L’America: What Do I Do When My Green Card Expires

I mentioned how (slightly) disappointed I was when my green card finally arrived. It simply came in the mail in an unmarked envelope. I wasn’t expecting a ticker tape parade, and it was certainly convenient. After so many years of tribulation, though, it seemed a little unspectacular.

Wait ten years, and the thing expired. I had set a reminder in Google Calendar, but somehow it disappeared. Then, one horrifying morning, I woke up and checked. I was expecting another year of validity, but it wasn’t so. The card was about to expire.

It’s not like I needed to travel right away. I mean, I had been thinking of visiting family for my father’s birthday in October, but it wasn’t likely to happen. But the expiration was close enough that I knew I wasn’t going to get a new one in time for the existing one to lose its validity.

Panic befell me. What if my green card expired before I got a new one? Before I could even apply for a new one? Would I be woken up at midnight on the day of expiration, USCIS officers dragging me to the airport to put me on a plane to Germany?

Silly me didn’t even realize there are no planes to Germany at midnight. And maybe the Italian side of me got a little carried away in the drama of it all. But it turns out things are much simpler and more straightforward than I imagined.

All you have to do to renew your green card is go to the USCIS web site and fill out an online form. I suppose you could do it on paper, as well, but why would you?

You create an account (and will need some way for the site to reach you, since they send login codes via text or email). Then you fill out the form and include documents (scan the green card and passport, and attach as image files – but watch file size!). Done!

Not so fast! Now for the bad news: this was all good, but a new green card will set you back $450 as of November 2015. That’s a lot of money for a government-issued ID.

At least, though, USCIS puts all other government agencies to shame when it comes to efficiency and courtesy. No sooner had I paid the piper that I received a letter acknowledging my submission of the form. A few days later I received an invitation to a biometric scan appointment. OK, it was more of a summons than an invitation, and the letter clearly stated that if I didn’t show up, they’d consider my application abandoned (and the $450 that went with it).

A few more days later, I was at the USCIS support center, which was in Chula Vista. As usual, no cameras or recording devices of any sort (still not sure why that’s so important). But, unlike with my original green card appointment, there was no endless line. I filled out a form (can’t live without those, can you) and waited. Then, fingerprint scans and a few questions. And a picture.

It’s been ten years (duh!) since my original green card appointment and it’s like the world changed for the USCIS. Ten years ago, it was all about bureaucracy at its worst. It was as if the process had been designed by some of the more malevolent immigration countries’ bureaucrats. Maybe the Italians were to blame for the fact you got told you couldn’t bring your phone (because of the camera) only after you had stood in line for two hours. Maybe the Germans were to blame for the fact you had to show up with 8 (eight) pictures with requirements that didn’t match passport photos, so that you had to go to a special photographer ($25 each).

But in 2015, it felt like going to the DMV for a new license. With an appointment. Without a line. Everyone was very friendly and incredibly professional. The fingerprint scanning machines, despite being scary humongous, worked perfectly fine. The camera they used to take my picture was recent and decent and stock.

My verdict: if $450 gets me the rock star treatment at the USCIS, here’s my money!

Oh, and you don’t have the option of paying less.

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