Those who permanently reside and work in the United States do so under one of two conditions: having a green card (also known as lawful permanent residence) or being a U.S. citizen. Both conditions provide a long-term right to permanently live in the United States as well as secure employment, however there are major differences between the two that one should know when deciding which path to choose.
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It is possible for someone who holds a green card to become a United States citizen, however there are many steps that are required before obtaining citizenship. For immigrants wishing to become citizens of the U.S., they must first obtain lawful permanent residence in the country. This may be achieved in a few different ways: if they are sponsored by a close individual (family member, employer, etc.) who has already achieved lawful permanent residence or who is a U.S. citizen, if they receive asylum in the United States, if they are granted amnesty, and more. Once an individual obtains a green card, if he wishes to take the next step to become a U.S. citizen he must apply through a process called “naturalization” which may take up to five years. Let’s look more in depth at the differences between the two conditions.
RIGHTS OF A PERMANENT RESIDENT (GREEN CARD)
Those who have lawful permanent residence within the U.S. are given a green identification card that confirms their right to reside in the United States. As a green card holder you may petition for immediate family members such as a spouse or unmarried children to obtain permanent residency, and may may travel to other countries and lawfully reenter the United States. Nevertheless, there are certain conditions that restrict full citizenship benefits for green card holders:
- You cannot vote in U.S. elections
- You may not remain outside of the U.S. for extended amounts of time at the risk of “abandonment of residency”
- You may lose your resident status if you engage in criminal activity
- You may risk deportation if you don’t notify the USCIS when you change residences
- You may have to wait a certain number of years before receiving permanent resident benefits
- You may not be eligible for certain scholarships and federal grants
With so many restrictions, it seems more rewarding for permanent residents to apply for naturalized citizenship as soon as possible and receive full benefits of a United States citizen.
RIGHTS OF A UNITED STATES CITIZEN
Just as there are different ways to obtain lawful permanent residency in the United States, there are also different ways to obtain citizenship in the United States. One may become a U.S. citizen through birth within the country, birth outside of the country to parents who are U.S. citizens, or through the legal process of naturalization. The major difference between those with lawful permanent residence and U.S. citizens lies in grounds for deportation. U.S. citizens, unlike green card holders are not at risk of being deported for: traveling outside of the U.S. for extended periods of time; committing criminal acts, acts of terrorism, or espionage; and changing residences without notifying the government. Once a green card holder obtains citizenship he will have access to the full benefits of citizenship, which includes but is not limited to petitioning for a greater number of family members to obtain lawful permanent residence in the United States (this may take a few years).
Now that you know the difference between the two, which seems like the better deal?
GENERAL INFORMATION: GREEN CARDS VS. CITIZENSHIP
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Carl Shusterman served as an INS Trial Attorney (1976-82) before opening a firm specializing exclusively in US immigration law. He is a Certified Specialist in Immigration Law who has testified as an expert witness before the US Senate Immigration Subcommittee. Carl was featured in the February 2018 edition of SuperLawyers Magazine.