Green Card or Citizenship? How Residency Status Changes the Rights

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Many people from developing countries migrate to the U.S. to live the “American Dream.” But to get the rights Americans to enjoy, immigrants either have to be a permanent resident or a citizen. The two terms can be confusing to some immigrants. Permanent residents, after all, have the same benefits as citizens, such as employment and health insurance. But being a permanent resident doesn’t make an immigrant a citizen.

The biggest difference between the two is security. As a citizen, immigrants can’t get deported, unless they committed fraud to obtain their citizenship. Permanent residents, on the other hand, are subject to grounds of deportation. Even failing to inform the USCIS of their new address can put their permanent residency at risk.

But let’s focus on the good, which is the rights of both. By knowing what the two are entitled to, aspiring U.S. immigrants can smartly decide which residency status fits them and their families best.

Rights of a Permanent Resident

  • Green Card

Permanent residents are given a green card, a photo ID card that proves their status. It allows them to go to all 50 states without restrictions, obtain a permanent work permit, and study in the U.S. for a price up to 80% cheaper. A green card is basically a permanent resident’s “ticket” to all the rights U.S. citizens have, except voting.

  • Petition for Close Family Members

A green card holder can petition their spouse and unmarried children to join them in the U.S. and also become permanent residents. However, their family members will be considered “preference relatives.” It means that they’d be put on a waiting list because visas for petitioned family members are only available at a limited amount per year. Petitioned family members may wait up to five years before being granted entry and a green card.

  • Work Off-campus and Study

Children who got their green cards can be working students in the U.S. They can also become a freelancer or even start a small side business.

  • Health Insurance

Permanent residents are considered lawfully present immigrants in health coverage. The Health Insurance Marketplace offers them private health coverage for less, though that depends on their income. For example, if the resident’s income is between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level, they may qualify for tax credits and other savings.

They can also get a group health insurance plan or an individual health insurance plan. Group health insurance plans are usually purchased by employers, are cheaper, and can be extended to include beneficiaries.

  • Leave the U.S. Anytime

Contrary to popular belief, green card-holders can abandon their permanent residency as quickly as one day. They can move back to their home country or any other country and take up residence there. However, immigration authorities will check in with them if they’ve been gone for more than six months. If they spend more than a year outside the U.S. but still plan to return, they may have to obtain a reentry permit.

  • Retire in the U.S.

Since green card-holders can live in the U.S. indefinitely, they can also retire in the country. They can get pensions from both the U.S. and their home country.

Rights of a U.S. Citizen

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Naturalized immigrants officially become Americans, so they have all the rights of just about any law-abiding American. Green card-holders may apply for citizenship after three or five years. A naturalization attorney will help them through the process.

Here are some highlights of an immigrant’s rights as a citizen:

  • Voting

Unlike permanent residents, citizens can vote in U.S. federal and local elections.

  • An American Passport

Since they’re now Americans, they can apply for a U.S. passport when their old one expires. This gives them visa-free travel to many countries.

  • Petition for Close Family Members and Relatives

Citizens can also petition their family members (spouse and unmarried children below 21 years old) to join them in the U.S. They can also petition their parents. They won’t be on the waiting list, so they’ll be eligible to migrate as soon as their paperwork and interviews are done.

Citizens can also petition their married children over 21 years old, as well as their siblings. But they’ll be on the waiting list this time.

  • Cannot Be Deported

The only reason for them to be deported is if they’ve been found guilty of using unlawful methods to earn their citizenship.

Other worth noting rights permanent residents and citizens enjoy include buying a house, a car, and a firearm. However, any right they have can be revoked if they commit a crime. So no matter their residency status, anyone in the U.S. should follow the law. Also, they’re protected by anti-discrimination laws, so they can file charges against anyone who mistreats them because of their race or nationality.

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