Differences Between Permanent Resident Status and Citizenship

Lawful permanent residents (green card holders) have many rights and privileges, like living and working in the United States indefinitely. There are, however, several limitations that come with permanent resident status that U.S. Citizens don’t have. It is important for all green card holders to be aware of the differences between permanent resident status and citizenship; how it affects their rights and responsibilities; how to maintain their permanent residency status; and how to eventually obtain U.S. citizenship.

What Are the Differences Between Permanent Resident Status and Citizenship?

Here are the restrictions green card holders have that U.S. Citizens do not:

  • Voting – Permanent residents don’t have voting privileges. They cannot vote in local, State-level or Federal elections and doing so would be considered a crime. U.S. citizens have no such restrictions and can vote in all elections.
  • U.S. Passports – Permanent residents cannot obtain a U.S. passport and must continue maintaining the passport of their home country. Only U.S. citizens are eligible to hold U.S. passports.
  • Deportation Protection – U.S. citizens cannot be subjected to deportation to another country under any circumstances. Permanent residents do not have this protection and can have their permanent residency status revoked and deported to their home countries.
  • Public Office – Permanent residents cannot run for or hold public office, while U.S. citizens are free to do so.
  • Bringing Family Members to The U.S. – Although permanent residents can petition to bring their relatives to the U.S., they must do so under the “Family Preference” visa class which are subject to quotas, waiting periods and other limitations. U.S. Citizens can apply to bring their immediate overseas relatives over through the “Immediate Relative” visa class which does not have annual quotas and are typically processed much faster. For more information please see our article on Bringing Family Members to the U.S.
  • Government Benefits – Permanent residents are eligible for benefits, but on a limited scale (many government programs have a five-year waiting period before permanent residents can start receiving benefits). U.S. citizens, on the other hand, can take advantage of the full range of government benefits.
  • Government Jobs – While permanent residents are free to work anywhere in the U.S., they will be barred from finding employment in many U.S. Government Agencies, as those jobs are limited, by law, to U.S. citizens only.
  • Travelling Abroad – Overseas travel can be cumbersome for permanent residents when compared to U.S. citizens. Green card holders who spend above a certain amount of time abroad each year risk having their permanent resident status revoked. Permanent residents must also ensure they have a valid non-expired green card to re-enter the United States from another country

A green card should not be considered to be your final immigration status, but a stepping stone to obtaining U.S. Citizenship. Please Contact Us if you have questions about maintaining your permanent residency status or how to obtain U.S. Citizenship.

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