Anyone who knows anything about the immigration system in the United States has probably heard the term “green card.” Despite how frequently we use the term, very few people know what a green card is and the process for obtaining one.

Whether you’re embroiled in an immigration battle yourself or have a loved one looking to immigrate to the United States, keep reading to learn more about green cards.

What is a Green Card?

While many people use the term “Green Card,” the actual name is a “Permanent Resident Card.” A green card is used as proof that an immigrant has been given permission to reside permanently within the United States. Those with green cards are known as permanent residents.

Those with a green card have certain rights that other immigrants without them do not have. For example, those with a green card or permanent residency have the right to work inside the United States. In addition, they have the right to petition their spouse and any unmarried children become permanent residents as well.

However, it is important to note that there are some rights that those with green cards do not have. Green card holders do not have the right to vote in any U.S. elections, and if they do so, they could be charged with election fraud and prosecuted under the law. This could cost them any chance at U.S. citizenship in the future.

Permanent Residency vs. U.S. Citizenship

It is important to note that being a permanent resident and U.S. citizenship are not the same. Here are some of the privileges that U.S. citizens have that permanent residents do not:

  • Obtain a United States passport
  • Leave the country at any time without needing a reentry permit
  • Vote in U.S. federal and local elections
  • Hold government jobs
  • Serve on a jury
  • Receive certain grants and scholarships
  • Not be deported from the United States, unless you were found to commit fraud to obtain either your green card or U.S. citizenship

How to Obtain Permanent Citizenship

Permanent residents, meaning those with a green card, are eligible to apply for permanent United States citizenship after holding a green card for a period of five years. However, holding a green card for a period of five years isn’t the only requirement. Those applying for U.S. citizenship must also:

  • Be 18 years old 
  • Have lived in the state in which they are filing for at least 3 months (though students may apply where they go to school or where their family lives if still financially dependent)
  • Be present in the United States for at least 30 months during the 5 years with a green card period
  • Be able to read, write, and speak English and demonstrate knowledge of U.S. government and history (done through a test)
  • Be a person of good moral character 

If you’re interested in applying for permanent U.S. citizenship, you should reach out to a trusted immigration attorney as soon as possible.