Primary Differences Between a U.S. Green Card and U.S. Citizenship

When first researching to become a United States citizen, many people are confused about the differences between a naturalized citizen and a Green Card holder. They may ask the question: Is a Green Card holder a full citizen? Or, they will want to know if you need a Green Card before becoming a United States citizen. Also, they may question how nationality relates to a Green Card.

Finally, they may ask about the benefits of each. Well, no more confusion because we know these are complicated questions and sometimes finding a straight answer can be time-consuming, so, in this article, we will answer all of the above questions and share additional information and advice.

What are some benefits of a Green Card?

Having a United States Green Card means you are a lawful permanent resident. There are great and immense benefits to being a lawful resident, but you are not afforded the full rights of citizenship. For that, you will have to complete the naturalization process. Regular Green Cards are good for 10 years and you must renew or replace it before it expires. On the other hand, you could apply for naturalization instead of renewing your Green Card.

The two most important things to note about having a green card is that it gives you the legal authorization to live and work in the U.S. It is proof that you have taken the proper steps to obtain governmental permission to abide and work freely. Of course, this is very important because by law, employers are only allowed to hire employees that are legally permitted to work in the country.

The third Green Card benefit that most excites people is the ability to travel somewhat freely in and out of the U.S. We use the term “somewhat” because there are still restrictions on permanent residents. To illustrate, permanent residents must remain in the United States for the majority of each year. For any extended trips outside of the country (especially those longer than 1 year), permanent residents will have to submit either a re-entry permit or a returning resident visa. Keep in mind that you may not be approved for either of these and will be in danger of forfeiting your status if, nevertheless, you decide to leave the country for an extended period.

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Additionally, Green Card holders that receive public assistance will likely be subjected to even stricter travel regulations. There have been cases where those receiving governmental financial public assistance have been denied reentry into the country although they were lawful permanent residents. Consult and immigration attorney or USCIS official before traveling outside the country if you receive any forms of financial public assistance.

So, yes. Permanent residents have restricted travel access that is between the very strict rules for non-residents and the full travel freedoms enjoyed by U.S. citizens. But, the permanent resident travel rights are definitely a step in the right direction! Use them with care and there should not be any issues.

Another direct benefit of obtaining a Green Green is that you become qualified to sponsor immediate relatives. You are able to help your family members obtain their own Green Cards since you have legal ties to the United States.

Other governmental and private perks that permanent residents enjoy are: social security, insurance, health, and retirement benefits.

Primary Differences between Permanent Residents and Naturalized Citizens

Becoming a United States citizen is the absolute last step on the U.S. immigration ladder. Once you achieve this step, you gain the inalienable rights that all other native citizens enjoy. Meaning, you will have the right to vote, full travel freedoms along with a U.S. passport, and are no longer at risk of deportation or other immigration proceedings. A very important distinction here is also an obvious one: if you acquired citizenship via fraudulent means, you are still subject to deportation and possibly criminal charges.

Fortunately, this also means that you are able to petition for a wider range of family members to join you in the U.S. More, Green Card holders can only petition for their most immediate family members, whereas a naturalized or native born citizen can petition for those beyond the most immediate family, including siblings and married children. Another contrast is that immediate relatives of a United States citizen will mostly likely be able to emigrate once they are done with formal procedures, like interviews, applications, and fees. Contrarily, an immediate relative of a Green Card holder will only be given a “preference relative” status. Preference relative status means that the relative may spend years on an immigration waiting list before they are allowed to legally enter the United States. To be fair, extended family members of U.S. citizens are also deemed “preference relatives” and are assigned to the same waiting list.

From Green Card to Full Citizenship via Naturalization

As stated above, Green Cards expire every ten years. Normally, in order to transition from a United States Green Card holder to a fully naturalized citizen, you must have been a Green Card holder for at least five years immediately prior to filing an Application for Naturalization.

Some other requirements before applying for citizenship:

  • You must be at least 18 years old before you file.
  • Have spent the majority of your time in the previous five years within the U.S. borders. Majority of the time is defined by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services as at least 30 months.
  • Keep continuous residence in the United States while waiting for your citizenship results.

There a two notable exceptions on the Green Card to Naturalization timeframe:

  1. If you are a conditional permanent resident, your Green Card expires after two years.
  2. If you are married to a United States citizen, you can petition for naturalization after three years of being a permanent resident.

As we’ve illustrated above, there are clear differences between U.S. citizenship and permanent residents (Green Card holders). However, they are connected for those seeking citizenship via immigration. Having a Green Card or permanent residence is the proper first step in obtaining naturalized citizenship. Think of it as an immigration rainbow: Each step moves you farther along the rainbow giving you more benefits. At the end of the rainbow full-citizenship is the pot of gold filled with rights and privileges. Keep moving along your rainbow, you’ll get there.

Complete your immigration paperwork using our online software. We make it easy!

Complete your immigration paperwork using our online software. We make it easy!

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