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Green Card vs. Citizenship: What’s the Difference?


When you’re assessing your options in the U.S. as an immigrant (or prospective immigrant), becoming familiar with each type of legal status is your first step. The following is an overview of the similarities and differences between green cards and citizenship.

What is a Permanent Resident?

A green card holder is also known as a permanent resident. They have been authorized to live and work in the U.S. on a permanent basis. They’re then given a permanent resident card which is more commonly known as a green card.

How Are Permanent Residents and Citizens Similar?

Permanent residents (green card holders) and U.S. citizens both have long-term rights to live and work in the United States. Both can travel in and out of the country, access public benefits, and sponsor certain family members for legal status.

What’s the Difference Between a Green Card and Citizenship?

While both are considered permanent, citizenship is the highest form of legal status, and it grants the most benefits. With very limited exceptions, you must be a permanent resident before you become a citizen.

The following benefits of citizenship are NOT available to permanent residents:

  • The right to participate in government (i.e. voting and running for office)
  • Protection from deportation
  • The ability to obtain a U.S. passport (and, as a result, get assistance from the U.S. government when traveling abroad)
  • The highest priority when sponsoring family members for immigrant visas
  • Automatically granting citizenship to your children, even if they’re born in another country
  • The right to apply for federal jobs
  • The right to keep your status permanently (unless you obtained citizenship through fraud)
  • The ability to apply for ALL types of government benefits, federal grants, and scholarships

Permanent residents, meanwhile, must renew their green cards every ten years. They are not entirely safe from deportation, and they are subject to certain restrictions and longer wait times when petitioning for family members to live permanently in the U.S. These are just a few of the drawbacks of permanent residency compared to citizenship.

The Application Processes

While both are extensive and potentially time-consuming, the application processes for green cards and citizenship vary in many ways. Most notably, you can take one of several avenues to become a permanent resident, while the citizenship process (i.e. naturalization) is a singular path.

For example, you can obtain a green card through:

For citizenship, however, the process looks virtually the same for every applicant. You must meet a long list of requirements, one of which is holding a green card for a certain number of years.

Here are just a few of the other requirements:

  • At least 30 months of physical presence in the U.S.
  • Demonstration of “good moral character”
  • Being at least 18 years old
  • Passing an English and civics assessment during your interview
  • Taking a naturalization oath of allegiance once you pass your interview

Every person’s situation is unique, and citizenship may make more sense for some than for others. No matter your ultimate goal, understanding your options is a critical step in your immigration journey.

Get in Touch with Our Firm for Personalized Support

Are you considering applying for a green card or becoming a citizen? Kanu & Associates, P.C. can assess your situation, predict potential obstacles, and guide you through the entire process. As a first-generation immigrant, our lead attorney has a personal understanding of what you may be experiencing. We combine this knowledge with our legal skills to provide dedicated services for each and every client.

Let’s begin or continue your immigration journey today. Call (602) 353-7795 or fill out our online contact form to request your case evaluation.