The difference between a US Green Card and US Citizenship
People with long term rights to live and work in United States are either Green Card holders or have US citizenship. Here is a look at the similarities and differences.
For someone immigrating to the United States on a permanent basis, lawful permanent residence is usually the necessary first step.
People may become lawful permanent residents after being petitioned for (often called “sponsored”) by a spouse or close family member or an employer; after receiving refugee status or asylum; after winning the diversity visa lottery, also known as the Green Card Lottery; or in various other categories.
In most cases, Green Card holders must wait some years before applying to become US citizens, through a process called “naturalization.” Other ways that people can become US citizens include by birth in the US, birth overseas to a US citizen parent, and living in the US as a child when a parent naturalizes.
About the only way that someone can go straight from having no US immigration status to being a US citizen is by joining the United States Military, as described in “US Citizenship Rights for US Military Personnel and Veterans.”
A lawful permanent resident receives a photo identity card that is, literally, green, and therefore known as the Green Card. The card is evidence that the holder has the right to live and work in the US on a permanent basis, as well as to travel and return.
However, Green Card holders cannot do everything that US citizens can.
1. They may not vote in US elections.
2. They cannot remain outside the US for an unlimited time.
3. They cannot make their primary home outside the US.
4. They can lose their residency rights by failing to report changes of address.
5. They can lose their residency rights by committing crimes or acts of espionage or terrorism.
In addition, Green Card holders cannot always get the same assistance and benefits from the government that US citizens can. Many federal programs impose a five-year grace period before Green Card holders can start receiving benefits.
US citizenship is the highest status someone can attain under US immigration law. It means a permanent right to live in the United States.
US citizens are not subject to the grounds for deportation that affect Green Card holders.
The only way someone can take a former immigrant’s citizenship status away is if that person committed fraud in obtaining it in the first place.
For these reasons, it is wise for Green Card holders to apply for US citizenship as soon as possible.
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