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The Difference Between a Visa and a Green Card

The murky waters of immigration and travel come with a lot of questions and more than a little red tape.

One of these nagging questions centers around the difference between a visa and a green card. It’s no wonder too, as there are numerous conditions attached to each and some overlap between them.

You’ll be happy to know that the green card vs visa question has a simple answer. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is a Green Card?

A green card is a photo identification card that indicates lawful permanent residence in the United States. A green card is, technically, a visa that is given to qualifying foreign nationals after they have entered the U.S.

Green card status allows the holder to live and work within the U.S. and grants them access to the benefits that come with being a U.S. resident.

A green card can be granted in several ways under various conditions.

  • Marriage to a U.S. citizen offers lawful conditional residence as do certain immigrant investor programs
  • Family-based green cards are offered to close relatives of U.S. citizens
  • Humanitarian green cards are available to some asylum seekers or victims of crimes such as human trafficking
  • Green card lottery winners are chosen each year from a pool of applicants

What Is a Visa?

A visa is a document that allows entry into the U.S. However, on its own, getting a visa does not guarantee entry at a U.S. border, as border control has the right to turn visitors away.

The U.S. offers two main visa types, those being immigrant visas and non-immigrant visas.

Immigrant visas include:

  • Employer-sponsored, whereby skilled workers or priority workers can work and live in the U.S
  • Family-sponsored, when a relative of a U.S. citizen wishes to gain entry
  • Immediate relatives, where children are seeking a green card for parents or vice versa

Non-immigrant visas are temporary documents that allow the holder to travel within the U.S. borders for medical reasons, business trips, education, or tourism. They are only valid for a specific period of time and do not form part of the process leading to permanent residency.

The Essential Difference Between a Visa and a Green Card

The basic difference between a visa and a green card is that a green card represents a permanent status. It serves as proof that an immigrant can live and work in the U.S. indefinitely and takes the form of a physical photo ID card.

A visa, on the other hand, is a temporary document that is required before traveling to the U.S. It may serve as a path to permanent residency, but on its own, it remains a temporary status with a firm expiration date.

If you’re looking for more insight into living and working in the U.S., take a few minutes to scroll through our General category which covers education, travel, and employment.

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