How to Determine the Difference Between a Visa and a Green Card

A visa is a permit to visit a country for a certain length of time. They allow governments to track foreigners as they enter and leave a country. In conversations about U.S. 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 how they are different. There are some special differences between the two that all immigrants must know about to prevent trouble with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

united states visa and green card
A United States visa and green card. What are the differences between these? FileRight has the answers.

Understanding the Green Card (Permanent Resident Card)

A permanent resident card or, more commonly called 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 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 needs 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. An expired green card can’t help you obtain benefits or travel, so green card renewal is recommended.

Understanding the U.S. 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.

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.

Permanent vs. Non-Permanent Entry Documents

In short, a green card is a permanent entry visa for immigrants that have the intention of living and working in the United States. The hope is that green card holders will, eventually, decide to become full-fledged citizens.

All other visas are meant for temporary residents. They may be valid for years, like a student visa, but the intent is that the stay will be temporary. Eventually, the visa time limit will run out and the holder will have to leave or work with the government for an extension or renewal.

Green Card and Visa Work Status Differences

Another big difference between green cards and visas is that green card holders are authorized to work in the United States, while visa holders are not. However, there are some temporary employment visas that also allow work, like the H-1B visa, but those have a lot of limitations.

With a green card, an immigrant can live and work anywhere they like in the United States. Naturally, they are much more difficult to get than an employment visa. An employment visa can be used as a stepping stone toward a green card.

In fact, employer sponsorship is one of the main routes to getting a green card, along with family sponsorship and special immigration status (i.e., asylum seekers and refugees.) If you’re currently visiting on a non-immigrant visa and you want to move here, consider seeking an employment visa as a way toward your green card.

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