Lost Your Green Card While Traveling? Here’s What to Do
Urban business man walking in airport with suitcase

What do you do when you lose your green card in a foreign county?

It sounds like a disaster scenario, but stay calm. There’s a way to solve the problem.

To lose your Green Card while you are traveling is, undoubtedly, an aggravating experience, but it is not a situation worth panicking about. For one thing, it is important to understand that losing one’s Green Card does not mean that one has lost one’s status as a lawful permanent resident; it is evidence of this status, but it is not the source of it.

So, the issue will be providing other evidence to immigration authorities of lawful permanent residency, such as presenting a copy of your Green Card and Adjustment of Status Approval Notice.  With these documents, a person can apply for a “Travel Foil” to enable them to board a carrier back to the U.S. The copy of your Green Card and I-485 (Adjustment of Status) can be used as evidence of your lawful status when encountering passport control.  Once safely back in the U.S., you should apply for a replacement of your Green Card though the filing and processing of a Form I-90.

The Travel Foil.

The first step to being able to return to the U.S. without a Green Card is to apply for a Travel Foil through the U.S. consulate in your district. As each consulate may have slightly different procedures, it is worth googling “Lost Green Card” with the name of the country in which you are located. You can also search for the specific U.S. consulate in your location and then search “Lost Green Card.” Generally, applying for a Travel Foil involves filling out an online Contact Form and submitting it to the Consulate; then, after confirmation, submitting a Form I-131 Travel Document through the consulate’s web-portal. 

After all the forms and requested documents are submitted, the Consulate will schedule an in-person interview.  At least in the case of the U.S. Consulate in London, there are specific time frames noted within which the Consulate will process documents, but, significantly, the guidance on Lost Green Cardss provides little information concerning when an in-person interview will be scheduled, and it is the scheduling of an interview that is the source of a lot of angst and potential delay. 

Part of the problem is that U.S. consulates can be  difficult about making any time commitments to applicants, having adopted a “Don’t Call Us; We’ll Call You” policy. For applicants, waiting for an interview to be scheduled may well mean having to stay in the foreign country for additional time. There is no easy fix to this problem except to be persistent about calling customer service and making email inquiries through the consulates public email system. All in all, I can only counsel patience and meditation.

U.S. Admission

Once the Travel Foil is approved and that document has been inserted into the applicant’s passport – allowing the applicant to board the air-carrier home – the next step will be to traverse passport control. It is important to understand that the issuing of a Travel Foil is not an approval of admission to the U.S.; it just entitles the applicant to board the carrier. Once landed in the U.S. jurisdiction, the applicant should be prepared to be put into secondary at passport control, so that Customs and Boarder protection (“CBP”) can question the applicant about the loss of their Green Card. 

At this juncture, the Applicant may need to explain when and how the Green Card may have been lost and be able to show the CPB officer a copy of the front and back of the Green Card and Adjustment of Status (I-485) notice. If an applicant can show a police report detailing how the Green Card was lost or may have been stolen, this could facilitate the interview with CBP. Again, being put into secondary and questioned could take time and the rule of the road is to be patient.

File for a Replacement Green Card

 After admission to the U.S., the applicant should file an I-90 Form Requesting the Replacement of a Green Card. This can be done online or via filing a paper application with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. It could take several months to receive a new Green Card, but, as with any request for a government benefit, patience is a virtue.

The Takeaway:

  1. Try not to lose your Green Card. While we lose things all the time, the discussion above should re-enforce the notion that a Green Card should be placed in a safe place and should be not be left in a back pocket somewhere or in a separate bag. 
  2. As a precaution, Green Card holders should carry copies of the front and back of their Green Cardss and Adjustment of Status (I-485) Approval Notices. They should also transmit images of these documents to their smart phones so that they can be emailed to a Consulate, if required. Between these documents, an applicant for a Travel Foil/ Replacement Green Card should have all the information they need to fill in any application required of them by the authorities.
  3. Be patient and flexible. Although the chances are overwhelming that a person will ultimately be able to return to the U.S. despite losing their Green Card, the U.S. government often works on geologic time; nothing gets done so fast.
  4. Finally, if you are a U.S. citizen with a loved one stranded in a foreign country because the U.S. consulate will not schedule an interview within a reasonable time, call your Congressional Representative and explain to them the situation; sometimes a letter to the consulate from a U.S. government official will help speed things up. Obviously staying an extra week in London may not be the worst thing in the world, but, beyond that, waiting on a U.S. Consulate to move an application along could become prohibitively costly for the applicant, or endanger an applicant who is undergoing medical treatment or needs to care for a child or parent  and needs to return to the U.S..  Especially where an applicant’s health, or the welfare of a family member, is involved, an applicant may qualify for emergency processing.    

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