In America, many parents tell their young children that babies get delivered by flying storks. But how do green cards get delivered? That story can be just as incredible.
My clients often ask me: My immigration petition was approved. So where is my green card and how will it get delivered to me?
The answer to that question is: No matter what kind of immigration petition or application you sent to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and no matter which USCIS office received or made a decision on that petition or application, your green card will not be issued by that office. Instead, USCIS sends orders to a special facility in southeastern Kentucky where your green card will be manufactured, packaged and sent to the address you provided to USCIS. This “green card factory” is managed by General Dynamics, the large defense contractor who supplies many weapons to the U.S. armed forces including “Stinger” missiles and F-16 fighter jets. The facility is guarded tightly and closed to outsiders. But according to reports, the production facility resembles a “clean room” used for producing high-tech electronics, complete with staff in white coats and gloves.
So what happens after your case gets approved? USCIS sends its instructions to Kentucky, where your case is placed in line for green card production. Usually within 2 to 3 weeks, the card is manufactured and ready to ship out to its rightful owner. Because USCIS will ship the card to the address listed on the original application or petition, it is very important for people to file a change of address if they move while their petitions or applications are pending.
Not so long ago, green cards would simply be mailed out via ordinary first-class mail in a plain white envelope. Lots of times, recipients would mistake an arriving green card for junk mail or unwanted credit cards, only to be surprised when opening the letter to find green cards inside.
More recently, USCIS began sending the cards via United States Postal Service Priority Mail. Because priority mail usually arrives within just a few days, often times my clients would tell me their green cards arrived in the mail long before they received formal approval notices from USCIS. This is simply because approval notices are still sent out via traditional “snail mail,” while green cards were sent out via Priority Mail. While receiving the card before the approval notice is a bit like placing the cart before the horse, in the end good news is always good news. With the card in hand, the approval notice becomes a souvenir.
Even though USCIS had sent green cards via priority mail that could be tracked, my clients have still often had problems receiving their cards due to confusion about addresses caused by USCIS’ computer system, which quite unbelievably can only accommodate street addresses less than 32 characters long. So if your address is “750 Southeast University Park Boulevard, Dallas, Texas,” the address label would look like this: “750 Southeast University Park Bo.” This has led to endless confusion and misdelivered green cards. That’s why it’s important to provide an address that fits within 32 characters, such as “750 SE University Park Blvd.”
To help combat this perennial problem, on April 30, 2018, USCIS began using a new system operated by the United States Postal Service called “Signature Confirmation Restricted Delivery.” Under this system, green card recipients must be physically present to receive their cards and sign receipts when they arrive. While that is quite troublesome, the packages can be tracked through the “Informed Delivery” service so that recipients will know when they are due to arrive. If the recipient cannot be present to receive the package, he or she can file a form with the Post Office designating an agent to receive the cards.
With this change, all of the problems with receiving green cards in the mail should be solved, right? Not exactly. According to USCIS, this system is being implemented only gradually for certain types of applications, and no deadline has been set for all cards to be sent out this way. As always, governments are slow to accept and implement change. But we could reasonably expect to see more cards delivered this way over the next few years.
No matter how long it takes to produce your green card and get it in your hands, the important thing to remember is to always keep USCIS informed of any change of address. In the meantime, keep in touch with anyone who lives at your old address because in my practical experience, often times USCIS still sends items to old addresses even after address changes have been properly filed.
After your case is approved, it helps to go to the USCIS website at www.uscis.gov and click the “Check Case Status” button at the top. Once you get to the search page, enter in your USCIS file number (three letters and ten numbers, for example “WAC1000123456”). Most of the time, you should be able to see a result showing when the green card was produced. Sometimes you can even see a result showing the card was mailed out and the Priority Mail tracking number. I use the words “most of the time” and “sometimes” because the system does not always work. That does not mean there is any problem with your case. It’s just that the USCIS computer system is not yet completely reliable.
After dealing with this situation for many years, my best conclusion is that USCIS should really consider hiring a fleet of flying storks to deliver green cards. That would not only be more dramatic, but also more predictable. But in all seriousness, always remember that even if you don’t receive your green card because of whatever reason, you can always make an appointment at your local USCIS office through the USCIS website, and ask the officer to affix a “Temporary I-551 Stamp” in your passport. This kind of stamp confirms your lawful status as a green card holder for one year, which is usually enough time to track down the card or order a replacement with Form I-90.
• By Jason Andrew Blatt
Immigration Attorney, Martinez Hsu P.C.
• Photo: eagles.org