Green Card vs. Citizenship – What are the Crucial Differences?


Getting a US green card is not the same as applying for US citizenship. And many people don’t know the precise difference between the two.

While the process and the prerequisites are different, one can be a stepping stone to the other.

Below is a breakdown of the green card application process, compared to what defines US citizenship.

Green Card Application

Those looking to immigrate to the United States permanently will need to qualify for a green card before anything else. The official name for this is a Lawful Permanent Resident Card. Those with one of these are known as Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs).

After this, you can apply to be a US citizen. But not right away. There is a wait time of several years for status applicants. This is called naturalization.

Having a green card also enables you extra legal rights. You can also collect Social Security and sponsor others for their own LPR status.

You must fulfill certain eligibility requirements to get a green card. You can be sponsored by someone who is a close relative, employer, or spouse. You can also win the green card lottery. Or those who have spent time in the US as an asylum seeker or refugee can also qualify.

Becoming a US Citizen

You can gain US citizen status if you are born in the US, are born overseas by a parent with US citizenship, or if you lived in the US as a child when your parent naturalized.

The difference between this and the green card procedure is that you already have a link to the US.

There is one other method: you can become a US citizen when you join the US military. This is set out in the US Military Personnel and Veteran US Citizenship Rights.

Vital Differences Between Green Card Holders and US Citizens

If you are a green card holder you can be deported from the US, should you be found guilty of committing espionage or a crime. You can also face deportation if you do not tell the government a change in address, become a public charge, or commit any other offense.

As a US citizen, you cannot be deported. But you can have your naturalized status revoked if you commit fraud when applying for it.

In both cases, you will be provided with official documentation. You will receive an I-551 when gaining a green card. Your birth certificate or record of birth abroad to a US citizen is your natural documentation in the case of those with citizen status. Or, a naturalization certificate.

You won’t receive a US passport with a green card but the green card makes up part of your new travel documentation alongside your home country passport. Mostly, US citizens will receive a US passport.

With regards to elections, you cannot vote with a green card, but can with citizenship. Both statuses are eligible for government benefits but there are more restrictions for green cardholders.

Both statuses can petition for others to immigrate. Green card holders can request spouses and unmarried children to immigrate. Citizens can apply for a vaster array of people, such as parents and siblings, too.

Up To Date

For those unsure about the different immigration statuses in the United States, we hope this explanation of the green card application process sets things out clearly.