In conversations about immigration, the terms “green card” and “visa” seem to be the same. But are they?

Here we’ll look into what a visa and a green card really mean and explore some other, related terms.

Green Card (Permanent Resident Card)

A permanent resident card or, more commonly, a green card is an immigration document that serves as proof of an immigrant’s permission to live in the United States for however long they feel like living in the United States.

Green card holders (or sometimes permanent residents or lawful permanent residents) can live and work in the United States without having to show the U.S. government that they intend to eventually return to their home country.

Green cards expire every ten years, but it’s important to note that just because a green card expires, that does not mean that a person’s status expires.

The document may need to be renewed, but as long as the immigrant has properly maintained his or her status in the United States, their permanent resident status remains. It’s still a good idea to have one’s green card renewed when it expires. An expired green card can’t help you obtain benefits or travel, so renewal is recommended.

Visa

A green card can be seen as a kind of visa, but really it’s much more than that. A visa in the most basic sense is a document that provides a person who does not live in the United States the right to come to a United States port-of-entry and apply for entry to the U.S.

That’s right. Just because a person has a visa does not mean that they can come into the United States right away. Nor do they have any rights to entry.

The border patrol always reserves the right to turn away a visa holder for a variety of reasons. However, these reasons are not arbitrary and most people who get visas to the U.S. are allowed to enter the country without much trouble.

There are many different kinds of visas and the main distinction between categories is typically between a nonimmigrant visa and an immigrant visa. Nonimmigrant visas are temporary, while immigrant visas (like green cards) are permanent.