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Green Card vs Citizenship: Key Differences to Know Before Converting from Permanent Resident to Citizenship


In the United States, possessing a Green Card vs holding citizenship are two different immigration statuses. The Green Card, also known as a Permanent Resident Card (shown below), permits individuals from other countries to live and work in the U.S. permanently.


On the other hand, citizenship is the highest immigration status, granting individuals full rights and privileges. While a Green Card provides a pathway to citizenship (also called naturalization), not everyone with a Green Card becomes a citizen or wants to become a citizen.


Green Card vs Citizenship

Table of Contents: Green Card vs Citizenship


So, it's important to know the key differences between having a Green Card and being a citizen, especially if you're thinking about changing from a Green Card to citizenship. Let's look at the good and not-so-good things about having a Green Card versus being a U.S. citizen.



Green Card vs Citizenship

The main differences between green card holders (permanent residents) and having citizenship in the United States revolve around rights, privileges, and responsibilities. Here are some key differences:


1. CITIZENSHIP

  • Green card holders are not U.S. citizens, and citizens enjoy additional rights.

  • U.S. citizenship can be acquired in two main ways: by birth (either born in the U.S. or to U.S. citizen parents) or through the process of naturalization (green card to citizenship).


2. CITIZENSHIP FOR CHILDREN

  • Children born to U.S. citizens or green card holders, whether in the U.S. or abroad, automatically receive U.S. citizenship.

  • However, if a child is born abroad to green card-holding parents, citizenship requires additional steps like filing for a CBRA (Consular Report of Birth Abroad).


3. RIGHT TO VOTE

  • U.S. citizens have the right to vote in federal elections, whereas green card holders cannot participate in federal voting because they are considered non-US citizens.



4. PHYSICAL PRESENCE

  • To obtain a green card, physical presence in the U.S. is not required. You can also apply for a green card from abroad.

  • However, to become a U.S. citizen (through naturalization), one must meet residency requirements, typically residing in the U.S. for five years (or three years if married to a U.S. citizen).


5. GOVERNMENT JOBS

  • Some government jobs and security clearances are reserved for U.S. citizens, making citizens more eligible for certain employment opportunities.



6. DEPORTATION RISK

  • Green card holders may face deportation if they violate certain immigration laws, while citizens cannot be deported for immigration-related reasons.


7. CITIZENSHIP RESPONSIBILITIES



8. TRAVEL FLEXIBILITY

  • Citizens, can travel freely and live abroad without risking their citizenship.

  • Green card holders, on the other hand, are generally advised not to stay outside the U.S. for more than six months at a time. However, there is no specific written rule for this.

  • Green card holders can apply for for re-entry permit which allows them to travel abroad for 2 years.


9. DUAL CITIZENSHIP

  • A U.S. citizen can hold dual citizenship with another country.

  • However, other countries might not allow dual citizenship. For example, if you are from India, you must give up Indian citizenship, as India does not permit dual citizenship, even though the U.S. does.



10. GREEN CARD VALIDITY

  • Green card holders can live indefinitely, but their permanent resident cards are typically valid for 10 years, requiring green card renewal.

  • In contrast, citizenship has no expiration; once you become a citizen, you remain a citizen.


11. U.S. PASSPORT

  • U.S. citizens are eligible to apply for and receive a U.S. passport. Green card holders, however, do not have this privilege.

  • One of the main benefits of having a U.S. passport is that you don't need a visa to travel to several other countries, including Canada, Mexico, the UK, European Union countries, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, etc.



12. TAX IMPLICATIONS

  • U.S. citizens are subject to worldwide income taxation, meaning they must report income earned both within and outside the country.

  • Green card holders may also have tax obligations, but they are generally not taxed on their income abroad if they maintain their permanent resident status.


13. INHERITANCE RULES

  • U.S. citizens have the right to transfer their assets to heirs with fewer tax restrictions compared to green card holders.


14. SPONSORSHIP ABILITY

  • U.S. citizens have broader sponsorship capabilities for family members in the immigration process compared to green card holders.

  • U.S. citizens can sponsor green cards for close relatives, including spouses, children, parents, and siblings (brothers and sisters), through family-based immigration.


15. EASE OF ENTRY AND EXIT

  • U.S. citizens face fewer restrictions when entering or exiting the country, experiencing smoother processes at borders and airports compared to green card holders.

  • U.S. citizens can also seek assistance from U.S. embassies while traveling abroad, whereas green card holders may have limited access to such support.



FAQs on Green Card vs Citizenship

What is the minimum stay in the U.S. before applying for a green card?

There is no strict minimum residency requirement for a green card application, meaning there isn't a specific number of days you must be present in the U.S. to apply for a green card. If you are eligible, you can even apply for a green card from abroad.


What is naturalization?

Naturalization is the process through which a foreign citizen becomes a citizen of another country. In the context of the United States, naturalization refers to the process by which immigrants become U.S. citizens. It involves meeting certain eligibility requirements, including residency, good moral character, English language proficiency, and knowledge of the U.S. government and history. Once these requirements are met, eligible individuals can apply for naturalization.


What are the 5 requirements to become a U.S. citizen?

These are the 5 requirements to become a U.S. citizen through naturalization:


  • Residency: Stay in the U.S. continuously to meet time requirements.

  • Green Card Holder: Have a green card for about five years (or three if married to a U.S. citizen).

  • Good Person: Be a good person, following U.S. laws and rules.

  • Speak English: Know and use English well, though there are exceptions for age and residency duration.

  • Civics Test: Pass a test about the U.S. government and history, with possible exemptions based on age and time in the U.S.



What's the minimum stay in the U.S. for citizenship after getting a green card?

As per USCIS guidelines, individuals must have continuous residence as a Green Card holder in the U.S. for five years before applying for citizenship. However, qualified spouses of U.S. citizens are eligible to apply after three years of continuous residence.


Can I apply for U.S. citizenship after 3 years of green card?

Yes, you can if you are applying as the spouse of a U.S. citizen.


Can a green card holder apply for citizenship before 5 years?

No, unless you are the spouse of a U.S. citizen, you must fulfill the 5-year residency requirement on the green card before applying for naturalization.



What are the steps to convert from a green card to citizenship?

Here are the steps to transition from a green card to citizenship:


  1. Determine your eligibility to become a U.S. citizen like residency requirement, etc.

  2. Prepare and submit Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.

  3. Attend the biometrics appointment if required.

  4. Complete the interview with USCIS.

  5. Await a decision on your Form N-400 application.

  6. Receive a notice to take the Oath of Allegiance.

  7. Take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States.

  8. Congratulation! You are now a U.S. citizen.



How much does it cost to become a U.S. citizen?

To file Form N-400 and become a U.S. citizen, the fee is $640. If applicable, add the $85 biometric fee, bringing the total to $725. This is per individual, each dependent will have a separate fee.


What happens to a non-U.S. citizen after they request citizenship?

USCIS will schedule an interview with you to complete the naturalization process after your N-400 application is processed.




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