Legal permanent residents (green card holders) have many rights and privileges, such as living and working indefinitely in the United States. However, there are several limitations that come with permanent resident status that U.S. citizens do not have. It’s important for all green card holders to be aware of these differences, how they affect their rights and responsibilities, how to maintain their permanent resident status, and how to eventually obtain U.S. citizenship.
What are the differences between legal permanent resident status and citizenship?
Here are the restrictions that green card holders have, which U.S. citizens do not:
Voting: Permanent residents do not have the privilege of voting. They cannot vote in local, state, or federal elections, and doing so would be considered a crime. U.S. citizens do not have such restrictions and can vote in all elections.
U.S. Passports: Permanent residents cannot obtain a U.S. passport and must continue to use their passport from their home country. Only U.S. citizens are eligible to have U.S. passports.
Protection against Deportation: U.S. citizens cannot be subject to deportation to another country under any circumstances. Permanent residents do not have this protection and can have their residency permits revoked, leading to deportation to their home countries.
Public Office: Permanent residents cannot run for or hold public office, while U.S. citizens can do so freely.
Bringing Family to the U.S.: Although permanent residents can petition to bring their family members to the U.S., they must do so under the “Family Preference” visa, which is subject to quotas, waiting periods, and other limitations. U.S. citizens can petition to bring their immediate family members from abroad through the “Immediate Relative” visa, which has no annual quotas and is generally processed faster.
Government Benefits: Permanent residents are eligible for benefits but on a limited scale (many government programs have a five-year waiting period before permanent residents can start receiving benefits). In contrast, U.S. citizens can access the full range of government benefits.
Government Jobs: While permanent residents can work anywhere in the U.S., they are prohibited from finding employment in many U.S. Government Agencies, as those jobs are, by law, restricted to U.S. citizens only.
Traveling Abroad: Traveling abroad can be complicated for permanent residents compared to U.S. citizens. Green card holders who spend a certain amount of time abroad each year risk having their permanent resident status revoked. Additionally, permanent residents must ensure they have a valid, unexpired green card to re-enter the U.S. from another country.
A green card should not be considered a permanent solution but rather an intermediate step toward the ultimate goal of obtaining U.S. citizenship. Please contact us if you have questions about how to maintain your permanent resident status or how to obtain U.S. citizenship.