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How Do I Travel Out of the US with an Expired Green Card?

On Behalf of | Jan 21, 2015 | Common Immigration Questions and Problems, Green Cards |


Permanent Residents May Need to Get an I-551 Stamp in Their Passports.

It is not uncommon these days for permanent residents to have to travel while their green cards are currently in the process of being renewed. The obvious question, then, becomes how does a green card holder lawfully re-enter the country without incident or problem if he/she does not anticipate receiving the new card by the time he/she is due to return? Generally speaking, unless travel is necessitated by exigent circumstances, one should probably wait until one has the new card in hand. However, when circumstances otherwise dictate travel, a permanent resident may need to secure an I-551 stamp in his/her passport as evidence of one’s permanent residence. (Note: this applies to permanent residents who have been granted full permanent residence without conditions. Obviously this is also assuming that there are no other legal issues: ie, criminal history, a history of extended absences from the US, etc.)

What is the purpose of Form I-90?

Form I-90 is used by lawful permanent residents to apply for a replacement or renewal of their existing permanent resident cards (green card). Current green cards (without conditions) are valid for a period of ten years and must be renewed before the card expires. The earliest one can file to renew the card is six months before the expiration. One can file earlier if the card has been lost, destroyed, or stolen; if it was issued but never received; the existing card has incorrect data; or biographic information on the card has changed. The applicant must usually send in the original card with the application.

What is an I-551 Stamp?

An I-551 stamp is temporary evidence of lawful permanent residence. This is the stamp that lawful permanent residents who immigrate here though consular processing receive in their passports upon arrival in the US. The stamp serves as proof that the immigrant has lawful status here while the actual green card is being generated.

How do individuals with pending I-90s get the I-551 stamp?

Individuals can go to their local USCIS office by scheduling an InfoPass appointment. InfoPass is a free service that allows an individual to schedule an appointment to visit USCIS. At the InfoPass appointment, the USCIS officer will place a temporary I-551 stamp in the permanent resident’s passport. USCIS will typically issue the I-551 stamp with a validity period of six to twelve months, but if the applicant’s passport expires prior to that time, the stamp will likely coincide with the expiration date of the passport.

In New Jersey, InfoPass appointments are handled at both the Newark and Mt. Laurel offices. If you need the stamp on an emergency basis and there are no appointments available, you may need to consider “walking-in” your case to the local USCIS office. Under these rare and limited circumstances, the individual must bring:

  • a Valid passport;
  • InfoPass appointment notice (if one has one);
  • Form I-90 receipt notice;
  • Proof of residence within the jurisdiction of the USCIS office (driver’s license, etc.);
  • Copy of expired/lost green card, if available;
  • Documents supporting the basis for the emergency I-551 stamp. This would normally be medical documentation, an employment letter, flight itineraries, etc., depending on the nature of the emergency;
  • Copy of date-stamped ASC appointment notice indicating that fingerprints have already been taken or are scheduled to be taken.


Obviously, these types of situations should not be taken lightly. Planning trips outside the US requires foresight and a keen understanding of the impact of absences away from the United States, even if one has permanent residence status. The lack of proper documentation to re-enter, the existence of criminal arrests or convictions, as well as the frequency and duration of multiple trips can all contribute to potentially complicated run-ins with Customs and Border Protection.

We hope that you have enjoyed this article and learned at least one new thing or tip that you may not have known. To keep informed about the latest developments in immigration law, please subscribe to our blog feed by clicking on the “Subscribe To This Blog’s Feed” button on the left. It is important to understand that the above is only general information and not legal advice. It does not create an attorney-client relationship nor should it be relied upon as legal advice. The law is extremely fact and circumstance sensitive. For an individual legal analysis of your specific legal case, please complete the “Case Evaluation” box to the right of the screen to get in touch with one of our attorneys.