Renewing a green card

I'm in the process of renewing my green card, and as with all dealings with the US Government as a foreigner (ie non-voter) it is very amusing. The card itself only has a tiny bit of green on the back. English speakers would call it a "Permanent Resident Card", the government likes to call it a "Resident Alien Card" while the actual department handling it (USCIS) calls it "I-90" which is the form identifier for it.

Of course "permanent" is misleading. They are only good for ten years at which point you have to renew, six months before expiry. It costs $450 for the renewal which amounts to roughly $1 per week it is useful. If you make any mistakes they keep the $450 and you have to pay again and start the process again. You can be denied the renewal, they don't have to explain the denial, and there is no appeal.

As part of the process they have to collect your fingerprints and take a photo. Form I-797C tells you when and where. The fingerprints are identical to the ones they took ten years ago, and identical to the ones that exact same USCIS takes every time I come though immigration at SFO (where they also take a retina scan).

The office where it is done has a set of chairs on the left and another on the right with some desks in the middle. You go to the desks, get given a clipboard and form to fill out, and do so (all the fields on the form ask for the exact same information that is already on your application). Then you go back to the desk, get given numbers or letters, stamps on papers, sit on chairs on eiither side, rinse and repeat. I sat on one side 3 times and the other once, with a total of 4 visits to the centre, two visits to the same desk jockey and one to a person taking the actual fingerprints using a machine significantly less efficient than the ones used at the airport. The USCIS is taking so long to renew green cards that they also put a sticker on your card extending its validity for several more months.

Fortunately it took a total of 30 minutes. There is some method to the madness as it means that a single officer can't screw things up (or be bribed) but it did seem a little over the top. (Incidentally this is the reason why Costco also has checkers at the door - a corrupt cashier can't do things alone.)

Needless to say there was an error in my application. My existing card only uses my middle initial while my application uses my full middle name. The officer pointed out this will delay things and probably require extra evidence like a copy of my birth certificate (from a non US country made with a typewriter on 40 year old paper and that there is no way to validate). She said to call customer service and get them to amend the application to just my middle initial. Customer service takes extreme skill to actually get to on the phone due to phone menus going out of their way to avoid you talking to a person (btw mashing 0, 9, * etc on an Android phone in a call can require you to reboot the phone to unwedge it!) The reps are indeed in America - I got one with a thck Texan accent I could barely understand. They of course insist that my application cannot be changed back to just the middle initial and I'd have to go back to the office, where the officier insisted she could do nothing and only customer service could.

Now the waiting game begins. Do they have enough copies of my fingerprints, will they be able to deal with the card having a middle initial and my full name having a full name? Will some bureacrat somewhere decide that I will be denied knowing they won't have to defend the decision? What happens if they take so long the extended validity itself expires? Is there some sort of bingo card that I can collect form numbers on?


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