Green Card Blues: New Renewal Rules Create Headache for Many Green Card Holders, According to American Citizens Abroad (ACA)

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The US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) has just published a proposed new requirement for the renewal of Green Cards in the Federal Register of August 22, 2007. The new rules will require holders of a green card which has no expiration date, to apply within a four-month period for a new card with an expiration date, with filing costs of close to $400. American Citizens Abroad, a citizens advocacy organization based in Geneva, Switzerland, (http://www.aca.ch) considers that this could be a major headache for many foreign executives employed by American corporations who spend periods of time living and working in the United States, or just frequently visiting the United States. It can also cause problems for Americans residing abroad with non-citizen family members.

The US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), now part of the recently created Department of Homeland Security, published a proposed new requirement for the renewal of Green Cards in the Federal Register of August 22, 2007. Comments on the proposed regulations must be filed prior to 21 September 2007 (see details below).

This will require holders of a green card (officially known as a Permanent Resident Card, or Form I-551) which has no expiration date, to apply within a four-month period for a new card with an expiration date, with filing costs of close to $400.

"This could be a major headache for foreign executives employed by American corporations who spend periods of time living and working in the United States, or just frequently visiting the United States", said Andy Sundberg, founder of American Citizens Abroad, a citizens advocacy organization based in Geneva, Switzerland. "It can likewise cause problems for Americans residing abroad with non-citizen family members."

Green cards were issued without expiration dates up until 1989 (current green cards must be renewed every ten years). The USCIS estimates that about 1.9 million people hold cards without expiration dates, and that about 750,000 people will have to apply for a new card. They estimate that of the remaining original card holders, some will have requested naturalization, some will be deceased, and some will have left the US permanently and not want or need a new card.

According to these proposed new rules, holders of cards without expiration dates will have 120 days from the time that the new rules are approved to learn of this change regarding their "permanent" green card and to apply for their replacement cards.. The application process will require documentation, photographs, fingerprint and signature submissions, as well as personal interviews.

These proposed rules have nominally been drafted as a step to enhance national security. They will enable the USCIS to "update cardholder information, conduct background checks, and electronically store applicants' biometric information so that it can be used for biometric comparison and authentication purposes," in the words of their announcement.

Applications for these new cards can be made electronically, at least in part, and this process supposedly will take less time than if the whole process had to be done on paper. Each applicant will nevertheless still be required to travel to the nearest USCIS Application Support Center "to have his or her biometrics collected". Andy Sundberg commented: "Given the problems that foreigners now face in seeking an appointment for a visa to travel to the United States, it seems optimistic that the portion of these new Green Card applications that would be processed overseas could be handled within this tight proposed window."

After the 120-day period expires, the USCIS will announce, based on its anticipated processing time, a date after which the cards without expiration dates will become invalid. Green card holders who have not applied for a new card will be considered to be in violation of the law, and if convicted, might be sentenced to pay a fine of up to $100 or to imprisonment for up to 30 days, or both. The USCIS, in the proposed new rules, assures that these criminal sanctions would not be routinely used against green card holders who fail to apply for a new card.

The USCIS makes it clear in its proposed new rules that, while a green card holder who does not apply for a new card with a termination date within the prescribed window is still a legal permanent resident, s/he could experience real difficulties, for example in returning to the US after a trip abroad, or in obtaining new employment.

The fee for applying for a replacement card will be the standard application fee of $290 plus $80 for the biometric information collection service, or a total of $370. If an applicant can show that he or she is unable to pay the standard application fee and/or the biometric service fee, the individual can request a fee waiver, but the USCIS does not presently waive the biometric service fee in any other cases.

The USCIS invites written comments on these proposed new rules, and specifically is looking for comments on the application window of 120 days and on the cost. Comments submitted will be most useful if they refer to a specific portion of the proposed changes, and also include data, information or authority to support a change in the rules.

The rules can be accessed online at http://www.uscis.gov/files/pressrelease/I551Replacement QA082207.pdf

Any comments must be submitted before September 21st, 2007, in one of two ways:

1) by e-mail to rfs.regs@dhs.gov, including DHS Docket No. USCIS-2005-0056 in the subject line of the message, or

2) by mail to The Chief, Regulatory Management Division, US Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security, 111 Massachusetts Avenue NW, 3rd Floor, Washington DC 20529. The reference DHS Docket No. USCIS-2005-0056 must be shown on the correspondence.

American Citizens Abroad (http://www.aca.ch) is a volunteer non-partisan citizens' advocacy organization with members all over the world. In many of these families, some members may hold American passports while others hold green cards. Because of the hardship which the application requirements and the fee will impose on these families , ACA would like to track reactions to these rules, and any comments made to the USCIS. ACA therefore requests that individuals submitting comments on the proposed new rules please send a copy of these comments to the ACA office at 5 rue Liotard, 1202 Geneva, Switzerland.

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Anne Hornung-Soukup
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