The Difference Between Citizenship and Permanent Residence Explained

Both US citizens and lawful permanent residents enjoy the right to live and work in the United States, but the statuses aren’t identical. In this blog, we’ll explain the differences between the two.

In most cases, those who immigrate to the US become permanent residents first. They receive a permanent resident card, more commonly known as a green card, that they can use to apply for employment, and Social Security number. 

Traveling Outside the US

A US citizen can travel abroad and return at any time without facing inadmissibility challenges or restrictions on how much time they may spend out of the country. If they have children born while abroad, these children are eligible for US citizenship.

While permanent residents may travel abroad, they are subject to the same grounds of inadmissibility that they encountered when applying for a green card. These grounds include being a public charge, health-related issues, or presence of a criminal record. In addition:

  • Permanent residents who remain outside the US for over six months at a time may face scrutiny from immigration officials who try to determine if they have given up their intention to live permanently in the US.
  • Absences of over a year create the presumption that the permanent resident has abandoned their status.

Green card holders who know that they will be outside the US for an extended period of time should apply for a re-entry permit before they leave. These permits are typically valid for two years and can help confirm one’s intention to reside permanently in the US.

Voting in Elections and Running for Office

Only US citizens are permitted to vote in federal and local elections. Additionally, you must be a citizen to hold jobs that require special security clearance. Other benefits that are inaccessible to green card holders include:

  • Serving on juries
  • Applying for certain state and federal grants and scholarships
  • Running for office
  • Holding a seat in the US Senate or House of Representatives

Risk of Deportation

Lawful permanent residents can lose their status and be subject to deportation if they are found guilty of certain crimes, such as aggravated felonies, drug trafficking, and sexual abuse of a minor. US citizens cannot be deported unless it can be proven that they made misrepresentations or committed fraud to obtain their green card or citizenship.

Sponsoring Family Members to Come to the US

Permanent residents can petition for their spouse and unmarried children to join them in the US, but these family members are considered preference relatives, which means that they can only come when an immigrant visa becomes available. US citizens can sponsor their spouses, parents, and unmarried children under 21. These family members are regarded as immediate relatives, meaning that there is no cap on the number of visas available.

Becoming a U.S. Citizen

Permanent residents generally become eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship after five years- three years for spouses of US citizens. At Zafiro Law, we have guided many green cardholders through the naturalization process and made it possible for them to enjoy all the rights and benefits that citizenship can bestow. To schedule a consultation with Attorney Katrina Zafiro, call 206-547-9906.

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Zafiro Law

As an attorney, I am passionate about helping my clients achieve peace of mind in navigating the complex areas of family law and immigration law. Your case will get my full and dedicated attention—whether you are seeking to navigate the complexities of your family law matter or overcome the challenges of your immigration law case.

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