If you are an alien with legal residence in the United States and have been (or will be) traveling, you will be expected to show the U.S. border officials, upon your return, some sort of documentary proof of your U.S. status. This might be either an unexpired Permanent Resident Card (Form I-551 or a "green card"), a reentry permit, a refugee travel document (indicating lawful permanent residence), or some temporary evidence of your lawful permanent resident status such as an Alien Documentation Identification and Telecommunication (ADIT) stamp in your passport or a receipt for having filed Form I-751.
But what if, during your travels, you meet with some sort of unforeseen emergency such that you cannot present one of these documents? You might have simply forgotten the documents at home in the U.S, or they may have expired or been lost or stolen.
You may be able to resolve your situation by submitting USCIS Form I-193, "Application for Waiver of Passport and/or Visa." With this form, you'll request that the immigration authorities waive the usual documentary requirements and allow you to enter the United States.
One situation where you wouldn't want to use Form I-193 is if you had an actual green card, but it was lost or stolen, rather than just having been left at home or someplace where you'll eventually be able to access it. In such a situation, you'll need to get a new green card anyway, which you’ll do by submitting Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card, to USCIS along with the appropriate fee. Form I-90 can and must be used as a substitute for Form I-193 in this situation.
Where to File
You are expected to file Form I-193 at the U.S. border or point of entry upon your return from travel. However, this can be problematic if the airline or carrier with which you are flying will not let you board without documentation. If you come from a country that participates in the visa waiver program, you should be able to board with your own passport.
However, you should not use the visa waiver as a method of getting past the U.S. border authorities. This would be considered a misrepresentation, and could jeopardize your immigration status.
If you don’t come from a visa waiver country, contact an attorney in the United States or your local U.S. consulate for help.
Preparing Form I-193
Form I-193 itself is fairly simple, asking for your name, other personal information, and an explanation of why you are not in possession of your documents. Even more important than the form, however, will be finding a way to prove your U.S. status. If you have a friend or relative in the U.S. who could fax or email you a copy of your green card or other documents before your return trip, or even copies of the correspondence with USCIS that led to your approval for a green card, this would help a great deal.
Also be ready to pay a hefty fee; it was $585 in mid-2011. Only a few locations accept credit cards, so you may need to come up with a check or money order, payable to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection or Department of Homeland Security.
Getting Legal Help
Returning to the United States without proper documents can be a tricky situation—and even more so if you have stayed away for six months or more. You would be well advised to consult with a U.S. immigration attorney before attempting your return trip.