A person with a green card or US citizenship can live and work in the United States indefinitely. Both statuses enjoy a host of benefits and similarities.
The two statuses are also very different. Understanding the differences between green card vs citizenship can help you comply with the law.
Privileges of Green Card Holders
If you are immigrating to the United States, the first step is usually holding permanent resident status. You will be issued a literal green card that proves you can work and live in the country indefinitely.
As a permanent resident, you can enjoy several privileges. These include the following:
- Serve in the US military
- Receive entitlement benefits
- Obtain a driver's license
- Apply for travel visas for family members outside the country
- Receive federal benefits
As a tax-paying member of the United States, you can receive benefits such as social security and Medicare. Since a permanent resident pays into the systems, they are allowed to extract after reaching the appropriate requirements.
Green card holders can obtain legal driver's licenses that let them get to school, work, or travel within the country.
If a permanent resident can reside within the country long enough without any legal issues, they will be able to apply for visas for spouses and children. Responsible residents are more likely to bring in other responsible applicants.
Depending on income levels and time of residency, you may start to receive federal benefits like food stamps.
Privileges of Citizens
A United States citizen enjoys all the benefits of permanent residents plus more. Some of the privileges a citizen enjoys that green card holders do not include the following:
- Vote in elections
- Run for office
- Apply for family visas
- US embassy protection
- Obtain certain government jobs
One of the many benefits of being a citizen includes participation in our government. US citizens exclusively vote and hold office in this country.
Naturally born citizens have another benefit that naturalized citizens don't get - they can run for President.
As a US citizen, you can also have family members outside the US apply for visas without a prolonged wait. This privilege extends past just immediate family members. Brothers and sisters and grandparents abroad can also enjoy this benefit.
If you travel overseas and need special protection or assistance, a US citizen can seek asylum at a US embassy on foreign soil. Depending on the situation, an embassy will protect you and pay for you to go home.
Some lucrative and important federal jobs require citizenship. Green card holders will be denied during the application phase.
Biggest Differences Between Green Card vs Citizenship Status
US citizens enjoy some protections that permanent residents don't have. Here are some key differences:
- Loss of Status
- Criminal court system
Permanent residents can be deported if they are convicted of qualifying misdemeanors or felonies. Being deported for crimes may bar a person from reapplying for a green card in the future.
While a green card allows a person to leave the country and return without issues, you need to make sure your trip isn't longer than six months or you could lose your status.
Make sure you contact the appropriate authorities if you become stuck in a different country. Situations that might warrant an extension include war, government shutdown, or natural disaster.
Permanent residents can also lose their status if they change their address and don't notify the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The criminal court system also works differently for permanent residents. Besides deportation, you will require a special bond to be removed from a jail or detention center.
Breaking the law could also affect your ability to become a US citizen later. The bottom line is to avoid legal issues while a green card holder.
United States citizens cannot lose their status unless they lied on the application to become a citizen. The only other way a US citizen can lose citizenship is by denouncing their status and claiming foreign citizenship.
Pathway to Citizenship
There are multiple ways to become a United States citizen and enjoy all the benefits and privileges. Here are the pathways:
- Born to a US parent
- Born on US soil
- Born to a permanent resident
Citizenship by naturalization is the process that a foreign-born person must take to voluntarily become a citizen. You can achieve this by being at least 18 years old, passing a basic citizenship test, and passing residency requirements.
A naturalized citizen must serve in the Armed Forces, be a permanent resident and married to a US citizen for at least three years, or permanently reside in the US for five years.
The process is started by filling out an N-400 application. You can check on the process of your citizenship or permanent resident application by looking at the N400 timeline. The naturalization process is quicker for children adopted by American parents.
Born to a US Parent
A person can be born outside the United States and automatically receive citizenship by having at least one parent with US citizenship. It doesn't matter where or how long the person is outside the United States, they will still get citizenship.
Additionally, that person may be eligible for citizenship in the country or place they were born.
Born on US Soil
Any person born in the United States, no matter the nationality of their parents, is automatically granted citizenship. This territorial birthright is extended to all US territories and protectorates.
If a baby is born on a US embassy to foreign parents, the baby is not automatically eligible for citizenship.
Born to a Permanent Resident
A child under 18 years old born to a permanent resident acquires citizenship in a special manner. A naturalized parent automatically passes citizenship to their children if they are also permanent residents.
If a child is a permanent resident and has one parent who is a citizen, then they will automatically be eligible. Naturalization laws change regularly so make sure you know the current legislation in place.
Reasons to Keep Your Permanent Resident Status
Not everyone who lives and works in the United States wants to become a citizen. There are a few reasons to keep your permanent resident status without the goal of citizenship.
Here are circumstances that would keep someone from applying for US citizenship:
- Loss of citizenship
- Jury duty
One reason someone might not want US citizenship is due to paying taxes. Americans must pay taxes on all income whether it's made overseas or at home. A permanent resident only has to pay taxes on money earned in the US.
Not every country allows for dual citizenship. Becoming a US citizen might mean losing the benefits and privileges of another country. Countries like China forbid anyone from holding citizenship with any other country.
Every American citizen is eligible and obligated to serve jury duty if called. Some citizens with felonies are disqualified from serving. Jury duty can be a big inconvenience, and some people would rather not be obligated.
There may be other reasons to keep a permanent resident status. As long as a person follows the rules, they can keep their status indefinitely.
Possible Obstacles to Obtaining a Green Card
If you think you're ready to apply for a green card and become a permanent resident of the United States, there may be a few obstacles you have to overcome first.
These are a few reasons your application could be denied:
- Criminal status
- Application errors
- At-risk status
Applications for permanent residency are often denied because a person has committed a crime in the United States. International criminals are also denied a green card and asylum status.
People who suffer from infectious diseases or drug addiction will also be denied a green card. They can also be denied entry to the country as a visitor.
The American process to become a permanent resident starts with paperwork. Filing paperwork incorrectly, forgetting to complete sections, or unintentionally giving the wrong answer will delay and possibly deny your application.
It might be best to work with an immigration lawyer who can help you do your paperwork properly.
A judge is not likely to admit or grant green cards to people who show an at-risk level of dependence on their government for basic necessities. If a person shows they cannot be self-sufficient, the US government does not want to take on that burden.
This is one of the reasons why many people who are given green cards are able to display a skill or education to be utilized.
Welcome to America
The United States is one of the wealthiest and opportunistic countries in the world. Becoming a permanent resident or citizen entitles you to protection and benefits.
Know the differences between green card vs citizenship status so you know your rights and privileges.
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