If you or a loved one wants to become a U.S. citizen or get a U.S. green card, you might wonder how citizenship compares to having a green card. Both green card status and citizenship allow a person to live and work indefinitely in the United States.
In fact, they are the two main ways you can live in the United States long term. However, there are some primary differences between the two. The qualifications to receive a green card and citizenship are different. Also, the privileges that come with citizenship are greater than the privileges that come with a green card. Here’s what you need to know about a U.S. green card, U.S. citizenship, the differences between the two and how an immigration law attorney can help.
What’s a Green Card?
Although it’s commonly known as getting a green card, the exact term is lawful permanent residence. Lawful permanent residence allows a person to live and work in the United States indefinitely. However, they’re not a citizen. In most cases, a person must start by getting a green card before moving on to apply for citizenship.
To acquire U.S. citizenship means formally becoming an American. The process of becoming a U.S. citizen is also called naturalization. Once a person becomes a U.S. citizen, they generally have the same rights and privileges as all other Americans. Typically, you can lose citizenship only if you commit fraud on your application for citizenship.
Do I Qualify for a Green Card?
There are a variety of ways you might qualify to get a green card. You’re usually eligible if you’re the spouse of a U.S. citizen. In most cases, you’re eligible if you’re under the age of 21 and the child of a U.S. citizen. Parents can apply if they have a child that’s a U.S. citizen. In that case, the child must be 21 years old or older.
Stepchildren and step parents are eligible to apply in some cases. Adopted children are also eligible as long as they’re adopted before age 16. There’s no limit to the number of people that can receive a green card each year for one of these types of relationships.
There are other categories for green cards, including categories for people with advanced degrees and those with extraordinary skills. People from countries that don’t otherwise have many immigrants can enter a lottery for a green card without any special qualifications.
How to Get a Green Card
If you’re eligible for a green card, you need to complete and submit Form I-485 – Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. There’s also a fee to pay. In most cases, a green card is initially valid for ten years, with the option to renew.
How to Get U.S. Citizenship
If you’re eligible for U.S. citizenship, you complete and file form N-400. It’s called the Application for Naturalization. Several factors determine your eligibility, including how long you’ve lived in the United States.
How much you’ve traveled outside of the United States since you received your green card is another factor. Your ability to read and speak English matters too, but there are exceptions. Your personal history must demonstrate good moral character, and you must promise to support the U.S. Constitution.
What Do I Get with Citizenship vs. A Green Card?
Citizens have more rights and privileges than green card holders. Only U.S. citizens can vote and remain outside of the U.S. indefinitely without jeopardizing their legal status in the United States.
Green card holders must advise officials of any change in their address. If you don’t have citizenship, you can get kicked out of the country for crimes, espionage, and terrorism. Citizens also have more opportunities to bring their relatives to the United States lawfully.
U.S. citizens generally qualify for the full range of public benefits. As long as a U.S. citizen meets the qualifications for participation in the program, they can access Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
A green card holder can only access SSI, TANF, and SNAP after earning a certain number of work credits for work in the United States. In some cases, it can take as many as ten years of work to qualify for these programs. Some states have food assistance programs that green card holders can access if they aren’t eligible for SNAP benefits.
Green card holders usually qualify for housing assistance if they need it. They also receive social security payments based on their individual work history. Although they don’t qualify for traditional Medicaid, they can access emergency Medicaid in some situations. Children who don’t qualify for Medicaid may be able to receive CHIP (Child Health Insurance Program) benefits or health insurance benefits from a similar state program.
Citizenship for U.S. Service Members After One Year
A foreign national who chooses to serve in the U.S. armed forces can qualify for citizenship after only one year in the military. This applies during peace or wartime. If a non-citizen serves in the U.S. military during a war, the one-year waiting period doesn’t apply, and the person can receive citizenship immediately after completing basic training.
To take advantage of this option, you file form N-426. You need a signature from a military official to complete the form. You must apply within six months of an honorable discharge. This is one of the only types of citizenship that you can lose. If you receive a dishonorable discharge after naturalization, U.S. officials can revoke your citizenship.
How an Attorney Can Help
Trying to come to the United States lawfully is complicated. It can be both confusing and overwhelming trying to determine if you qualify and navigating the application processes. An experienced immigration lawyer in Las Vegas can help you better understand the options available to you.
Your immigration attorney can help you decide which option is the best for helping you reach your goals of lawful immigration. They can also help you gather the necessary documents, and successfully compile your applications. Then you can join the many immigrants who make the United States the strong, diverse country that it is today.