Law Offices of Stuart J. Reich, PLLC

Practice Limited to Immigration & Nationality Law

11 Broadway, Suite 615
New York, NY 10004

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The Difference Between Permanent Residence and Citizenship

Q: What is the difference between U.S. Permanent Residence and U.S. Citizenship?

A: Permanent Residence (a "green card") grants the right to live in, leave and reenter, and work in the U.S. It does not grant, for instance, the right to vote in U.S. elections.

Permanent Residence may be deemed abandoned if the U.S. government believes that the permanent resident has not maintained sufficient ties to the U.S. to demonstrate intent to keep it. It can also be revoked if, for instance, the permanent resident commits certain crimes.

Citizenship includes all those rights, plus the right to vote and certain other rights. Citizenship cannot be deemed abandoned even if the citizen resides abroad for long periods of time without strong ties to the U.S. (though a US citizen can make their own decision to formally abandon citizenship).

US citizenship can be taken away by the government without the citizen’s consent, but normally only if the naturalized citizen can be proven to have misrepresented something during the naturalization process (or does something which could also cause removal of citizenship to a U.S.-born citizen, such as fighting with a foreign army against the U.S.)

Q: What is Naturalization?

A: Naturalization is the process of applying for U.S. citizenship. A citizen who obtained U.S. citizenship by going through this process rather than birth in the U.S. is said to be "Naturalized."

Q: Are there other requirements for Naturalization to U.S. Citizenship aside from having had a green card for the required amount of time?

A: Yes. Possession of a green card for a certain period of time (three years for a foreign national who obtained permanent residence based on marriage to a U.S. Citizen if they still live "in marital union" with that citizen, five years for foreign nationals who obtained permanent residence through any other method) is only one of several requirements for naturalization. Not everyone who has a green card is eligible for citizenship.

Other than certain residency and physical presence requirements described in greater detail in our Naturalization FAQ, one of the key requirements - and among the most confusing - is “Good Moral Character” – something which can be problematic for some people even where they haven’t broken the law, or where they have some instance or conviction in their past which was not an issue for their earlier permanent residence case. This always needs to be discussed with an attorney prior to filing.

Q: Is naturalization the only way to get US citizenship without being physically born in the US?

A: No. A person can become a citizen “by operation of law” if they are eligible, without needing to go through the naturalization process. This means that some law – other than the law that says you are a citizen if born on US soil - makes the person a US citizen automatically. The most common situation is where a child is born abroad to at least one US citizen parent, though there are many other situations where this might apply and the law has changed over time. Parents or grandparents who were citizens and lived in the US at some point can give rise to this, and the circumstances need to be evaluated by an attorney.



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The above is presented for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship with our firm. The information provided should not be used as guidance in pursuing an immigration matter absent consultation with a qualified immigration attorney.