If you read enough about immigration law, you might think that a U.S. green card is the pinnacle of achievement–the end of the immigration journey. But just because you are a lawful permanent resident, doesn’t mean that there isn’t more out there. U.S. citizens enjoy rights and privileges that green card holders do not. The question is, what does it take to become a citizen and do the pros outweigh the cons in the debate of the green card vs citizenship?
How to Get a U.S. Green Card
To understand how having a green card compares to having U.S. citizenship, we need to go over the process and benefits of each. Let’s start by analyzing the process and benefits that go along with getting a green card.
There are several different ways to get a green card in the U.S. including employment, family, marriage, investment, asylum, and a green card lottery. Because employment and family are the two most common methods of obtaining a green card, we’ll cover those methods briefly.
Employment-Based Green Card
As the name suggests, these green cards are obtained through your job or occupation in the U.S. Many of these require that you have a valid job offer of employment from a U.S. employer, though some allow you to petition for yourself and are based more on personal achievement rather than your job. These immigrant visas make use of the I-140 petition.
Additionally, some require a PERM Labor Certification, which requires a sponsoring employer to determine the prevailing wage to pay you and to go through a recruitment process to see if there are any qualified U.S. workers that would be displaced if you were to start working for that employer.
Here is a list of the employment-based green cards that you can choose from:
- EB-1A: for foreign nationals with extraordinary achievement (prestigious awards, high salaries, etc.). This green card does not require a PERM or a job offer.
- EB-1B: for outstanding researchers and professors. While this requires a job offer, it does not require a PERM.
- EB-1C: for multinational executives and managers. Like the EB-1B, it requires a job offer but not a PERM.
- EB-2: for foreign nationals with exceptional ability or advanced degrees. This requires both a PERM and a job offer.
- EB-2 National Interest Waiver: You can have the PERM and job offer requirement waived through the National Interest Waiver (NIW) if your work will benefit the U.S.
- EB-3: for professionals (bachelor’s degree holders), skilled workers (2+ years of experience), and “other workers” (less than 2 years of experience). This requires both the PERM and a job offer.
- EB-4: for special workers that have occupations outlined in an exclusive list.
Family-Based Green Card
These green cards are awarded based on which family member is able to sponsor you. To get one of these, your sponsor will need to file the I-130 petition.
Here are the family-based green cards:
- F-1: for the children and dependents of U.S. citizens
- F-2A: for the spouses and unmarried children under 21 of green card holders.
- F-2B: for the children over 21 of green card holders
- F-3: for the married children of U.S. citizens
- F-4: for the brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens
As you can see, we have already encountered a benefit of citizenship over green card status. As we’ll discuss later, citizenship allows you greater preference and flexibility when it comes to sponsoring other family members for green cards.
Green Card Process
Once you know which green card you are applying for, you will need to have your sponsor (whether that is you, your employer, or your family member) file the right petition along with any required supporting evidence. Keep in mind that the I-130 and I-140 are just for family and employment-based green cards. Other green cards may require a different form.
Your priority date will be the day that the USCIS receives your petition. Keep an eye on the latest visa bulletins provided by the Department of State. When the final action date in your green card category for your country of origin reaches your priority date, you will be able to either adjust your status or go through consular processing.
Permanent Resident Advantages
Once you have your green card, you will be granted the following rights and privileges:
- Living in the U.S. permanently as long as you do not violate your status or commit a crime that could result in deportation.
- Working at any legal place of employment of your choosing. Keep in mind that some government jobs are only available to U.S. citizens for security purposes.
- Protection by all of the laws of your federal, state, and local governments.
Green Card Renewal
While your green card status is permanent, the physical card is not. You will need to renew your card every ten years and pay the $455 filing fee along with an $85 biometrics fee, totaling at $540. If you have not violated your status or committed a crime in the U.S., your green card should be renewed without complication.
What is the Naturalization Process?
Changing your status from lawful permanent resident to U.S. citizen is done through a process called naturalization. In contrast to the various ways that you can get a green card, there is only one way to become a U.S. citizen.
Here are the main requirements to apply for naturalization:
- You must be at least 18 years old (if you do not have a parent who is a citizen)
- You must have been a lawful permanent resident for at least 5 years, you must have been married to a U.S. citizen for three years, or you must be a member of the U.S. military.
- You have spent at least 30 months (two and a half years) physically present in the U.S.
- You have demonstrated good moral character, which essentially means that you have not committed a crime in the U.S. It also has some extra connotations such as fidelity in your marriage or drunkenness.
If you meet these requirements, you will need to file an N-400 with the USCIS with a copy of your green card and processing fee of $640 with a biometric fee of $85 totaling at $725. Once your application has been processed, you will be asked to come into an office for an interview.
Keep in mind that this is not like a consular processing interview for a visa or green card. You will be required to take a test to be naturalized. Here are some things you should know well in preparation for this interview test:
- You should be able to read and write in English.
- You should know the basic history and tenants of the U.S. Constitution.
- You should have a basic understanding of the history and government of the United States.
If your interview is favorable, you will need to set up a biometrics appointment and to take the U.S. Oath of Allegiance before completing your transition from green card holder to full-fledged U.S. citizen.
Also, your child may be able to be naturalized if you are a U.S. citizen and he or she was born outside of the U.S.
What are the Benefits of U.S. Citizenship?
Outside of obtaining citizenship through marriage or U.S. military service, many use the green card as a stepping stone to citizenship. But the question is, once you have your green card, is it worth it to go through the naturalization process? One thing to consider is the fact that you will be granted naturalization rights.
Here are some reasons to consider becoming a U.S. citizen:
- You will be able to vote in U.S. general elections
- You cannot violate your status as a U.S. citizen. Committing a crime will not result in deportation but rather prosecution within the U.S. court of law.
- You will be able to sponsor more family members for lawful permanent residency and your spouse and children receive higher preference for green cards.
- You will be able to work for the federal government in positions that are available only to citizens.
- Your children born in the U.S. will inherit your citizenship. Also, any current children under 18 that have green cards will immediately become citizens as soon as you are naturalized provided that they are living in the U.S. under your care.
- You will not have to renew your status every ten years.
Keep in mind that the green card renewal process is cheaper than the naturalization process ($540 vs $725). However, since naturalization requires a one-time fee, you are ultimately saving yourself hundreds if not thousands of dollars in the long run.
Ultimately, green card status, while not as tentative as a nonimmigrant visa, can still be revoked and has limitations. To enjoy all the benefits that come with being a U.S. citizen, naturalization is usually the preferable choice.