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Your Complete Guide To Form I-551

Form I-551 is not like most other immigration forms. For starters, it’s not even a form. 

Applying for a Form I-551

Form I-551 is not like most other immigration forms. For starters, it’s not even a form. 

Form I-551 is a card that serves as proof of your immigration status in the United States. A temporary form I-551 is more like a traditional form, and it’s one of the most important forms you’ll receive if you were issued a green card from outside of the United States. Here’s how to use form I-551 and when a temporary form I-551 is necessary.

What Is Form I-551?

Most USCIS forms are paper forms or electronic applications that you complete and submit by mail or electronically. In contrast, Form I-551 isn’t a form at all. Form I-551 is the official name for a green card. 

Turn to the back of the card. If you look at the upper left-hand corner of the back of your green card, you’ll see that it says “FORM I-551” at the top. 

When you speak to an employer or an immigration official, they likely won’t refer to your green card as Form I-551. They’ll refer to it as a green card or a permanent resident card. The term Form I-551 is generally only used to refer to temporary proof of residence, which is an important distinction if you’re waiting on a permanent or replacement green card.

Who Needs Form I-551?

When you file for a green card or an adjustment of status, you’re filing to receive Form I-551 at the same time. You’ll be issued a Form I-551 if your green card application is granted. It’s included as a part of your application to become a permanent resident.

What Is a Temporary I-551?

If you’ve applied for your green card through consular processing from outside of the United States and you enter the U.S. with an immigrant visa, you won’t receive your official green card right away. You may also find yourself in a situation where your green card was lost, stolen, or damaged.

The solution is a temporary I-551 that you can use to travel outside the United States while you wait for your green card. It can also be used to apply for jobs. Your temporary I-551 is valid for up to one full year from the date of issuance and serves as official proof that you’re a permanent resident of the United States. 

How Long Does It Take To Get an Official Green Card?

There’s a possibility that your green card will be ready very shortly after you arrive in the United States, but USCIS allows themselves a maximum of 45 days to send you your official green card once you enter the U.S. with your immigrant visa or have your application for adjustment of status approved. This 45-day waiting period starts after you’ve paid your $220 immigrant fee, if applicable, to USCIS. They won’t release your green card until your payment has cleared. 

It may not be convenient to wait over a month for your green card if you intend to seek employment or enroll in a United States educational institution you need to have a green card. Your temporary I-551 acts as your green card until you receive the officially issued card. 

Employers can use your temporary I-551 as proof of immigration status for your onboarding paperwork. They’ll want to update the information they have on file for you once you receive your official green card, so be sure to let them know when your card arrives. 

What Is the Difference Between a Temporary I-551 and an MRIV?

The document that allows you to travel to the United States before officially becoming a permanent resident is called a machine-readable immigrant visa (MRIV). The MRIV is placed in your passport and serves as proof that you are allowed to enter the United States in the same manner as a permanent resident. 


Your MRIV is only half of what you need. An immigration officer will add something called an ADIT stamp to your passport. ADIT stands for alien documentation, identification, and telecommunications. This stamp means that a border agent has seen your machine-readable immigrant visa with your temporary I-551 endorsement when admitting you into the country.

Your ADIT stamp and MRIV I-551 are valid as a temporary green card for one year. The presence of the two combined serves as an actual green card for all practical purposes. You can use them as proof of immigration status any time you’re required to provide proof of status. 

How Do You Use a Temporary Form I-551?

In an ideal world, you’ll never need to use your temporary I-551. It’s often much easier to use an official permanent resident card. If you haven’t yet received one, if you’ve lost your green card, or if you’ve significantly damaged your green card, a temporary I-551 can come in handy.

As Proof of Immigration Status for Employment

If you’ve moved to the United States for work, if you’re taking an independent small business or contract work into the U.S. market, or if you need to work immediately to support yourself, you need to have a green card. It’s illegal to work in the United States without work authorization or a green card. This includes hobby businesses like selling crafts online or doing gig work like driving for a car service. 

Your temporary form I-551, in conjunction with your ADIT stamp, will allow you to work immediately. This is very helpful for people who run things like online stores or perform remote freelance work via the Internet. There will be no disruption in your ability to work or receive payments as you transition from your previous country to the United States.

As a Temporary Replacement for a Lost Green Card

If your green card is lost, stolen, or damaged to the point where it’s unreadable, you need to have some form of immigrant identification to take its place. Permanent residents are entitled to immigrant identification in the event that they ever need to present it. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you need to prove your immigration status, and you don’t have any supporting documents. 

You need to complete a form called I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card, and pay the required $455 fee; you may also have to pay a biometrics fee of $85. It can take USCIS over a year to reissue a permanent resident card that’s been lost, damaged, or stolen. In the meantime, you’ll need a temporary green card. 

You’re required to contact USCIS for an appointment. A USCIS employee will tell you what you need to bring to your appointment. They usually ask for your receipt for filing form I-90, a picture or photocopy of your previous green card (if you have one), and a valid passport.

The USCIS employee will verify your information and place your temporary I-551 stamp in your passport. Note that your passport must be current. If it has expired or is expiring soon, the situation becomes a little more complicated. 

If your passport is expired or was also lost or stolen, advise USCIS when you contact them. They may be able to place your I-551 stamp on an I-94 arrival/departure record.

What Happens When Your Temporary I-551 Expires?

Your temporary I-551 is valid for one year. Your first official green card should be issued to you within 45 days. If you filed for a replacement green card, you should receive it within 13 months. Most permanent residents won’t have to wait the full 13-month period to receive their card. 

You should have received your official green card by the time our temporary green card form expires. If you haven’t, you need to contact USCIS. It’s important to keep current contact information on file with USCIS — especially your mailing address. If they sent your green card to the address you have on file and you no longer live there, USCIS is not at fault. They will charge you for a replacement, and the waiting period will start from the beginning. 

If your address is correct and you still haven’t received your green card on time, it may have been lost in the mail or otherwise delayed by USCIS. Notify them as soon as your waiting period ends if you still haven’t received your card.

Do You Need Legal Assistance With Your Temporary Green Card?

The experienced immigration law team at Cohen, Tucker + Ades has been assisting immigrants and lawful permanent residents with their immigration needs for over 40 years. If you’re experiencing an issue with your green card or if you need assistance receiving a temporary form I-551, contact us for a consultation. We may be able to assist you through the process. 


Redesigned Green Card 2023 | USCIS

NVC Processing | U.S. Department of State | Bureau of Consular Affairs

Temporary I-551 Stamps and MRIVs | USCIS

Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card (Green Card) | USCIS


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