The Difference Between A U.S. Green Card And U.S. Citizenship

A U.S. green card and U.S. citizenship have one similarity; they give you the right to live and work in the U.S. legally. However, these two also have some major differences worth knowing about. Generally, having US citizenship is better than a green card.

On the other hand, having a green card is a great step towards becoming a US citizen. To better understand how these two legal documents are different from each other, we will start with their definitions.

What Is A Green Card?

A green card is a document that allows you to live and work permanently in the United States. It is also known as a Permanent Resident Card. However, having a green card does not mean that you are a citizen of the U.S. As a matter of fact, when you eventually become a US citizen, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services will revoke your green card. You cannot be a green card holder and a U.S. citizen at the same time.

How To Get A United States Green Card?

There are several pathways to obtaining a green card (read more). The best pathway for you will depend on your unique circumstances. Examples include:


This option works if you are a direct relative, fiancé or widower of a citizen of the U.S.


You may be eligible for a green card if you are a highly-skilled immigrant worker or athlete in certain fields, a physician working full-time in an underserved area and meets other eligibility requirements, or an investor in the process of investing at least $1 million in a targeted area that will employ at least 10 eligible persons.

Special Immigrant

This category may include religious workers, international broadcasters, Afghanistan or Iraqi nationals, and others as specified by the USCIS.

Refugee Or Asylee

If you were granted asylee status in the United States at least a year ago, you may be eligible for a US green card. Also, if your refugee status was approved at least a year ago, you may obtain a green card.


You may apply for a green card if you have continuously lived in the United States since Jan 1, 1972.

Human Trafficking Victim

This option only applies if you are a human trafficking victim and have a T nonimmigrant visa, or if you are a crime victim and have a U nonimmigrant visa.

Even if one or more of the aforementioned categories apply to you, it does not necessarily mean that you automatically qualify for a green card. There are several other additional eligibility requirements for each category that must be met before you become a lawful permanent resident of the United States.

Just like other applicants, you will still have to go through the normal filing process, have your biometrics taken, schedule appointments with USCIS officials, and then wait for the verdict.

What is U.S. Citizenship?

In simple terms, U.S. citizenship is the status of being a citizen of the United States. There are several ways to become a US citizen; below are some notable few.

Ways To Become A U S citizen

The four main pathways to U.S. citizenship include:


Permanent residents can apply to become citizens of the United States after meeting all the required conditions. Some general eligibility requirements for naturalization include:

  • The applicants must have been lawful permanent residents of the U.S. for at least five years
  • Must have good moral character
  • Demonstrate continuous residence in the United States for at least five years immediately before the filing date
  • Have knowledge and understanding of the US history and government, and the US constitution
  • Be able to speak, read and write basic English
  • Prove that they been physically present in the United States at least 30 months out of the five years


A non-US citizen can obtain US citizenship by marrying a US citizen. However, the couple must prove to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services that their marriage is of goodwill and not for the sole purpose of obtaining a green card for the non-U.S. citizen. In some cases, couples who have been found guilty of false marriage for the purposes of obtaining a green card may be subject to legal prosecution.

Citizenship Through Parents

Individuals who were born to a parent who is also a US citizen may obtain US citizenship. In this case, they may have to file Form N-600, also known as Application for Certificate of Citizenship.

Citizenship Through The U.S. Military

By serving in the military, non U.S. citizens are offered a pathway to US citizenship. However, for this pathway to be approved, the applicant must have served in the military honorably and met some other conditions.

Understanding The Difference Between A Green Card Holder And A US Citizen

As mentioned earlier, the difference between a green card and US citizenship lies in the rights that come with these two documents. Here’s a quick look at the major ones.


Permanent residents cannot vote in U.S. elections. However, unlike green card holders, U.S. citizens can vote; it is part of their basic rights as citizens.


Green card holders face the risk of losing their green cards if they engage in criminal activity or remain outside of the US for an extended period of time, usually more than one year. On the other hand, while citizens face the risk of prosecution if they engage in criminal activity, they cannot be deported because they are already citizens of the United States, even if they were not originally born in the country.

They also cannot lose their citizenship once they become citizens of the United states if they stay out of the country for a prolonged period. However, if it has been determined that an individual committed fraud to obtain U.S. citizenship, the citizenship may be revoked.

Changing Addresses

Green card holders are subject to the grounds of deportability if they change their addresses without notifying the USCIS. US citizens, on the other hand, can change their addresses as many times as they wish without notifying USCIS.


Green card holders may not be eligible for certain US government scholarships and grants. However, US citizens are usually eligible.


US citizens are issued with U.S. passports to travel outside the country. Any time without facing the risk of losing their citizenship. Also, many countries do not require US citizens to have a visa before travelling to those countries. Lastly, when US citizens need urgent help while abroad, they may contact their nearest U.S. consulate or embassy for assistance.

Things are different for green card holders; even though they may travel outside the country for a specified period, they do not posses US passports, thus cannot enjoy the aforementioned privileges of travelling outside the United States as a citizen.

Green card holders are still considered citizens of their original country both when they are in and out of the United States. Therefore, if you are a green card holder and you wish to travel outside of the U.S., you need to carry the passport from your original country. You will use this passport to enter into the country of your destination. To reenter the United States, you will be required to show your green card to the customs and immigration officials, and your passport too.

Extended Immigration

U.S. citizens can file for their immediate relatives and family members, including their brothers and sisters, to immigrate to the United States. On the other hand, permanent residents, also known as green card holders, can only petition for their spouses and children to immigrate.


While permanent residents are eligible for a wide range of opportunities, they still lack access to some due to their status. For example, there are certain opportunities in the U.S. Army and other government agencies that are only available for U.S. citizens. With US citizenship, it becomes possible to tap on these opportunities and reap the benefits.

Filing Fees

To obtain a permanent resident card, you will have to pay a certain fee. For example, to file Form I-485, you may need to pay up to $1,400 as filing fee depending on your category. Because the filing fees change frequently, the USCIS website has an online Fee Calculator tool that lets you know how much you’ll spend when you file for certain forms.

If you lose your permanent resident card, you will be required to file for a new one, and pay the filing fees as well. Also, even if your application for a permanent resident status gets approved, you will still need to renew it every 10 years. US citizens, on the other hand, do not need to renew their citizenship once approved.

The process of filing for a permanent resident card or citizenship may be a little bit confusing, especially if you are doing it for the first time. To save time and ensure that you are filing the right paperwork, it is always a good idea to hire a law firm experienced in immigration law.


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