Teresa Jimenez knew her and her daughters’ green cards were set to expire in June 2021, so they applied to renew their documents six months in advance.
Jimenez, who emigrated from Michoacán, Mexico and now lives in Porterville, wanted to ensure their lawful permanent residency documents remained valid. And with a sick mother-in-law in Mexico, she wanted to make sure she could travel abroad in an emergency.
As usual, she received a notice granting the family a 12-month extension of their green cards while the federal government processed their renewal application. But Jimenez and her daughters grew nervous as June rolled around this year: They still hadn’t received their renewed green cards and their year-long extensions were expiring, too.
Their extension notices were already three months’ expired when, in October, immigration officials issued Jimenez and her daughters an extraordinary, 24-month extension of their green cards. Soon after that, she and her older daughter were relieved to finally receive their updated documents. Her younger daughter has yet to receive her renewed green card.
“We were worried that we would need to travel to Mexico, and without having the documents we aren’t able to,” Jimenez, a grape harvester, said in Spanish.
It’s unclear how many other people are facing long delays in renewing their green cards. A spokesperson for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services acknowledged the backlog in processing applications but did not respond to specific questions about the number of Central Valley residents experiencing delays. There are more than 23,000 lawful permanent residents living in Fresno County, according to the agency.
The agency spokesperson also didn’t respond to specific questions about what caused the problem. In a statement, the agency said it is working to “reduce both the number of pending cases and overall processing times the agency inherited from the prior administration.”
As part of those efforts, USCIS on Sept. 28 issued a 24-month extension to all lawful permanent residents who apply to renew their green cards. Fresno-area immigration experts at The Fresno Center, the Education & Leadership Foundation (ELF) and Centro La Familia said the two-year extension is “unusual” and the first time they’ve encountered a situation like this.
There are “a lot” of people in the Fresno area affected by this renewal limbo, according to Alejandra Corona, a Department of Justice partially accredited representative at ELF.
“We helped clients back in 2020 and some of them still haven’t received their green cards,” Corona said.
So, what should you do if you have either an expired green card, an expired extension notice or both? And what should you do if you need to travel abroad?
The Bee spoke with Fresno-area experts to find out how lawful permanent residents should handle various situations. Their comments are general recommendations and not legal advice; be sure to speak to a trusted source if you have questions about your specific case.
What if my green card and extension notice are expired?
These days, USCIS says the waiting period to process a green card renewal application is taking between 13 and 17 months – longer than the standard 12-month extensions.
That’s leaving people with expired green cards. But an expired green card does not mean your lawful permanent resident status expires, said Lazaro Salazar, an immigration attorney in Fresno. While the green card itself is expired, it is renewable like other forms of government-issued identification, he said.
So what happens if you are still caught in the renewal process and your year-long extension expires?
There are two options. One, you eventually get a 24-month extension notice in the mail. Two, you could schedule an appointment — known as an InfoPass appointment — to get an official stamp on your passport as proof of the additional extension.
Experts said it’s prudent to get the official stamp in order to avoid being denied services or access in situations that require a valid green card, including at the bank, government or social services, or work or housing situations.
In Fresno, the local USCIS field office is located downtown at 744 P St., suite 120, near the Amtrak station. They are serving community members by appointment only.
To schedule an InfoPass appointment, call 800-375-5283 and state, “I need to schedule an InfoPass appointment.”
Can I travel with an expired green card?
Salazar said those with expired green cards should be able to travel abroad in an emergency, as long as they carry with them a valid extension notice.
If someone has an expired green card but a valid extension notice, he said, “that should be more than enough for you to re-enter without issues.”
However, Xavier Vázquez Báez, program manager for Centro La Familia’s immigration services department, said people can still face some push back from federal border officials when reentering the country.
Vázquez Báez, a lawful permanent resident with an expired green card but a valid extension notice, recently traveled to Mexico. On his way back, he said he had to explain the national renewal delay to border officers to be let back into the country.
Because of this, Vázquez Báez and other experts recommend people check when their 12-month extension expires. He encourages people to be extra cautious and make sure their extension is valid for the next six months before traveling. They should also ensure that it won’t expire while they’re outside the U.S., since that could cause a problem when reentering.
Also, experts said, carrying a copy of USCIS’s Sept. 28 extension notice wouldn’t hurt.
Tips on traveling with a valid green card
Even with a valid green card, Salazar and Vázquez Báez recommend people be aware of how much time they spend abroad, especially families split between two countries.
Depending on the length of your time outside the U.S., you might need to apply for a USCIS reentry permit, according to the agency’s website. Also, leaving the country for six months or more may disrupt the continuous residency requirement needed for naturalization.
Want to travel without counting months? Porchoua Her, immigration services program manager and DOJ-accredited representative at The Fresno Center, recommended those who are eligible apply for citizenship.
“Don’t wait until your green card expires or you need to show your (valid) green card to apply,” he said.
Other tips and general advice
Experts interviewed for this article also recommended:
- Be sure to seek answers and help from trusted, Department of Justice-accredited sources. They warned against immigration scams and fraudulent notarios públios who are deceiving people instead of helping. You can find accredited organizations and individual representatives near you on USCIS’s website.
- Apply for citizenship. DOJ-recognized organizations in Fresno like The Fresno Center, Centro La Familia and the Education & Leadership Foundation can help you determine if you are eligible and apply. Those concerned about the cost of the application can ask the organizations if they qualify for a reduced fee or can apply for free.