Lawful Permanent Resident vs. US Citizen: What Is the Difference?



There are many people who would like to be able to identify themselves as Americans for many different reasons. Americans are typically quite proud of their citizenship. It’s an idea on which the country was founded, and many immigrants hope to obtain US citizenship to feel that same pride.


However, to get the perks of being an American, especially if you’re not originally from the US, you’ll have to complete a series of steps. Two terms that are often misunderstood by those wanting to become Americans are “permanent residency” and “citizenship.”


Today we’ll teach you about the difference between the two and give you information regarding the steps you can take to apply for permanent residency or US citizenship.


What Is a Lawful Permanent Resident?


A permanent resident is a foreign national that’s legally allowed to live in the US indefinitely, so long as they abide by the law and maintain their residency.


Permanent residents are entitled to legally work in the US. They’re also given a green card, which is a form of photo ID that proves their lawful status and proves that they are eligible to work in the United States.


Obtaining your green card doesn’t make you eligible for a US passport, though—you’ll need to qualify to become a US citizen first. Once you become a US citizen, you’ll have all of the same rights as US-born citizens, including the ability to vote.


To apply for US citizenship, you’ll need to have been a lawful permanent resident for five years (or three years, if you’re married to a US citizen).

Benefits and Rights of Permanent Residents


Once you achieve permanent resident status, you’ll have the right to:


  • Live permanently in the US—as long as you don’t commit any actions that violate immigration law.

  • Work in the US at any legal job of your qualification and choosing.

  • Be protected by all laws of the US, your local jurisdictions, and your state of residence.

  • Receive Medicare, Supplemental Security Income, and Social Security—as long as you meet the eligibility requirements.


Lawful permanent residents also have the right to travel freely throughout the US, own property, apply for a driver’s license, and attend public schools.


Green card holders can also request visas for their unmarried children and spouse to live in the US. Under certain conditions, permanent residents can also leave and return to the US.


Related: Family-Based Immigration


How Do You Become a Permanent Resident?


There are various ways to become a lawful permanent resident in the US—let’s look at the three main paths you can take to obtain your green card:


1. Permanent Residency Through Your Family


If you’re a relative of a green card holder or US citizen, they can petition for you to get legal permanent residency. It’s the fastest way to obtain a green card. US citizens that can petition for their immediate relatives include:


  • Their spouse

  • Unmarried children that are under 21

  • Parents of citizens over 21


2. Permanent Residency Through Employment


Green card opportunities through employment aren’t limited to your employer themselves and include:


  • Permanent employment—your employer can help petition for your green card.

  • Investors—if you invest enough into US businesses, you may be eligible to apply for a green card based on your investments.

  • Extraordinary abilities— though not as common, if you have exceptional knowledge in your field, you may be eligible for a green card based on those qualifications.


3. Permanent Residency as a Refugee or Asylee


Immigrants who entered the US as either a refugee or have been granted status in the US can apply for their green card one year.


Want to know if you’re eligible for Asylum? Read this article for more information!






Who is Considered a US Citizen?


Those that were born in the United States are automatically given citizenship. However, there’s another way to obtain US citizenship.


You’re able to obtain citizenship by naturalization. This means that people born outside the US that have immigrated and have achieved permanent residency status can apply for citizenship after five years (unless they are married to a US citizen).

Benefits and Rights of US Citizens


Becoming a US citizen unlocks a wealth of benefits that you’ll gain access to, such as:


  • Becoming a US passport holder

  • Obtaining the right to vote in local, state, and federal elections

  • Running for public office (may vary dependent on office and location)

  • Federal employee benefits

  • Having family members from outside the US join you

How Do You Become a US Citizen?


The most common way to become a US citizen is through naturalization.


Naturalization is the process th someone not born in the US may apply to becom a US citizen. There are a few requirements before you can apply for citizenship. Applicants typically need to be 18 years of age and fall into one of these three categories:


  1. Spent five years as a permanent resident

  2. Spent three years as a permanent resident who lives in a marital union with a US citizen for three years.

  3. Spent time as a qualified member of the US armed forces.




Related: Divorce During the Immigration Process


The Differences Between Permanent Residents and US Citizens


As you can see, both permanent residents and US citizens have certain rights afforded to them. There are differences between the two statuses, however, including:


  • US citizens have the right to cast their vote in political elections, but permanent residents do not.

  • US citizens are eligible to obtain a USA passport, while permanent residents use their originating country’s passport.

  • While citizens are not subjected to deportation, permanent residents can be deported under certain circumstances.

  • US citizens can generally run for public office, but permanent residents cannot.


Do you want to know more about a Marriage Green Card? Check out this post for more information!





Let Us Help You With Your Immigration Needs


At JLB Law Group, we’ll help you with all your immigration needs to ensure that you don’t have to worry. We understand how immigration law works, and we have a wealth of experience dealing with clients from different types of backgrounds.


We can help with various immigration-related issues, including:


  • Family-based cases

  • Employment-based cases

  • Visitor & student visas

  • Asylum—affirmative and defensive

  • Deportation

  • Appeals

  • Lawful permanent resident and citizenship applications


No matter your case, rest assured we’ll do our best to provide all the information and representation you need.


Contact us today so we can get started on your case. There’s no need to worry about what to do next. We’ll take care of you.


Related: Employment Immigration


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