Green Card vs. Citizenship: Everything You Need to Know

Green card vs. citizenship – there are similarities and differences between both. More specifically, a green card holder has every legal right to live and work in the United States. It is an immigration process for becoming a citizen. Therefore, most people who are green card holders eventually become citizens.

Green Card and Citizenship Differences

There are many differences between being a green card holder and permanent citizen. As previously noted, a green card holder, while a lawful “resident” of the U.S., is not a permanent citizen. Simply put, the green card holder can legally live and work in the country. However, there are other benefits that the green card holder doesn’t have that a citizen would have, one of which includes voting rights. It can take a couple of years for the green card holder to obtain permanent citizenship.

Benefits of Becoming a U.S. Citizen

U.S. citizens have the highest level of benefits. Therefore, non-citizens emigrate to the United States in hopes of one day becoming a permanent U.S. citizen, also referred to as the process of naturalization. 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, including the following:

●Citizens cannot be deported to their home country; however, the one way in which they can in fact be deported is if the individual commits fraud in obtaining citizenship.

●As a U.S. citizen, you can vote in every election.

●You can apply for loans, scholarships, grants, and any other type of financial assistance that a U.S. citizen can apply for.

●As a U.S. citizen, you can file immigration petitions for your family to join you in the U.S. You can also obtain citizenship for your children who are born outside of the U.S.

●You can travel freely within the U.S. or internationally.

●You can obtain health and other medical insurance, retirement insurance, and any other type of benefit you wish to have.

●You can work as a federal or state employee.

U.S. Lawful Permanent Residence

Green card holders have many rights, which is generally why many non-citizens apply for a green card as soon as they become eligible to do so. Some common benefits to having a green card include the ability to travel both domestically and internationally and file an immigration petition for all family members to also obtain green cards. Keep in mind, however, that green card holders generally cannot travel for more than six months at a time without risk of losing green card status. 

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 limits the number of green cards given out each year. Some other considerations to keep in mind when applying for green card status include the fact that the process is lengthy and complex. Furthermore, 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.

Dual Citizenship

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 categories 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 occurred 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 given out to other relatives of U.S. citizens and green card holders, referred to as preference relatives. These generally have longer wait periods as only 480,000 of these green cards are given out to preference relatives each year. These are given on a first come first served basis; the wait tends to range from three to 24 years. The siblings of U.S. citizens usually wait the longest. Below are the preferences:

●Unmarried children of a U.S. citizen who are 21 years of age or older

●Spouses and unmarried children 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 a total 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 of extraordinary ability in the arts, science, education, business, 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 in their home country 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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