The Differences Between Permanent Residence and Citizenship

Q: What is the difference between U.S. Permanent Residence and U.S. Citizenship?

A: Permanent Residence (a "green card") grants the right to live in, leave and reenter, and work in the U.S. It does not grant, for instance, the right to vote in U.S. elections.

Permanent Residence may be deemed abandoned if the U.S. government believes that the permanent resident has not maintained sufficient ties to the U.S. to demonstrate intent to keep it. It can also be revoked if, for instance, the permanent resident commits certain crimes.

Citizenship includes all those rights, plus the right to vote and certain other rights. Citizenship cannot be deemed abandoned even if the citizen resides abroad for long periods of time without strong ties to the U.S. It can be taken away, but normally only if the naturalized citizen can be proven to have misrepresented something during the naturalization process (or does something which could also cause removal of citizenship to a U.S.-born citizen, such as fighting with a foreign army against the U.S.)

Q: What is Naturalization?

A: Naturalization is the process of applying for U.S. citizenship. A citizen who obtained U.S. citizenship by going through this process rather than birth in the U.S. is said to be "Naturalized."

Q: Are there other requirements for Naturalization to U.S. Citizenship aside from having had a green card for the required amount of time?

A: Yes. Possession of a green card for a certain period of time (three years for a foreign national who obtained permanent residence based on marriage to a U.S. Citizen, five years for foreign nationals who obtained permanent residence through any other method) is only one of several requirements for naturalization. Not everyone who has a green card is eligible for citizenship.

Q: Is the Naturalization process always needed to obtain U.S. Citizenship?

A: There are cases where individuals in certain situations can get citizenship without going through Naturalization.

Children born overseas to U.S. Citizen parents can obtain citizenship simply by applying for a U.S. passport and showing evidence of parentage and of the parents' citizenship (birth certificates of the child and two U.S.-born parents, for instance).

There are various other situations, although rare, where various laws bestow U.S. citizenship on individuals automatically by operation of law (birth in the Panama Canal zone during certain periods is among these circumstances). Consult us for an evaluation of your unique circumstances if you feel that this might apply to you.

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The above is presented for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship with our firm. The information provided should not be used as guidance in pursuing an immigration matter absent consultation with a qualified immigration attorney.