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What's the difference between a permanent resident and a citizen?

The difference between being a permanent resident otherwise called a green-card holder and a U.S. citizen can be confusing. Many mistakenly think the two are the same thing because both statuses offer many of the same rights, including to live and work indefinitely in the U.S. and to be protected by federal, state and local laws.

The two also require many of the same responsibilities, like obeying all laws and paying taxes. However, the two statuses do have several differences, and it is important to understand what those differences are.

    Only as a U.S. citizen will you be able to:

    • Vote in federal elections
    • Apply for certain government jobs and benefits
    • Apply for a U.S. passport
    • Serve on a jury when asked
    • Become an elected official
    • Apply for federal grants and scholarships

    Although as a permanent resident you can petition to have some family members join you in the U.S., these rights are expanded for citizens. Citizens can petition family members other than just immediate relatives to begin their immigration process, and those petitioned by citizens will sometimes have a shorter wait to become residents.

    There are also a couple of special circumstances for permanent residents that aren't true for citizens:

    • Traveling out of the U.S. involves additional steps and considerations for permanent residents. Staying out of the country too long can affect your permanent resident status unless you take the right steps to prevent it. You will also have to have a full immigration inspection after every trip abroad.
    • Permanent residents can still be deported for several reasons, such as criminal activity, illegal reentry into the U.S., lying about your immigration status and others. When you are a citizen, you will be protected from deportation except in a few circumstances, including if you had lied to get immigration benefits.

    If your goal is to become a citizen, it is possible to reach that goal through a process called naturalization. If you have been a permanent resident for three to five years, you may already qualify to apply for naturalization.

    However, regardless of where you are in the immigration process, understanding the legal differences between being a permanent resident and a U.S. citizen will help you make decisions that can affect your immigration status and help you plan for your future.

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      Law Office of Isaias Torres
      2000 North Loop Suite 250
      Houston, TX 77018

      Phone: 713-364-0481
      Fax: 713-850-8408
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