The terms “permanent resident” and “U.S. citizen” are often confused with one another.  Although both confer rights to live legally in the United States, they mean very different things. So, what is the difference between “permanent resident” and “U.S. citizen”?

Lawful Permanent Resident

A lawful permanent resident is an individual who has been granted the right to live in the U.S. indefinitely. Permanent residents are given a photo ID card known as a “green card” – a proof of their lawful status in the country. This status will allow them to reside and work anywhere in the U.S. However, permanent residents continue to remain the citizen of another country. Thus, every time you travel outside the U.S., you must carry both the passport of that country and your green card to re-enter the U.S. If you spend more than 6 months outside the U.S, you will have an uphill battle convincing them when re-entering into the country, and the immigration authorities will presume that you have abandoned your lawful status.

However, there are several limitations on law permanent residents. You do not have any rights to vote in U.S. elections. Another important limitation is that you are subject to the grounds of deportability if you are found to be a criminal.

After a certain length of time – five years in most cases – permanent residents who have shown good moral character and can speak, read, and write English and pass an exam on U.S. history and government can apply for U.S. naturalization citizenship.

U.S. Citizen

A U.S. citizen is eligible to receive a U.S. passport issued by the U.S. State Department. U.S. citizens are visa-free from more than 160 countries. Also, they can leave and re-enter the country at any time without requiring a re-entry permit. There are no restrictions on the number of days you can remain outside the U.S.

U.S. citizens can vote in U.S. federal and local elections, hold certain government jobs, and serve on juries. In addition, many federal and state government grants, scholarships and benefits are available only to U.S. citizens.

As a U.S. citizen, you can petition for a number of your relatives to immigrate, for example: your spouse, unmarried children under the age of 21, and parents. Besides, U.S. citizens cannot be deported from the U.S. – unless, that is, they committed fraud in order to obtain their green card or citizenship.

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