Permanent Resident vs Citizen: What’s the Difference?

Updated on April 4, 2024

At a Glance

  • A lawful permanent resident is an individual who has been granted permission to live in the United States indefinitely.
  • They have limitations compared to U.S. citizens, such as not having a U.S. passport or voting rights.
  • Permanent residents can be subject to deportation if they commit certain crimes or spend a significant amount of time outside the U.S.
  • The differences between permanent residents and citizens include protection from deportation, voting rights, family-based immigration, employment opportunities, and travel privileges with a U.S. passport.

While many people often use the terms “Permanent Resident” and “Citizen” interchangeably, there is a great deal of difference between these two statuses. If you are wondering about the differences and similarities between the two, then go through this article to get a clear understanding of the details.

What Is a Lawful Permanent Resident?

Having residency status legally grants you permission to live in the United States for a specified period of time. That means you are no longer a tourist, but rather a legal alien in the country. The status of permanent resident goes one step further to allow you the right to stay indefinitely. A lawful permanent resident can live in the U.S. for as long as they wish.

That said, permanent residents have quite a few limitations compared to U.S. citizens. First of all, they remain the lawful citizens of their originating country. They won’t get a U.S. passport or voting rights. Spending a year away from the U.S. can place them in removal proceedings and they may run the risk of being deported from the United States.

All permanent residents, after a certain duration of time (usually 5 years), are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. They have to show good moral character during their tenure as a permanent resident and clear an exam on U.S. history and government to attain the status of a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Who Is Considered a U.S. Citizen?

A person may become a United States citizen by birth or through naturalization. You are a United States citizen by birth if you were born anywhere in the United States or its territories. In addition, you are eligible for “derived citizenship” if you were born abroad, but one of your parents was a lawful U.S. citizen at the time of your birth.

Then there is the concept of citizenship through naturalization. It is applicable to those individuals who were born in a foreign country and then immigrated to the U.S. They can apply for U.S. citizenship after acquiring permanent resident status. If approved by the proper authorities, they become naturalized citizens.

What’s the Difference Between a Permanent Resident and a U.S. Citizen?

While both permanent residents and citizens enjoy a great deal of freedom over other immigrants and visa holders, there is a broad demarcation between the two. The most notable differences fall into a few categories:

  • Protection from Deportation
  • Voting Rights
  • Family-Based Immigration
  • Employment and Income
  • Travel with a U.S. Passport

Protection from Deportation

One of the key differences between permanent residency and citizenship is whether or not you can get deported. Commiting many differeny crimes as a permanent resident can result in deportation. Conversely, U.S. citizenship protects bearers from deportation.

Voting Rights

Another key diffence between permanent residents and U.S. citizens is voting rights. U.S. citzens may vote in federal elections. Some states do allow permanent residents to vote in elections, but there are many places with restrictions.

Family-Based Immigration

While both permanent residents and citizens both have the right to sponsor immigration to the U.S., the former’s ability is more limited. Permanent residents may only sponsor spouses and unmarried children to the U.S.

Employment and Income

Naturalized citizens in the U.S. have more job and income opportunities than permanent residents. Being a citizen open up career opportunities, such as working for a government agency, that are not available to permanent residents.

Travel with a U.S. Passport

With regard to travel to and from the U.S., permanent residents have more restrictions that U.S. citizens. Permanent residents are required to have an unexpired green card to reenter the United States.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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