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Form I-551, Explained


Form I-551 is the formal designation of your permanent resident card (aka green card)


What is Form I-551?

If you’ve received Form I-551, it means you’ve successfully obtained permanent resident status. While it is, in essence, your green card, you might notice the I-551 designation on a number of different documents as you make your move abroad. No matter where you find it, rest assured it signifies your status as a permanent resident of the United States and grants you the right to work and travel freely.

sample green card
Form I-551 is visible in the top left corner of your green card

In this guide, we’ll go over what you need to know about the I-551 designation:


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Where You’ll Find It


Once you finally receive your green card — after months, if not years, of planning, petitions, and appointments — you will notice, on the back, in the top left corner, in all caps: “FORM I-551.” This is the formal designation of your permanent resident card. You might notice this designation on a couple of other documents as well.

Temporary I-551

Before you receive your official green card — and assuming you’ve applied from outside the United States — you will first be given what is known as a machine-readable immigrant visa (MRIV). This will be placed in your passport and will contain the following phrase:

“UPON ENDORSEMENT SERVES AS TEMPORARY I-551 EVIDENCING PERMANENT RESIDENCE FOR 1 YEAR.”

Once you arrive in the United States, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent, having seen the MRIV, will stamp your passport. That stamp — sometimes called the Alien Documentation, Identification & Telecommunications (ADIT) stamp — will show the following:

  • Your status as a lawful permanent resident (LPR) — you’ll notice the temporary I-551 designation at the top of the stamp
  • Your date of admission
  • The date of expiration for your temporary I-551

The MRIV, together with the ADIT stamp, will prove your LPR status for no more than 1 year following the date of entry. This is true even if the machine-readable immigrant visa doesn’t explicitly state the 1-year limit. In practice, the stamp and the MRIV will allow you to live in the United States as if you possessed an official green card.


How to Use It


The temporary I-551 can be useful in certain situations. Below, we’ll briefly discuss a few scenarios where you might need it to work and travel.

Employment Prior to Receiving the Official Green Card

As mentioned above, you will be able to use the MRIV and the stamped passport as a replacement for the official permanent resident card for up to a year after your arrival in the United States. Employers should, therefore, accept the MRIV, with the stamp, as “List A” documents proving your identity and authorizing you to work. That being said, once you reach the date of expiration listed on the stamp, you will need to provide the official Form I-551, otherwise known as your green card.

That shouldn’t be a problem though, as you will likely receive the official 10-year permanent resident card within 45 days of arriving in the United States — provided, of course, you’ve paid the USCIS Immigrant Fee. If, for some reason, you do not receive your card in the mail, you can call the USCIS Contact Center at 1-800-375-5283.

Temporarily Replacing a Lost or Stolen Card

If your card is lost, stolen, or destroyed, you can obtain a new green card by completing and filing Form I-90, otherwise known as the Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card. To learn more about the I-90 filing process, you can read our guide on the subject.

Once you’ve filed your application, you might have to wait up to 13 months before receiving the actual card (for an up-to-date look at the processing times, check out this USCIS tool). In the meantime, you might need a temporary stopgap so you can travel or work. As all LPRs are entitled to some form of immigrant identification, you might be able to get an I-551 stamp, which you can use in place of your green card while you wait.

You can do this by reaching out to the USCIS Contact Center and scheduling an appointment. The USCIS representative can tell you which documents you need to bring to your appointment, but most likely, you will need the following items:

  • A photocopy of the lost or damaged card (if possible)
  • An unexpired passport
  • The receipt sent to you after filing Form I-90 (this is known as form I-797, Notice of Action)

Once approved, the I-551 stamp will be placed either in your unexpired passport or on your Form I-94.


FAQs


In this section, we’ll briefly cover some common questions about Form I-551.

Can I work with a temporary I-551 stamp?

As mentioned above, you can use the ADIT stamp, with the MRIV, for purposes of employment. If you’ve received the stamp as a placeholder for a lost or stolen card, you may use it for work authorization in this case as well.

What does a Form I-551 look like?

The current form I-551 can be seen below:

sample green cardsample green card

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