permanent residency and citizenship

What’s the Difference Between Permanent Residency & Citizenship?

In the modern media landscape, terms like “permanent residency” and “citizenship” are thrown around in common conversation as if they were synonyms. Each of these terms are different in more than just name, however; in fact, both permanent residency and citizenship confer different degrees of privileges and rights for people both inside and outside the United States.

Understanding the difference between these is critical today, especially if you or a family member are seeking to immigrate or seek asylum in the United States. While the full U.S. immigration process includes several steps, those wishing to learn more about these two crucial milestones should read on to learn more about how these two noteworthy categories differ significantly.


Permanent Residency by Definition

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “permanent resident” can be defined as a person who lives and works within the United States and holds a green card. This green card certifies that an individual is legally allowed to remain within the U.S. for a specific period of time before they must leave or renew their green card clearance.

Before becoming a United States citizen, all immigrants must hold permanent resident status.  Permanent resident status means that you have met certain requirements and been granted the status and a green card.  A green card (or alien resident card) is proof that you have the status and must be occasionally renewed.

In terms of rights, green card holders are entitled to work within the U.S. as well as petition for certain family members (spouses, minor children and unmarried children over the age of 21) to join you in the U.S. Permanent residents cannot vote in the U.S., though they can obtain a driver’s license. 

Permanent residents are expected to reside in the United States (spend more than half their time in the United States), so long trips overseas can place the status at risk.  Additionally, certain crimes may lead to the loss of permanent residence.

U.S. Citizenship by Definition

A U.S. citizen is entitled to the full protections and privileges of the U.S. government and economy without the potential for revocation or expiration. Most U.S. citizens are born in the U.S. or to U.S. citizen parents, while, of course, immigrants can attain citizenship through the naturalization process.

U.S. citizens are further entitled to leave and remain outside the country without restrictions with a United States passport. In addition, citizens may vote.  They also can petition to bring a wider range of relatives to the United States (married children over the age of 21 and siblings), and there are no quotas on petitioning for immediate relatives (spouses and children under the age of 21).

Understanding the Difference

In the full context of the U.S. residency structure, the primary difference between citizenship and permanent residency is a matter of permanence. Despite its name, permanent residency is a temporary method of legally residing within the U.S., while citizenship is a fully-fledged, non-revocable status that entails the greatest degrees of freedom and access.

Understanding the particular differences between citizenship and permanent residency can be challenging on your own. That’s why the Law Offices of Jacob D. Geller provides immigration experts to help you knowledgeably navigate this complex legal process. Contact us today to learn about the many immigration services we provide — to permanent residents and citizens alike. 

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