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What is the Difference Between a U.S. Citizen and a Lawful Permanent Resident?

Posted On:
April 14, 2020

What is the Difference Between a U.S. Citizen and a Lawful Permanent Resident?

There are countless different terms used in immigration law in the United States. Two of the terms that are confused the most are a United States citizen and a lawful permanent resident. Both of these refer to a person being in the country legally, but there are distinct differences between the two and they should never be used interchangeably. Below are the biggest distinctions between these two terms.

What it Means to be a U.S. Citizen

A person can become a United States citizen through the naturalization process, or by being born in the United States or to United States citizens. United States citizens have many rights and privileges. They can:

  • Receive a United States passport
  • Leave and reenter the United States without fear that they will be denied re-entry
  • Leave the United States for any number of days without restriction
  • Vote in federal and local elections
  • Obtain employment with certain government agencies and work in a variety of positions
  • Serve as a jury member in a criminal trial
  • Receive a number of state and federal grants, scholarships, and other benefits
  • Sponsor a number of relatives to immigrate to the United States

Perhaps the biggest difference between a citizen and a lawful permanent resident is the fact that citizens cannot be deported or placed into removal proceedings, even if they commit a crime. The only way a U.S. citizen can be deported is if it is found that the person fraudulently obtained their green card or citizenship.

What it Means to be a Permanent Lawful Resident

Lawful permanent residents are given the right to live and work in the United States indefinitely, but they are also citizens of another country. To prove that they have a right to live in the United States, they must carry a green card. When lawful permanent residents leave the United States, they must carry their green card and the passport for the other country in which they hold citizenship.

Permanent lawful residents have many more restrictions than U.S. citizens. They cannot vote in United States elections, and they can be deported or placed into removal proceedings for committing a crime. 

Green card holders can also lose their green card status if they leave the United States to create a home in another country. Typically, a person must leave the country for more than six months before their green card status will be questioned. When a permanent lawful resident leaves the country for more than one year, they will almost certainly be stripped of their green card, and it will be challenging to get it back.

Lastly, permanent lawful residents also face the possibility of being denied re-entry when they leave the country and then return. For example, if it is found that a permanent lawful resident received government benefits or funding, they may be denied on the grounds of being a public charge.

Our Illinois Immigration Attorneys can Help with Your Status

When trying to gain legal status in the United States, you have options. At Kriezelman, Burton & Associates, LLC, our Chicago immigration lawyers can help you determine which path is right for you, and give you the best chance of success with your case. Call us today or contact us online to learn how we can help.

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