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Permanent Resident vs. Citizen: What Sets Them Apart?
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Permanent Resident vs. Citizen: What Sets Them Apart?

Unlocking the door to the American dream isn't a one-size-fits-all journey. For immigrants navigating the complex landscape of U.S. residency, the choice between permanent resident status and full citizenship marks a pivotal crossroads. It's more than just legal jargon; it's a decision laden with implications for rights, responsibilities, and belonging.

Seeking guidance from a knowledgeable Chicago naturalization attorney can illuminate the path forward, ensuring that each step is taken with clarity and confidence.

In this guide, we delve into the nuances that distinguish permanent residency from citizenship, shedding light on the privileges, limitations, and pathways that define each status. Whether you're contemplating your own immigration journey or curious about the intricacies of U.S. immigration law, join us as we examine these two key pillars of American identity.

Definition of Permanent Resident

A permanent resident in the United States is an individual who has been granted the right to live and work in the country indefinitely. Also known as a green card holder, a permanent resident is not a citizen but holds authorization to reside permanently in the U.S.

They enjoy many of the same rights as citizens, such as access to employment and education opportunities, but they cannot vote in federal elections and may face deportation if they commit certain crimes or violate immigration laws.

Definition of Citizen

A citizen of the United States is an individual who has been granted full legal membership in the country. Citizenship grants various rights and privileges, including the right to vote in federal and local elections, the ability to run for elected office, and eligibility for certain government benefits.

Citizens also have the responsibility to obey the laws of the land and may be called upon for jury duty or military service. Citizenship can be obtained through birth in the U.S., birth to U.S. citizen parents, naturalization, or other means as outlined by U.S. immigration laws.

Legal Rights and Privileges

Curious about the differences between being a permanent resident and a citizen in the USA? Look no further! Delve into this comprehensive breakdown of legal rights and privileges for both statuses.

From voting rights to passport issuance, explore what sets these two paths apart:

Rights/Privileges Permanent Resident Citizen
Right to Vote Cannot vote in federal elections Can vote in all federal, state, and local elections
Right to Run for Office Cannot run for most elected offices Can run for most elected offices
Right to Federal Jobs Limited access to certain federal jobs Eligible for most federal jobs
Right to Federal Benefits Limited access to certain federal benefits (e.g., Medicare) Eligible for all federal benefits (e.g., Medicare)
Right to Sponsor Relatives Can sponsor immediate relatives for Green Cards Can sponsor immediate relatives for Green Cards and more
Travel Allowances Can travel freely within the U.S. Extended travel outside the U.S. may affect residency status. Can travel freely in and out of the U.S. without restrictions
Residency Requirement Must maintain continuous residency and can lose status if residency requirements are not met No residency requirement; can live outside the U.S. for extended periods without losing citizenship
Passport Issuance Cannot obtain a U.S. passport Can obtain a U.S. passport
Social Security Benefits Eligible for Social Security benefits after meeting certain criteria Eligible for Social Security benefits

Whether you're weighing the benefits of permanent residency or considering taking the leap to citizenship, understanding the rights and privileges associated with each status is key. Choose your path wisely and embrace the freedoms that come with it.

The Obligations of Permanent Residency

Embarking on the journey to permanent residency in the United States comes with its set of responsibilities. From upholding the law to ensuring the continuity of residency, each duty plays a vital role in maintaining status and contributing to society.

The Obligations of Permanent Residency

Let's delve into the essential obligations every permanent resident must fulfill under the legal framework of the United States:

Compliance with Laws

Permanent residents are legally required to obey all federal, state, and local laws, just like citizens. This includes paying taxes, following traffic regulations, and obeying criminal laws.

Maintaining Residency

Permanent residents must maintain their residency status by residing continuously in the United States. There are certain rules regarding the duration and frequency of international travel to ensure that permanent residents do not abandon their residency status. The legal basis for this is outlined in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), particularly under Section 316.

Renewal of Green Card

Permanent residents must ensure that their green card (Form I-551) remains valid. This typically involves renewing the green card every ten years. Failing to renew the green card can lead to loss of lawful permanent resident status.

Selective Service Registration

Male permanent residents between the ages of 18 and 25 are required to register with the Selective Service System. This is mandated by the Military Selective Service Act, which ensures that the government can conduct a draft if necessary.

Reporting Address Changes

Permanent residents are required to inform the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of any changes to their address within ten days of moving. This is crucial for maintaining accurate records and facilitating communication with the government.

As permanent residents, adherence to these duties not only upholds legal requirements but also fosters a sense of commitment to the country they now call home. By complying with laws, renewing green cards, and reporting address changes, permanent residents actively contribute to the fabric of American society, enriching the diverse tapestry that defines the nation.

The Responsibilities of Citizenship

Being a citizen of the United States isn't just about rights and privileges; it's about embracing duties that define our civic identity. From casting your vote to standing in defense of our Constitution, citizenship calls us to action.

The Responsibilities of Citizenship


One of the most significant responsibilities of U.S. citizens is the right to vote in federal elections. While voting is not legally mandatory, it is a right that many citizens take seriously.

Serving on Juries

Citizens are required to serve on juries when called upon. This duty ensures the fair administration of justice in the legal system. Failure to appear for jury duty without a valid excuse can result in penalties.

Obeying Laws and Paying Taxes

Citizens have the same legal obligation as permanent residents to obey all laws and pay taxes. However, citizenship cannot be revoked for tax reasons, unlike permanent residency, which can be lost for failure to pay taxes.

Defending the Nation

Like permanent residents, males between the ages of 18 and 25 must register with Selective Service. In times of national crisis, citizens may be called upon to serve in the armed forces to defend the country.

Participating in Civic Life

Citizens are encouraged to actively participate in civic life, including community activities, local government meetings, and advocacy for causes they believe in. Active citizenship strengthens democracy and fosters a sense of community responsibility.

Whether we're casting ballots, serving on juries, or contributing to our communities, each action strengthens the vibrant mosaic of American citizenship.

Stepping Stones: Navigating Your Pathway

In the United States, permanent residents and citizens alike are granted specific rights and benefits, yet their legal standing and the breadth of these entitlements diverge. Grasping the pathways toward attaining each status is fundamental for individuals endeavoring to establish residence and pursue employment within the nation.

The Pathway to Permanent Resident Status

Presented here is a concise roadmap to assist you in traversing the journey from initial eligibility assessment to attaining a green card:

  • Determine eligibility: Check if you meet criteria, such as family sponsorship, employment, refugee or asylum status, or diversity visa lottery.
  • File immigrant petition: Submit Form I-130 (family-based), Form I-140 (employment-based), or other relevant forms depending on the category.
  • Wait for approval: Once USCIS reviews and approves your petition, it moves to the National Visa Center (NVC) for further processing.
  • Pay fees and submit documents: NVC requests fees and supporting documents, such as passports, police certificates, and medical examination records.
  • Attend interview: Schedule and attend an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate if required.
  • Wait for decision: If approved, you receive a visa to enter the U.S. as a permanent resident.
  • Receive green card: Upon entry to the U.S., you'll receive your permanent resident card within a few weeks.

Achieving permanent residency status in the USA is a momentous accomplishment, marking a new chapter in your life's story.

Achieving Citizenship: Your Step-by-Step Guide

Undertaking the process to attain U.S. citizenship is a testament to both honor and steadfast commitment.

Presented below is a concise guide to equip you with the clarity and assurance needed to navigate this journey:

  • Eligibility: Ensure you meet the requirements, including residency, good moral character, and basic knowledge of the English language and U.S. civics.
  • File form N-400: Complete and submit the Application for Naturalization (Form N-400) to USCIS.
  • Biometrics appointment: Attend a biometrics appointment to provide fingerprints, photographs, and signatures.
  • Interview: Prepare to answer questions about your application and background during an interview with USCIS.
  • Naturalization test: Pass the English and civics test unless exempted due to age or qualifying medical conditions.
  • Oath of allegiance: Take the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony to become a U.S. citizen.
  • Apply for passport: After naturalization, apply for a U.S. passport to enjoy the full benefits of citizenship.
  • Legal obligations: Understand and abide by the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship, including paying taxes and serving on a jury if called upon.
  • Dual citizenship: Some countries allow dual citizenship; check with your home country's laws regarding citizenship retention when becoming a U.S. citizen.

Becoming a U.S. citizen opens doors to new opportunities and responsibilities. By following these steps diligently, you can embark on this exciting journey with confidence, knowing you've fulfilled all requirements.

Travel, Residence, and Change of Status

In this comparison, we delve into travel and residence, shedding light on the privileges and limitations each status entails.

Aspect Permanent Resident Citizen
Travel Need to maintain a valid green card to re-enter the USA after international travel. Can travel with a U.S. passport without restriction.
Duration of Stay Can reside permanently in the USA, but must renew green card every 10 years. Can reside permanently without the need for renewal.
Citizenship Requirements Must maintain continuous residence and meet certain eligibility criteria to apply for citizenship after a period of time (typically 5 years). Once granted citizenship by birth or through naturalization, no specific requirements for maintaining it.

Whether you're aspiring to plant roots or spread your wings in the USA, knowing the disparities between permanent residency and citizenship is paramount. By understanding these nuances, individuals can make informed decisions about their future in the land of opportunity.

Voting Rights

Navigate the maze of citizenship and residency in the USA with our voter rights breakdown. Discover the crucial differences between permanent residents and citizens when it comes to casting ballots, serving on juries, and running for office. From federal elections to local governance, this guide illuminates the pathways to participation in American democracy:

Voting Rights Permanent Resident Citizen
Federal Elections Not eligible to vote in federal elections (e.g., presidential elections, congressional races). Eligible to vote in all federal elections after registering in their state of residence.
State and Local Elections Eligibility varies by state. Some states allow permanent residents to vote in local elections, such as municipal or school board elections. Eligible to vote in all state and local elections after registering in their state of residence.
Jury Duty May be eligible for jury duty in some states, depending on state laws and court policies. Generally required to serve on juries when summoned, as it's considered a civic duty. Some states may allow exemptions for certain groups.
Running for Office Generally ineligible to run for elected office at any level of government. Eligible to run for most elected offices after meeting certain requirements, such as age and residency.

Empower yourself with the knowledge of voting rights disparities between permanent residents and citizens in the USA. While both groups contribute to society, citizenship unlocks the full spectrum of civic engagement, from federal ballots to local decisions.

Understanding these distinctions is key to navigating the complexities of American democracy and advocating for inclusive participation.

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Can permanent residents be deported?

Green card holders, or permanent residents, can face deportation if they breach specific immigration laws or engage in serious criminal activities. Reasons for deportation encompass instances such as fraudulent acquisition of residency, commission of criminal offenses, or posing threats to public safety.

These actions fall under the purview of immigration authorities and may lead to the revocation of immigrant visas obtained through citizenship and residency programs.

Are permanent residents eligible to serve in the U.S. military?

Permanent residents are generally eligible to serve in the U.S. military, but they must meet certain requirements, such as having a green card and passing a background check.

Can citizens lose their citizenship?

Yes, citizens can lose their citizenship through a process called "denaturalization" if it's found that their citizenship was obtained fraudulently or through other unlawful means. Additionally, citizens can renounce their citizenship voluntarily.

Find Support in Navigating Immigration

The choice between permanent residency and citizenship is not just a legal matter; it's a life-altering decision with profound implications for your future in the United States. While permanent residency offers stability and access to many rights and privileges, citizenship opens doors to even greater opportunities and protections.

At SimVisa, we understand the significance of this decision and are committed to helping you make informed choices that align with your goals and aspirations. Our dedicated team of immigration attorneys provides comprehensive legal assistance to individuals and families seeking to navigate the complexities of the U.S. immigration system.

Take the first step toward securing your future by reaching out to us today. Let us guide you through the intricate landscape of immigration law and empower you to achieve your American dream.

Permanent Resident vs. Citizen: What Sets Them Apart?
SohYoon Atac
co-founder of SimVisa

Sohyoon is the co-founder of SimVisa. She has over 15 years of immigration specific experience and as an immigrant herself, fully understands the daunting nature of navigating the immigration process.

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