Green Card vs. Citizenship: Everything You Need to Know
There is often confusion concerning the differences between green card holders and those with citizenship status. 6 min read
Green Card vs. Citizenship
Green card vs. citizenship – there are similarities and differences between both. More specifically, the process of converting from green card holder to U.S. citizen is called naturalization, and there are specific requirements that must be met before a green card holder can apply for citizenship.
Difference Between U.S. Green Card and U.S. Citizenship
There is often confusion concerning the differences between green card holders and those with citizenship status. For most immigrants who wish to make U.S. their home, becoming a lawful permanent resident is the first step. Lawful permanent residents, also referred to as green card holders, have certain rights and responsibilities; however, those rights are not as extensive as those with citizenship status. Generally, green card holders must wait a few years before they can apply to become U.S. citizens, or naturalize.
U.S. citizens hold the highest status of what can be attained under U.S. immigration law. The process of naturalization includes a $680 filing fee, a significant amount of paperwork, fingerprinting, and a very detailed interview process. However, once you receive citizenship status, you have several rights, which include:
- Citizens are not subject to deportability
- The only way citizenship can be taken away is if a former immigrant commits fraud in obtaining it in the first place
- Citizens can vote.
- Citizens can apply for scholarships and grants from private educational institutions.
- Citizens can reunite family in the United States. To promote such a right, U.S. citizens and legal residents can petition for certain relatives to come and live in the U.S. permanently.
- Citizens can obtain citizenship for children born abroad. If your child was born outside of the United States, he or she can become a U.S. citizen based on your citizenship status.
- Citizens can travel across U.S. borders with no issues as the former non-citizen will have a U.S. passport.
- Citizens can collect benefits, including social security benefits and Medicare.
- Citizens can become federal employees.
- Citizens can become elected officials.
U.S. Lawful Permanent Residence
Being a green card holder means that you have many rights, including lawful rights to work and permanently reside in the United States; travel abroad; and file a petition for family members to receive green cards. However, green card holders do not have as many rights as citizens. Green card holders cannot vote; they can’t travel abroad for more than 6 months without risking losing their green card status and/or being refused re-entry into the U.S.; cannot generally receive the same assistance and benefits as those with U.S. citizenships can. In addition, if a green card holder commits certain crimes or acts of terrorism, he or she will likely be forced out of the U.S. and back to his or her respective country. However, qualifying for a green card in the U.S. can be rather difficult because there are few categories of those who can apply for green cards; moreover, the USCIS restricts the amount of green cards given out every year. Some other considerations to keep in mind when applying for green card status include:
- The process itself is lengthy and complex.
- Even if you fall into one of the qualified categories, the USCIS may still deem you inadmissible for green card status. This inadmissibility status may be due to the perceived risk based on a criminal or terrorist background, prior immigration violations, health problems, financial issues, etc.
It is important to note that the United States will not stop someone from keeping citizenship in another country after becoming a U.S. citizen nor can it cancel the U.S. citizenship status based on the fact that someone becomes a citizen of another country. However, one thing to keep in mind is whether or not the other country will allow the individual to have dual citizenship in that respective country as well as in the United States.
Green Card Lottery
There are 50,000 green cards available to give out each year through the diversity visa, also referred to as the green card lottery. Only citizens of certain countries with specific educational backgrounds can apply. Such countries are generally those that have sent few immigrants over to the U.S. in the past. These applications are accepted online for a period of one month, usually toward the end of the year, and don’t carry a filing fee. The qualifications are as follows:
- Have at least a high-school education, 12 years of elementary and secondary study or two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation requiring a minimum of two years training or experience.
Green Cards for Family Members
This is one of the most common groupings of green card eligibility, and there is no limited to the number of green cards you can obtain for family members as long as those family members fit certain criteria. This includes:
- Spouses and widows/widowers of U.S. citizens
- Children and step-children who are both unmarried and under the age of 21
- Stepparents- the marriage must have happened before the child was 18 years of age.
- Adopted children- the adoption must have taken place before the age of 16.
There are green cards that are provided to additional relatives of U.S. citizens and green card holders, denoted as preference relatives. These generally have longer wait periods as only 480,000 of these green cards are provided to preference relatives each year. These are given on a first come first served basis; the wait usually ranges from 3 to 24 years. The siblings of U.S. citizens usually are the longest to wait. Below are the preferences:
- Children of a U.S. citizen who are 21 years of age or older and not married
- Spouses and children that aren’t married of a green card holder
- Married children with one or more parents who are U.S. citizens
- Siblings of U.S. citizens, in which the citizen is at least 21 years of age.
Green Card for Certain Job Skills
There are an overall number of 140,000 green cards available every year for those with certain job skills that are needed in the U.S. For those who receive a job offer from a U.S. business, the company itself must either sponsor or assist the non-citizen in obtaining green card status. Below are the preferences for job skill:
- People with surprising ability in the science, arts, business, education, or athletics; exceptional professors and researchers; and managers/executives of multinational companies.
- Those with an advanced degree or exceptional ability
- Professional and skilled or unskilled workers
- Religious workers and other misc. categories of workers, titled “special immigrants”
- Investors who can provide $1 million financing into a U.S. business or $500,000 in a business that is in a locally depressed area (EB-5). Such an investment must create at least ten new jobs.
Green Card for Refugees
The U.S. government will also offer refugee status to those who are in fear of or have experienced persecution within their country of origin based on religion, nationality, race, political beliefs, or membership in a certain social group. Green cards can be issued to refugees after they have been in the U.S. for one year.
Green Card Removal Proceedings
If someone who has lived in the U.S. for more than ten years, has good moral character, and who has a spouse or children that are U.S. citizens can show that he or she would face “extraordinary and exceptionally undue hardship” if being forced back to his or her home country, then that person can request permanent residence from the judge. Such a request cannot start the application process; it is rather an immediate request being made to stop the removal proceeding. If you are facing this issue, it is best to hire a qualified immigration attorney who can assist you during this time.
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