Differences Between U.S. Green Card and U.S. Citizenship: Why Become a U.S. Citizen?

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In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick answers one of your frequently asked questions: I have a green card, why should I become a U.S. Citizen? In this blog post, you will find out what your rights are as a permanent resident versus a U.S. Citizen, and some of the key advantages you have as a U.S. Citizen.

Keep on watching to find out more.


What is the difference between having a green card and U.S. Citizenship?

First, let’s discuss the basics. When a person wants to immigrate to the United States permanently, the first step is to apply for a green card (also known as permanent residence). There are various different ways a person can qualify for a green card. The most common avenues to obtain a green card are family sponsorship through a qualifying relative (U.S. Citizen or LPR spouse, child, parent, or sibling) or employment-based sponsorship, where an individual will first obtain a work visa based on a job offer and then become eligible to apply for permanent residence through their employer. There are also other special categories of immigrants such as asylum seekers, Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) victims of domestic violence, diversity visa lottery winners, and many others who also qualify for a green card. There also green card avenues for individuals of exceptional ability (EB-1), those whose employment is in the national interest (EB-2), and EB-5 immigrant investors who invest at least half a million dollars in a new business enterprise or Regional Center project. While there are many ways to obtain a green card, the ultimate goal is to obtain permanent residency.

Once a person has obtained a green card, typically that person must wait a number of years before being eligible to apply for U.S. Citizenship. For instance, those who obtained their green card based on marriage to a U.S. Citizen and continue to remain married, must wait 3 years from the date they became a permanent residence to apply for citizenship. All others must wait 5 years from the date they became a permanent resident to become eligible to apply for U.S. Citizenship.

However, it is important to highlight that applying for U.S. Citizenship is not required. Permanent residents may continue to renew their green cards every 10 years without ever applying for citizenship. Regardless, it may still be a good idea for you to think about applying for citizenship.

Is there a way to bypass the green card process and obtain U.S. Citizenship directly?

Yes, but this option is only available to those who were born inside the United States or who were born overseas to a U.S. Citizen parent. In the latter case, the parent must obtain a Consular Report of Birth Abroad at the nearest U.S. embassy or Consulate overseas which certifies that a child born overseas acquired U.S. Citizenship at birth. The only other option to fast track your U.S. Citizenship by joining the U.S. military.

Why apply for U.S. Citizenship?

#1 reason to become a U.S. Citizen – Issues of Deportation

One of the most important reasons permanent residents should consider becoming U.S. Citizens is the reality that permanent residents can be deported from the United States for committing certain types of crimes. Having a green card does not guarantee your legal status in this country by any means, and it can also be revoked if the government believes that you obtained your green card by means of fraud or misrepresentation. By contrast, U.S. Citizens cannot be deported from the United States even if they have committed certain crimes. Like green card holders, if an immigration official believes that a U.S. Citizen gained their citizenship by means of fraud or misrepresentation, they have the power to revoke that individual’s citizenship.

#2 Citizenship is required to obtain a U.S. passport

Another important factor to consider is that only U.S. Citizens are eligible to obtain a U.S. passport. Permanent residents are not eligible for a U.S. passport and instead present their valid permanent resident card and passport from their country of origin when traveling. Permanent residents are just that—“residents” of the United States, but continue to be nationals of their home country.

By contrast, after becoming a U.S. Citizen you are eligible for a U.S. passport. The majority of naturalized citizens are dual citizens of both the United States and their country of origin. The United States does not prohibit dual citizenship, however foreign countries have their own rules regarding citizenship. To understand whether your country has any prohibitions against dual citizenship you should speak to an immigration attorney in your home country.

#3 You cannot vote in U.S. elections as a green card holder

To vote in federal, state, or local, U.S. elections you must be a United States citizen. You cannot participate in the election process if you are a green card holder because you are considered a non-citizen as a permanent resident. Those who want to have the privilege of voting, must first becoming U.S. Citizens.

#4 Petitioning family members as a green card holder is narrow and subject to delays

Green card holders can petition for family members to immigrate to the United States including foreign spouses and children under the age of 21. However, such individuals are subject to numerical limitations pursuant to the Visa Bulletin. At the moment the “F2A” Spouses and Children of Permanent Residents preference category remains current and is not subject to delays in visa processing, however the preference category “F2B” Unmarried Sons and Daughters (21 years of age or older) of Permanent Residents is not current and is subject to a waiting period that can sometimes take many years. Another important consideration is that green card holders are not eligible to petition for any other family members. By contrast, U.S. Citizens can petition for spouses and children, as well as parents and siblings. Spouses and minor children of U.S. Citizens are not subject to numerical limitations, however married sons and daughters of U.S. Citizens, and siblings of U.S Citizens are subject to numerical limitations pursuant to the Visa Bulletin.

#5 Green card holders qualify for limited government benefits

While green card holders can obtain certain government benefits, such benefits are greatly limited in comparison to those available to U.S. Citizens.

#6 Green card holders may lose their status if they remain abroad for extended period of time

Another major issue that arises for permanent residents is that generally permanent residents cannot remain abroad for an extended period of time (longer than 6 months) without first obtaining permission to remain abroad from USCIS. Such residents who remain abroad may lose their permanent residence altogether. By contrast, U.S. Citizens can leave the United States for as many years as they want without repercussions.


While green card holders are allowed to freely live and work in the United States, they do not have most of benefits that are available to U.S. Citizens. As discussed, permanent residents are not U.S. Citizens and do not enjoy the same rights as U.S. Citizens. Green card holders are subject to numerous limitations that can be extremely detrimental.

To summarize:

  • Green card holders do not have the right to vote in federal, state, and local U.S. elections
  • Green card holders do not have as high a priority in sponsoring other family members for green cards as U.S. citizens.
  • Green card holders are not issued a U.S. passport and are considered nationals of their country of origin
  • Full protection from deportation is not guaranteed to green card holders
  • Green card holders can receive limited government benefits
  • Green card holders cannot remain outside of the United States for an extended period of time. Doing so may cause them to lose their status altogether.

By contrast, U.S. Citizens enjoy vast rights and are protected by the United States Constitution which gives them freedom of expression, due process rights, the right to vote in federal, state, and local elections, the right to apply for federal employment requiring U.S. Citizenship such as law enforcement jobs, the right to run for elected office, the right to serve on a jury, and the right to travel with a U.S. passport which gives you protections from the U.S. Embassy or Consulate overseas.

Other benefits for U.S. Citizens include:

  • Bringing family members to the U.S. U.S. citizens generally get priority when petitioning to bring family members permanently to this country and can petition for siblings and married children
  • U.S. Citizens can obtain citizenship for children under 18 years of age. In most cases, a child born abroad to a U.S. citizen automatically becomes a U.S. citizen.
  • U.S. Citizens can keep their residency. A U.S. citizen’s right to remain in the United States cannot be taken away.
  • U.S. Citizens are eligible for federal grants and scholarships. Many financial aid grants, including college scholarships and funds given by the government for specific purposes, are available only to U.S. citizens.
  • Obtain government benefits. Some government benefits are available only to U.S. citizens.

Accordingly, those who have the opportunity to become a U.S. Citizen should consider exercising their right. Questions regarding rights and responsibilities as a U.S. Citizen should be carefully discussed with your immigration attorney and licensed tax professional.

For information about becoming a U.S. Citizen please check out our helpful links below.

Questions? If you would like to schedule a consultation, please text 619-483-4549 or call 619-819-9204.

Helpful Links


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