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What Is The Difference Between a Green Card and Citizenship?

Two green cards and an american flag.

One question that frequently arises for immigrants is the distinction between being a citizen and a permanent resident (otherwise known as having a green card).

Although both citizens and green card holders have the legal right to live in the United States, the two commonly referred-to legal terms carry very different meanings.

Citizenship

Being born in the United States automatically confers citizenship. “Birthright citizenship,” the legal term for citizenship by birth, applies to anyone born in the United States, including the offspring of undocumented immigrants, regardless of the citizenship status of their parents. The second way to gain U.S. citizenship involves applying  for Naturalization . The Naturalization process includes a background check, citizenship test and a basic understanding of the English language.  The American government cannot deport United States citizens.

Citizenship Rights

United States citizenship provides myriad legal rights not granted to green card holders. You become eligible to receive an American passport, and most countries allow you to enter without having to obtain a visa first. United States citizens have the legal right to vote in elections, be on juries, and apply for federal jobs,  As an American citizen, you can petition the federal government to permit your relatives to immigrate into the country. Moreover, you have legal access to numerous academic financial benefits, such as grants and scholarships.

Lawful Permanent Residency

Green card holders have earned the legal right to live in the United States. This can confuse some people, since it is the same right granted to United States citizens. However, lawful permanent residents of the United States face several legal restrictions. You have a limited number of immigrant visas giving to “preference relatives.” You have the legal right to work in America, but your legal status prevents you from voting in any United States election. American immigration authorities limit the amount of time that you can legally be absent from United States without forfeiting your green card, especially if you leave the country for more than 180 days at a time. Green card holders also have the cloud of deportation hanging over their heads, whereas American citizens do not.

Generally, within five years, immigrants with  green cards, who have demonstrated strong morals, and have maintained continuous physical presence in the United States, have the legal right to apply for United States citizenship.  Citizenship will be granted if the immigrant demonstrates the  ability to speak and understand English, and pass a test on United States history and government.

We strongly urge immigrants to contact our office to learn more about the important differences between having legal permanent resident status and being a United States citizen. Our team of experienced immigration attorneys can ensure you never have to worry about deportation by helping you move through the citizenship process.

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