

If you are still married to your American spouse, then you can generally apply for U.S. citizenship in 3 years. This means that even if the removal of conditions application is still pending, you can go on to submit form N-400 to become a U.S. citizen.

Case Example:

Laura is a conditional permanent resident and has been married for less than 3 years to her U.S. citizen husband. She wants to apply for citizenship as soon as she is eligible which will be her 3rd year anniversary of being a permanent resident.

But she will be required to apply to remove the conditions on her 2 year green card before becoming eligible to naturalize to become a U.S. citizen. Laura will not be able to avoid paying the I-751 fees as well as the N-400 fees when she does apply for citizenship.

USCIS has two different waiting periods depending on whether you are still married to your U.S. citizen spouse or not. If you are (like Laura) then you only have to be a lawful permanent resident for 3 years before becoming eligible to naturalize.

However, if you are now divorced or had your marriage annulled, you will need to wait 5 years before applying for citizenship. The longer waiting period is for those who will be self-petitioning for their 10 year green card.

Learn more about applying for a green card when your marriage ends or is annulled.

Benefits Of Renewing Your Green Card

Okay, so besides having proof of legal U.S. status, why should you renew your expired green card? If you ask USCIS, they will likely say that a valid unexpired green card is required to apply for citizenship.

This isn’t necessarily the case based on cases I’ve seen but it’s a good idea to renew your green card if you can afford it.

You can renew or apply for a driver’s license.

To get a driver’s license in the U.S. you must show that you are here legally. This will be very hard with an expired green card which is why it’s a good idea to renew it before applying for a diver’s license.

Before heading to the DMV, you should call them to find out what your specific state requires as proof of residency. Some states want you to be a resident for at least 30 days while others make you wait 90 days.

If you already have a driver’s license but your green card has expired, you may actually lose your license if you don’t renew the green card. Double check with your state’s DMV to be sure you are not driving with an invalid driver’s license.

Here’s how to apply for a driver’s license with pending I-485 green card application.

You can travel outside the U.S.

You should not leave the U.S. with an expired or expiring green card! You run the risk of not being allowed back into the country even though you still are a lawful permanent resident. Avoid the headache of arguing with Customs and Border Protection trying to explain you just didn’t get a chance to renew your green card yet.

Apply to renew your green card with form I-90 and wait until you have the new green card in your hands before traveling outside the country.

You can apply for a mortgage.

Being a permanent resident gives you access to financial loans such as mortgages or auto loans. The bank will want to see proof of permanent residence which means you need to have an unexpired green card.

So, if you plan on purchasing a home within 6 months you should renew your green card as soon as possible. Some banks may even accept the notice of action that USCIS sends you as proof that you renewed your green card but others may have you wait until you can produce the actual card.

You can get a new job and pass e-verify.

Getting a job in the United States requires legal status for the most part. Yes, some people do hire illegal immigrants but this is risky proposition now that Trump is in office. If you want to avoid deportation, then you should have valid proof of your permanent residence before applying for a new job.

Most companies will need to run an e-verify search with USCIS to confirm that you are authorized to work. By renewing your green card before you need to look for a job, you avoid delays that can cause you to stay unemployed.

Apply For Citizenship With An Expired Green Card

Now that you know it’s possible to apply for citizen with an expired green card, what are you waiting for? If you can afford the fee for form N-400, I recommend that you apply as soon as possible.

We don’t know if Trump will make things harder for immigrants who are eligible to naturalize to become U.S. citizens, right?

Although USCIS prefers that you have an unexpired green card when applying for citizenship, it’s not an absolute must. What is a must is that you have the actual card with you. A lost or stolen card may not allow you to get approved for U.S. citizenship since you will need to forfeit the card at the oath ceremony.

Learn more about applying for citizenship with this step-by-step tutorial on form N-400 naturalization application.

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