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Comparing the Differences Between the US Green Card and US Citizenship

4 minute read
"Many people get confused between terms and definitions for citizenship and permanent residency in the United States. The most common confusion is usually about the differences and similarities between the Green Card and US citizenship."
Written by My Visa Source Team
Published on:  May 13, 2021
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Many people get confused between terms and definitions for citizenship and permanent residency in the United States. The most common confusion is usually about the differences and similarities between the Green Card and US citizenship.

There are 2 types of US citizenship. People who acquire or derive citizenship from their US citizen parents are granted the US Certificate of Citizenship and people who gain US citizenship through the naturalization process receive a Certificate of Naturalization. 

Meanwhile, foreign nationals who are allowed to live and work in the US for some time are issued a Green Card and are known as lawful permanent residents. 

What Are the Differences Between Green Card Holders and US Citizens?

The following table will provide you an efficient guide between the differences of a lawful permanent resident and a US citizen:

Action Described

Green Card Holder

US Citizen

Can they be deported?

Yes, if they are guilty of espionage, felony, demonstrate non-compliance with the US immigration law, become public charges or change address without informing the authorities and other reasons that match the grounds for deportation

No, they can not be deported. However, a naturalized citizen can have their citizenship revived if it is discovered that they provided falsified information at the time of application or they can voluntarily give up their citizenship

Will they receive an identity document?

Yes, they get a Green Card also known as Form I-551

Yes, they get a birth certificate, a consular record of birth abroad to a US citizen or a naturalization certificate

Do they get a US passport?

No, they must travel with a passport issued by their home country

Yes, they can apply for a US passport

Can they vote in US elections?

No

Yes

Can they petition for permanent residency of family members?

Yes, but only spouses and unmarried children 

Yes, they can sponsor their parents, spouse, children (married or not) and siblings

Do they qualify for government benefits?

Yes, but only on a limited basis

Yes, if they meet the eligibility criteria

What Is the Naturalization Process?

The naturalization process requires you to fill out the necessary forms, including the N-400 form. You must already have a Green Card to be eligible to fill out this form and meet other requirements regarding the length of your residency and the ability to speak and write English. Eligible applicants will be required to pass a citizenship test to gain citizenship. 

If you pass the citizenship test and meet the other requirements, you will be required to take part in the naturalization ceremony and take the Oath of Allegiance. You will be provided with a certificate of citizenship. 

What Are the Rights and Benefits of an US Lawful Permanent Resident?

Lawful permanent residents receive a Green Card that serves as a piece of evidence that they are allowed to live and work in the US permanently. They are authorized to travel and return to the US and petition for family members for permanent residence. 

However, Green Card holders do not have the same rights and freedoms as US citizens. Green Card holders can not vote in US elections. Permanent residents are not allowed to stay out of the country for unlimited periods as this will result in refusal to reenter the US. 

Lawful permanent residents can also lose their residency if they fail to inform the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) about any change in their address or if they are convicted of espionage or terrorism or some other grounds for deportation. 

Green Card holders can not obtain the same rights and privileges as US citizens. Many federal programs implement a 5-year waiting period for Green Card holders to start receiving public benefits. This is why it might be a good idea for you to apply for US citizenship as soon as you are eligible. 

What Are the Rights and Benefits of US Citizenship?

US citizenship is the final status someone can achieve in the US immigration system. It grants you the right to live and work in the US permanently. US citizens can not be deported. The only way to lose citizenship is if you misrepresent your information at the time of application. 

US citizens are allowed to vote, can petition for permanent residency for their family members, hold US passports and obtain for themselves social benefits without any worry. 

Who Can Get US Citizenship Without Permanent Residency?

People can gain US citizenship without being a permanent resident first. US citizenship can be obtained by birth, birth abroad to a US citizen parent or living in the US as a naturalized citizen. However, all of this requires a pre-existing link to the US. 

The only way to gain US citizenship without having a prior US immigration status is by joining the US military.

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