If you have a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence), it’s true that you can lose it for not advising USCIS when your addresses changes, within ten days of the move. Although having a green card theoretically gives you a permanent right to live in the United States, you should be aware that you can lose that right if you become deportable, for example by committing crimes or various immigration violations.
However, immigrants weren’t always in danger of being removed from the United States for a mere failure to send in their change of address. This all changed in 2002, when the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS, now called USCIS) shocked immigrants and their advocates by starting to enforce little-known provisions of the immigration law that make it a crime for immigrants not to submit immediate notifications whenever they change their address. The potential punishments include fines, imprisonment, or removal. While the immigration authorities largely ignored these legal provisions in the past, their post-September 11 security focus changed this.
Unfortunately, a number of innocent people may be caught in the trap. As a green card holder, you must take steps to protect yourself. Within ten days of your move, advise USCIS using Form AR-11. Note that you can’t just send one notification per family—every member of your household needs to have a separate form submitted for him or her, by mail or online.
It is easiest to change your address online at www.uscis.gov. On the home page, click “Change Your Address Online.” The questions are fairly self-explanatory. The question about your “last address” refers only to your last address in the United States, not your last address in any other country. The address you supply should be where you actually live, not a P.O. box or work address.
There is no fee for submitting Form AR-11.
In addition, if you have any applications on file that are waiting for a USCIS decision -- for example, if you’ve applied for citizenship -- you need to separately file a change of address at whichever USCIS office is handling your application. Check with that office for its procedures. A letter may be enough.
What if more than ten days have already passed and you’ve only just discovered your responsibility to file Form AR-11? Most attorneys advise that you tell USCIS of your address change now, to show that you made an attempt to comply and to assure that USCIS has your current address. USCIS can forgive a failure to notify if that failure wasn’t willful (intentional).
As with everything you send to USCIS, if you choose to mail your AR-11, realize that there’s a chance it will get lost. Be sure to make a photocopy of your Form AR-11 and any notifications you send to other USCIS offices for your own records. Then mail everything by certified mail with a return receipt. The return receipt is particularly important because USCIS won’t send you any separate acknowledgment that it has received your Form AR-11. Put your copies and the return receipt in a safe place in case you ever need to prove to USCIS that you complied with the law.
If you failed to notify USCIS of a change of address when you should have, you might also consider hiring an attorney to help draft a letter to USCIS explaining the delay. And, of course, if you are already facing removal proceedings in immigration court, you will definitely want to hire a lawyer.