Renew Your Green Card or Apply for Naturalization?
Per the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) (formerly the INS), if your permanent resident card (Green Card) has less than six months of remaining validity, you must renew your Green Card prior to filing an application for naturalization (Form N-400). You must submit a photocopy of your replacement Green Card when you apply to become a citizen.
You can renew your Green Card by filing Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card. If your Green Card will not expire for at least another six months and you meet the requirements to apply for citizenship, then you may choose to apply for citizenship instead of renewing your Green Card.
Lost Green Card
If you have lost your Green Card which is not expired, then you must apply for a replacement card by filing Form I-90. However, you do not need to wait to receive the new card before filing for naturalization. You should, however, wait until you receive the I-797 Receipt Notice for Form I-90 before you file the N-400 application.
Once you submit the I-90 application to USCIS, you will receive an Application Receipt Notice with a receipt number and all other details regarding the interview and fingerprinting. As soon as you receive the Receipt Notice for the Form I-90, you can proceed to file your N-400 application. You should include a copy of the Receipt Notice with the N-400 application.
On receipt of your application with the supporting documents and fees, USCIS will take up your application for initial processing.
On acceptance, they will mail you a Receipt Notice on Form I-797.
Once you receive the Notice of Action from USCIS you can make an “InfoPass” appointment with the USCIS to obtain an I-551 stamp in your passport.
The I-551 stamp in your passport serves as a temporary proof that you are a permanent resident of the US.
You can use this stamp for all practical purposes that you would be able to use your plastic “Green Card” for: employment, travel, and evidence of status. This stamp is valid for one year.
Renew Your Green Card Before Travel
Re-entry into the U.S. from abroad: To the extent possible, apply for your new Green Card before you travel and bring with you on any trip the temporary documentation you received. If, after traveling abroad, you try to reenter the U.S. with an expired Green Card, you may experience a delay during the inspection process at the port-of-entry. So it is always better to travel after you file the I-90 application to replace your green card.