Permanent Resident vs. Citizen: What’s the Difference?

Have you been a permanent resident for a long time and now you’re asking yourself if you want to become a U.S. citizen? I bet the first question on your mind would be, “what are the differences between a citizen and a permanent resident?” Generally, they both sound pretty similar and they both allow you to live in the United States legally. In reality, citizenship and permanent residency are very different statuses and before considering whether or not you want to make the jump to citizenship, it is important to know the difference.

 PERMANENT RESIDENT

A U.S. permanent resident is someone who has been granted the right to live in the United States indefinitely. Permanent residents are given green cards which identify and prove your status as a permanent resident.

Rights granted to a permanent resident include the right to work and petition for immediate relatives (spouses and unmarried children) to join you in the U.S. However, one of the differences between a citizen and permanent resident is that permanent residents are considered “preference relatives”. There are only a limited number of visas granted to preference relatives each year, and your relative could be waiting up to five years or more to obtain a green card.

Another one of the key differences between a citizen and a permanent resident is that permanent residents remain citizens of their home country. Although you are allowed to live in the U.S. indefinitely, you will also retain citizenship in your home country.

This has its advantages and disadvantages. If retaining residency to your home country is important or you know you are only going to be in the U.S. temporarily, a green card is a better option. However, a drawback is that if you are out of the U.S. for over a year, your permanent resident status can be revoked. If you know ahead of time you will be out of the United States for an extended period, but wish to return, apply for a reentry permit.

Permanent residents also do not have the right to vote or run for public office, and are subject to deportation.

CITIZENSHIP

There are many ways that one can become a U.S. citizen. The most common way is by being born in the United States. In most cases, children born outside of the United States with at least one U.S. citizen parent at the time of birth are also automatically granted U.S. citizenship. For everyone else (i.e. immigrants, refugees, etc.), they must go through a process called “naturalization”, which is the process of obtaining citizenship.

One of the largest differences between a citizen and permanent resident is that citizens are eligible to receive a U.S. passport issued by the U.S. State Department. Citizens can leave and reenter the United States without any restrictions, whereas a permanent resident may need a reentry permit. Thus, if you’re planning on making the United States your permanent home, it may make more sense for you to apply for citizenship.

Another one of the differences between a citizen and permanent resident is that unlike permanent residents, citizens can vote in national, state, and local elections and run for certain public offices.

Most importantly to some, citizens can petition for a number of relatives to immigrate to the U.S. Spouses, parents, and unmarried children under 21 are considered immediate relatives and can immigrate as soon as paperwork is filed and interviews completed.

Another great benefit to being a U.S. citizen is that citizens cannot be deported unless fraud was committed in order to obtain their permanent residency or citizenship status.

If you or someone you know is interested in applying for U.S. citizenship, you can began your application online here with Road to Status. If your case is more complex and you would like to speak with a licensed immigration attorney, you can learn more about the benefits of an initial consultation before deciding on the best path for you here.