If he's been carrying the same card in his wallet for 20 years, and never looked at it, and never noticed it expired, what will happen to him?
As long as the his permanent residence was not "conditioned" (the card was issued for a 10 year period) his lawful permanent residency has not expired, only the card has. Assuming there is no intervening criminal history on the resident's part he can apply to receive an updated card using form I-90 in a relatively straight forward process.
If this person does have a criminal history OR the card in question was only issued for a two (2) year period it is in his best interest to contact an immigration attorney to discuss the possible issues that may be at hand.
Best of luck!
The card is evidence of the permanent resident status, the card is not what makes someone a permanent resident, so while you have to renew the card, you do not have to renew the status (the status is, as the name suggests, "permanent"). He needs to file a Form I-90 to renew his card, but his failure to have done so should not affect him, at least from an immigration standpoint. I've attached a link to the USCIS page where he can file his Form I-90 online.
If his green card was only valid for 2 years that would mean he was granted conditional residence. The condition on his residence would have been that he file a Form I-751 petition to remove conditions during the last 90 days of the 2 years that the card was valid for. The result of his failure to file a From I-751 is a bit more complicated, but as long as he hasn't been put into removal proceedings (deportation) he should be able to file his I-751 late. I would not recommend doing that without an attorney though. Good luck!
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