A Brief Overview of the Difference Between Permanent Residence and Citizenship

Immigration issues have been occupying the news lately, leading to a heightened awareness of the various immigration statuses. However, there continues to be some confusion over the difference between permanent residency and citizenship. 

If you tell someone that you are a lawful permanent resident, they may assume that you’re referring to citizenship. Although both statuses give you the right to live in the US indefinitely, they don’t have the same rights and responsibilities. In this blog, we’ll explain the similarities and the differences.

What Is a Lawful Permanent Resident?

For many newcomers, the path to citizenship starts with lawful permanent residence status, which is also known as being a green card holder. They become permanent residents after being sponsored by a close family member or employer, obtaining asylum or refugee status, winning a visa lottery, or successfully applying under another recognized category.

After five years (three if they are married to a US citizen), permanent residents can apply for citizenship, provided that they pass the required tests, demonstrate continuous residence in the US, show good moral character during their residency, and are not convicted of a deportable offense. Those who served honorably in the US military for a minimum of one year in total can apply for citizenship as soon as they get their green card.

Although not citizens, permanent residents enjoy privileges that are not available to nonimmigrant visa holders, such as:

  • The right to work in the US
  • The ability to petition for immediate family members (spouses and minor children) to join them
  • Eligibility for Social Security benefits, SSI, and Medicare
  • The right to apply for government-sponsored student loans
  • The ability to exit the US without risk of being denied entry on their return

However, permanent residents have certain restrictions that don’t apply to US citizens, namely:

  • They do not have voting rights
  • They are ineligible for a US passport
  • They are subjected to visa quotas when applying for their spouses and minor children to join them. In addition, they cannot petition for extended family members, like parents and siblings, to join them.
  • If they spend a year out of the country, they risk losing their residency status and could face deportation.

Who Is A U.S. Citizen?

People become citizens of the US through birth or naturalization. If you were born abroad but one of your parents was a citizen at the time or you were living in the US as a child when your parent naturalized, you are eligible for what is known as derived citizenship. 

If you become a US citizen, benefits and privileges include:

  • You can obtain a US passport
  • You can petition for family members to join you and sponsor them for lawful permanent residency. Unlike permanent residents, you aren’t restricted by a visa quota.
  • You are eligible for federal employee benefits
  • You can vote and run for public office
  • You cannot be deported (unless you committed fraud during your naturalization)

Contact an Experienced Immigration Attorney

If you are a green card holder who wants to apply for US citizenship, Sánchez-Roig Law Firm, P.A. will guide and represent you through all aspects of the naturalization process. If you face any barriers, such as failure to file income taxes or a criminal record, we will work to help you assess and overcome these obstacles, so don’t be afraid to reach out to us. To schedule a confidential consultation, call 305-373-5385 today.