People with long-term rights to live and work in the United States are either Green Card holders or have US Citizenship. In this blog post, we will have a look at the similarities and differences between the two.
What is a US Green Card?
All Green Card holders, as long as they meet key conditions, can apply for US Citizenship after five years. And if you are married to a US citizen you can apply after only three year.
Someone immigrating to the US (legally) must become a lawful permanent resident. There are various steps to go through, but the ID card you get at the end is known informally as a Green Card.
A Green Card serves as the immigrant’s proof that they’re legally allowed to live and work in the country. As such, you’ll be required to show it when applying for housing or at a job interview.
Also, a Green Card allows you to legally leave and enter the US for whatever reason. It’s different from a visa, which typically only allows you to enter once per visa, and also expires after a set period.
Obtaining a Green Card
People may become lawful permanent residents (LPRs) after being petitioned for (often called “sponsored”) by a spouse, 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.
The route you go down ultimately depends on your reason for entering the US. If you have a job lined up, you’ll receive a Green Card as part of the process. Once you have a Green Card, you can then sponsor spouses and children to also enter the country.
Applying for a Green Card follows the same process (more or less) regardless of your reason for application. An exception is the Green Card Lottery, which doesn’t require sponsorship from an American LPR or employer.
Renewing a Green Card and Living in America
A Green Card is valid for 10 years. However, that doesn’t mean they expire, it just means you need to get a new card. Once you have LPR status, you’re allowed to remain in the US indefinitely, unless you commit certain crimes.
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 being born in the US, birth overseas to a US parent, and living in the US as a child when a parent naturalizes.
You can apply for naturalization after 5 years of holding a Green Card, or 3 years if you marry a US citizen.
The only viable way to 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.”
What is a US Citizenship?
A US citizen is someone with full rights to live in the United States with a US Citizenship. The status as a US Citizenship happens automatically if you’re born in the United States.
Perhaps one of the biggest benefits is that you can travel outside the USA on an American passport. It’s one of the most open passports for international travel, meaning you don’t need a visa to enter certain countries with a US Citizenship.
Along with this, you can also seek assistance from a US Consulate or US Embassy when abroad when you have a US Citizenship.
Also, as a US citizen, you can apply for American visas for more “distant” relatives, such as siblings and grandparents.
Becoming a US Citizen
Providing you meet the eligibility requirements, becoming a US citizen isn’t too difficult. It can, however, be quite long-winded, so be ready to get stuck in with the application process.
Some requirements are standard, such as:
- You must be over the age of 18.
- You can read, write and speak basic English.
- You have been a continuous resident in the USA for 3-5 years.
The last one is the hardest to prove, but you can use payslips, rental receipts, and more.
One of the hardest to demonstrate is your “good moral character”. Put simply, it means you haven’t committed certain crimes and that you won’t be a “burden on society”. Unfortunately, in America, this ranges from being a criminal to an addict.
You also need to sit a citizenship test, which includes questions about US history and politics. Providing you study, it shouldn’t be too difficult to pass.
Difference Between US Citizenship and US Green Card
The bottom line is that a US citizen can do everything a Green Card holder can, and more.
Both can own or rent property, apply for a driver’s license, and go to a public school. They can also open a bank account and get a social security number.
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. A US citizen isn’t 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.
Getting a Green Card and a US Citizenship
If you don’t have a job lined up or family in America, the easiest way to get a Green Card is through the Green Card Program. The US Green Card Office can help with your application to guarantee it’s accepted during registration.
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