The United States has an incredibly complex immigration and citizenship system. As such, it’s easy to confuse the many different types of citizenship and resident statuses that can be obtained.
One thing that is not always clear to individuals is the difference between being a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) and being a United States citizen. Both of these statuses share many of the same rights and responsibilities. However, there are several major differences which separate the two.
According to United States immigration law, United States citizenship is the highest level of citizenship that a person can have. U.S. citizens have the right to permanently live in the United States and are not subject to deportation. There are a few ways to become a U.S. citizen:
- Be born in the United States
- Live in the U.S. as a parent goes through naturalization
- Apply for citizenship after holding a green card for at least five years
- Be born to a U.S. citizen parent overseas
- Join the United States military
Once an individual attains U.S. citizenship, they are able to enjoy several rights that are not available to green card holders, such as the right to:
- Vote in elections
- Run for public office
- Petition for relatives to gain asylum
- Obtain certain federal jobs
While these are not all the rights given exclusively to U.S. citizens, they are some of the most notable ones.
Green Card Holders/Permanent Residents
The first thing that should be noted is that green card holders are not considered residents. It simply allows an individual to permanently live and work in the United States. Obtaining a green card can be achieved in a few different ways, including:
- Have a family member, spouse, or employer sponsor the individual
- Win the diversity visa lottery
- Obtained after receiving asylum or refugee status
While green card holders don’t have all of the same rights as U.S. citizens, they are granted several of the same rights, including the right to:
- Travel and return to the U.S.
- Own or rent property
- Get a driver’s license
- Attend public schools
- Get a bank account
- Obtain a social security number
- Serve in the U.S. military
Once again, this is not an all-inclusive list of the rights granted to green card holders. However, it does show that, while they are not granted all the rights that a citizen might have, they do share many of the same benefits and responsibilities of United States citizens.
As the United States tends to have incredibly complex and nuanced immigration policies, it can be difficult to understand the differences between certain citizenship and resident statuses. Hopefully, this helped clear up the difference between green card holders and citizens in the United States.