One of the most common questions I get from clients is whether they need to renew their expiring permanent resident cards before filing for naturalization. Like everything immigration, there’s no simple YES or NO answer. In reality, that simple question consists of two different questions with two different answers.

The first question is whether you NEED to renew your expiring or expired PRC before you file for naturalization. And the answer to the NEED question is NO.

This is an area of confusion even with immigration lawyers. To the best of my knowledge, there’s no written USCIS guidance as to whether or not you can file your N-400 with an expired PRC. I looked at the regulations, the N-400 instructions, the form I-90 instructions, the USCIS policy manual, and other legal references and nothing requires an unexpired card to accompany the N-400. I have never heard of anyone being denied naturalization for filing the application with an expired card. On very rare occasions I’ve even filed without a card because the client never received the initial card, and we didn’t have any problems.

So, a naturalization applicant can present an unexpired card, an almost expiring card, and expired card, a passport with an admission stamp, or any one of several other documents that come to mind to show their permanent resident status. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

That’s why I like the second and similar question better: SHOULD you renew your expiring or expired PRC before filing for naturalization. And my answer to this SHOULD question is a resounding YES, you should.

I don’t want you running around with expired cards or no card for a couple of reasons:

First, you’re applying for naturalization and you’re trying to show that you’re a law-abiding person. Well, the law requires all permanent residents to carry a permanent resident card:

INA Section 264(e) Personal possession of registration or receipt card; penalties: Every alien, eighteen years of age and over, shall at all times carry with him and have in his personal possession any certificate of alien registration or alien registration receipt card issued to him pursuant to subsection (d). Any alien who fails to comply with the provisions of this subsection shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall upon conviction for each offense be fined not to exceed $100 or be imprisoned not more than thirty days, or both.

True, on its face the law doesn’t appear to require for the card to be unexpired, but don’t push it. Again, you’re trying to show that you’re a law-abiding person.

The second reason that I don’t want you running around with an expired card while you wait to naturalize is that you will need an unexpired card when you least expect it.

Depending on who you ask, the naturalization process takes approximately 1 year. During that year you may unexpectedly need an unexpired card to travel internationally, to find find a new job, to replace a lost driver license, or to obtain a concealed carry permit to defend yourself during the upcoming civil war. It never fails.

So today’s lesson is that you don’t HAVE to have an unexpired permanent resident card to file your N-400. But you should always have an unexpired card until you become a USC.