By Attorneys Gregory J. Boult & Nancy E. Miller 

An individual who immigrates to the United States receives proof of their lawful permanent resident status by way of a document commonly referred to as a “green card.”  Generally, most green cards are issued for a validity period of two or ten years, depending upon what basis the individual received status.  Anxious to understand the terms and conditions of their new legal status in the United States, many new immigrants ask the reasonable question – does my lawful permanent resident status have an expiration date?  The simple answer to this question is yes for some, and no for others.
Some individuals begin their lawful permanent residence as conditional residents. These individuals include spouses of United States citizens where the couple was married for less than two years at the time of adjustment of status or lawful admission to the United States with an immigrant visa.  This group of individuals also includes those who immigrated to the United States through an EB-5 visa.  These individuals are issued green cards which are valid for two years.  Prior to the expiration of the two year period, these individuals must apply to have the conditional status removed.  If such action is not taken, they lose their lawful permanent resident status in the United States – the expiration of their green cards is an expiration of their legal status.
Most individuals who immigrate to the United States receive a green card which is valid for ten years.  For these individuals, the expiration of the card does not lead to the loss of lawful permanent resident status.  The expired card means that they no longer have documentary evidence of legal status.  In effect, an individual with a green card which is valid for ten years still remains a lawful permanent resident even after the card expires – they just don’t have any proof.  So the next, obvious question is, does that matter?  The answer is yes.  
Valid, documentary proof of an individual’s lawful permanent resident status in the United States is extremely important.  A lawful permanent resident is required by law to carry current proof of that status at all time (that’s right, it is not supposed to sit in your safety deposit box).  In addition, current proof of status is required for obtaining or renewing a driver’s license, accepting an offer of employment, and even for reentering the United States after traveling abroad.  Attempting to reenter the United States with an expired card may also raise the question of whether the alien abandoned their status.  That could result in being refused admission or being placed into removal proceedings.
Although it may be filed after the expiration of a green card, an individual should file an Application to Replace Permanent Green Card with Citizenship and Immigration Services six months prior to the expiration of his or her card.  
Filing an Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card initiates the process which results in the issuance of a new green card.  After filing, the applicant is scheduled for an appointment at a Support Center to provide fingerprints and other biometric information.  Using this information, Citizenship and Immigration Services conducts a background check of the applicant to determine whether he or she has engaged in any criminal or other conduct which may render the applicant deportable (removable) from the United States.  Should such a determination be made, the applicant may be placed into removal proceedings before an Immigration Judge. Whether the alien is eligible for a waiver of removability should be discussed with the experienced and knowledgeable immigration attorney he or she consults before filing the application.  Absent any issues of removability, a new 10-year green card will be sent by mail to the applicant.
An Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card is not used exclusively for expiring or expired green cards.  Unfortunately, individuals sometimes lose or damage their green cards.  This application allows an individual to replace a lost or damaged card.  In addition, this application also permits an individual to apply for a replacement green card if his or her card is stolen.  One whose lawful permanent residence was granted but who never received the card should file the Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card to get a replacement.  In addition, one can and should file for replacement if the card contains errors in spelling or other information.
While maintaining lawful permanent resident status in the United States is different than maintaining valid, documentary proof of one’s status, such proof is essential for an individual residing in the United States as a lawful permanent resident.  As with all instances of applying for benefits before CIS, one should always consult an experienced and knowledgeable immigration attorney to determine how best to proceed.