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Posted Monday, October 22, 2007
For first time, many green card holders will need to renew them
By Joao Ferrira, Standard-Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — A new rule that will force 750,000 legal immigrants to renew their green cards — even those without an expiration date — will soon go into effect, and the change could cost individual immigrants hundreds of dollars.

To get the word out and encourage more immigrants to become naturalized, the Immigrants' Assistance Center is holding a green card renewal drive along with a citizenship drive.

The new rules, born of concerns for national security, will, for the first time, require legal permanent residents who hold cards issued between 1979 and 1989 with no expiration dates to renew them.

Permanent resident cards, as green cards are officially known, are the evidence of the holder's authorization to live and work in the U.S.

"We're talking about cards where the picture is about 18 years old," said Shawn Saucier, spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services agency, adding that replacing the cards is a matter of national security.

The agency said the current cards without expiration dates are too old and use out-of-date photographs, necessitating the change. The agency added it will update cardholder information, conduct background checks and store the applicant's biometric information during the renewal process.

The agency published the proposed rule in the National Register last August to collect public comment through Sept. 21.

Under the new regulations, holders of the old cards will have 120 days to renew them after the requirement goes into effect, after which, the cards will expire, Mr. Saucier said.

While expired cards wouldn't threaten immigrants' legal status, immigration law requires current green cards for legal permanent residents, and travel out of the country, for example, would be hindered.

Mr. Saucier said that the rule will take effect 60 days after it is formally adopted. Card holders will have a period of time, expected to be about 120 days, to renew them.

Exactly when that will occur isn't certain.

However, "we know that it's going to be happening very, very soon, so we figure that if we do this now before the holidays, it makes sense," said Helena S. Marques, Immigrants' Assistance Center executive director. "That would give people ample time before they start to panic."

Renewing a green card has a fee of $370.

Instead of renewing their green cards, however, advocates are urging immigrants affected by the rule to naturalize instead, since they qualify for citizenship. Legal permanent residents of the United States who have lived in the country lawfully for five years generally qualify for citizenship.

The fee for the citizenship application is $675.

Ms. Marques said 90 percent of IAC clients who seek to renew their cards usually "change their mind and want to apply for citizenship instead."

But the idea to naturalize outright comes with a potential quirk.

While applications are pending, applicants are required to have valid green cards. That means that someone affected by the new rule applying for citizenship could potentially hold an invalid green card after the rule goes into effect and the renewal period runs out, preventing, for example, out-of-country travel.

Ms. Marques said that may lead some people who want to naturalize to spend $370 on a new green card now because they fear their card will expire while seeking citizenship, and sometime later spend $675 to naturalize, compounding the cost of the process.

"They're actually discouraging people from applying for citizenship, creating barriers," she said.

Mr. Saucier, however, offered a solution.

"If you do want to become a citizen I would say just apply now." He said that people who do so will most likely be American citizens well before their green card expires, because the citizenship application process in Massachusetts can now be completed in four to six months.

Nevertheless, there's no full guarantee. "Just keep an eye out," he said.

The IAC citizenship and green card drive, held in concert with Rep. Barney Frank's office, is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday at 58 Crapo St. For more information, call IAC at (508) 996-8113.

Contact Joao Ferreira at jferreira@s-t.com

Copyright 2007 The South Coast Media Group. Reprinted from The New Bedford Standard-Times of Monday, October 22, 2007.

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