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The difference between being a permanent resident and a citizen

Kemal Nicholson
16 July 2021

The terms resident and citizen are often confused for each other, as both of them fall under legal status terminology for the population of any given country. In this piece, we will delve into the details of what it means to be a citizen, what it means to be a lawful permanent resident, and the distinction between a citizen and a resident in a legal manner.

What is the difference between being a permanent resident and a citizen?

There are quite a few distinctions between being permanent residents or citizens, mainly in your legal status in the eyes of a host nation.

A citizen is a person who holds the nationality and passport of a country, for example, a U.S. citizen who holds a U.S. passport is bound to the USA through allegiance, governance, and taxation. Citizens have all the rights a country can give, from voting, running for office, working, opening a business, social security, access to healthcare, free public education, and more depending on the country. Citizens cannot be deported, and U.S. history and government statutes show that U.S. citizens have a multitude of rights not even the government can deny.

On the other hand, someone holding a permanent resident status is a foreigner who is legally allowed to reside within a country indefinitely. Green card holders, for example, are lawful permanent residents who are allowed to live in the United States as long as they wish under certain circumstances such as maintaining the good moral character and meeting the physical residency requirement to renew your permanent residency card.

Permanent residents, generally speaking, usually have the same rights as citizens with the exception of political rights such as voting, running for office, joining particular political parties, and more of the same, of course, is a general rule and depends on the host country.

If you hold a U.S. green card, for example, you have the right to live in the U.S. indefinitely and the right to work in the U.S., but you do not have the right to vote in U.S. elections, nor can you run for office in the U.S. government. Only U.S. citizens can vote and run for office, if you would like to do so you need to apply for U.S. citizenship to gain the entire benefits of U.S. citizenship.

Although not yet U.S. citizens, green card holders, although they do not hold a U.S. passport, are granted the right to reenter the United States as they please without a visa as long as they maintain a good moral character and are not deported. This is just one of the reasons many people aim to obtain a green card.

While we have focused on the U.S. immigration law, this premise is generally similar in many countries such as the UK, Germany, Canada, Australia, and many more. Some countries do not have a lawful permanent resident status such as KSA or Qatar, in which case people either reside temporarily or are citizens, nothing in between.

What can Migronis do for you?

Our expertise and professionally assembled team can help you create the best portfolio of citizenships, researching which second nationality suits your needs best and helping you acquiring it. We deal in citizenship by investment, providing a wide range of citizenship by investment programs that allow you to obtain citizenship and a passport to enter various countries visa free.

Our extensive knowledge of citizenship by investment not only helps you gain a passport that enables you to travel visa free, but allows you more financial freedom through more favorable tax regimes and banking options.

What is an immigration status?

Immigration status refers to your legal status in a foreign country/region. For example, you may be in a foreign country on a temporary work permit, in this case, you are a temporary resident. If you stay long enough you may upgrade your residence standing, along with your accompanying family members of spouse and children, from temporary residents to permanent residents. In the UK, for example, it takes five years of continuous, legal residence to be able to apply to become permanent residents.

Your immediate relatives of spouse and unmarried children will normally have an immigration status of dependents if you are on a temporary permit. Once you upgrade to permanent residence their standing shifts from dependent visas to lawful permanent residents.


What is the meaning of permanent residence?

Permanent resident status means you and your family members who are permanent residents enjoy many benefits as they can reside, work, and study freely within a country. The most famous permanent residence in the world may be the U.S. green card, as its holders have the right to live in the United States indefinitely and enjoy all the perks that come with their permanent residency status.

What can I do as a permanent resident?

Generally speaking, permanent residency gives you all the benefits and rights that citizens have except political ones. You are free to live in the country along with your family members and unmarried children who obtain a permanent residence with you, and you can work, study, and pursue business within the nation. You will also be eligible for social security benefits if you meet certain criteria.

Even if you travel outside the host nation to another country, you are granted the right to reenter without the need to obtain a visa. This immigrant status is the highest one can achieve without becoming a citizen.

Permanent residents are also eligible for naturalization in many countries and may apply for citizenship along with dependent relatives such as their children and spouse if they meet certain requirements. There are differences between countries when it comes to naturalization law, but the main eligibility requirement in most of them is that the immigrant legally meets a certain physical occupancy quota.

Can a permanent resident become a citizen?

Generally speaking, yes. Most countries allow permanent residents to apply for citizenship after meeting some eligibility criteria. Other countries, such as the UAE, do not have a clear path to naturalization for permanent residents. So it depends on the government of each country.

But going back to the most common practice, which is granting a permanent resident and their family the opportunity to obtain citizenship if they are eligible and meet all the requirements, we can take the U.S. as a great example.

The U.S. State Department, along with the USCIS, act as the federal government immigration services branches. The U.S. state department has offices all around the world, while the USCIS handles immigration services within the USA itself. Both of these entities, working in tandem, facilitate immigration to the USA by providing applicants channels to apply for green cards and various immigration visas, and the laws they set forth also allow foreign national green card holders to apply for U.S. citizenship along with their eligible family members if they meet all the USCIS naturalization requirements and submit an N 400 petition form.

The process can be quite complex and the federal requirements must all be met before applying to become a U.S. citizen, so we advise you to employ the legal advice and services of an immigration attorney or a law firm adept in U.S. immigration law with extensive experience in filing a DS- 260 petition form for green cards and an N 400 citizenship petition form.

Using the services of an attorney or a law firm can make your application to the federal government much easier and an experienced immigration attorney can help you circumvent any mistakes or issues that may lead the federal government to refuse your application. The attorney can also follow up on your behalf as the application may take some time.

Travelling To Usa


What is the distinction between green card holders and U.S. citizenship?

Here are the main differences between holding a green card and being a U.S. citizen:

  1. U.S. citizenship allows you to vote and run for office.
  2. U.S. citizens all have social security numbers and can take advantage of the benefits that come with it, green card holders need to amass 40 credits to get their social security number
  3. U.S. citizens hold a U.S. passport which allows you to travel visa free to more than 180 destinations worldwide, a green card holder does not get a U.S. passport and hence can only enter the U.S. visa-free.

There are main differences between holding U.S. citizenship or a green card. There are many advantages to becoming a U.S. citizen of course, as U.S. citizens can travel the world easily and set up businesses with considerable ease throughout the world’s best markets. The U.S. passport is one of the main attractions that make a green card holder want to become a U.S. citizen.

What qualifies you as a US resident?

To qualify as a U.S. resident you need to have legal immigration standing in the USA. Holding a green card, or other types of visas like an E2 or L1 visa also classifies as residency, albeit a temporary one.

What are the disadvantages of a green card?

The main drawbacks of a PRC (Permanent Resident Card) are that you have to maintain a certain physical residency requirement to maintain your standing as a green card holder, as you need to spend 2.5 years out of each 5 years in America. U.S. citizens, on the other hand, cannot lose their standing even if they spend all their lives outside the USA. A U.S. citizen only loses their citizenship and passport if they renounce it willingly.

Another important matter to consider is the US tax, which both a green card holder and a U.S. citizen must pay in order to keep enjoying the benefits of social security, public education, and other services provided by the federal authorities.

Migronis — your reliable partner since 2012

Frequently asked question

What comes first citizenship or residency?

Normally residence comes before citizenship, except in the case of applying for citizenship by investment in countries such as Dominica as you can directly gain citizenship there.

Who qualifies as a citizen?

Anyone who holds a country’s passport and citizenship certificate qualifies as a citizen of that country.

Do Permanent residents get passports?

No, permanent residency does not grant passports, only a residency card.

What is the difference between temporary and permanent residence?

Temporary residency is bound by a certain period of time, while permanent residency is indefinite. The latter usually grants more rights to its holder.

Are all green card holders permanent residents?

No, sometimes a green card will come with a 2-year expiry and conditions on it. Once those conditions are met you can submit a 1-829 petition to remove those conditions and become a permanent resident.

How long is a green card good for?

It is valid for 5 years, renewable for the same period indefinitely.

Is a lawful permanent resident a US citizen?

No, they are not, but they can apply for U.S. citizenship if they do meet all the requirements.

Is green card citizenship?

No, it is just a legal standing to reside in the USA.

Does a green card make you a citizen?

No, it just means you can live, study, and work freely in the USA.

What is the difference between a US citizen VS resident?

A citizen has a passport and can vote, run for office, and enjoys all the benefits the nation offers, while residents normally have conditions relating to their stay in the country and cannot pursue a political activity.

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