What are the differences between citizenship and residency in the United States?

US citizens and US residents have similar rights and obligations, however, the differences between the two are also important, such as the right to vote, among others.

There are different ways for foreigners to legally live in the United States, either through the different work visas offered by the government, obtaining lawful permanent residence (LPR) or Green Card holders or citizenship, obtained through parents or by naturalization.

The Green Card holders, is usually obtained through a sponsor, either an employer or a relative, who apply for permanent residence for a foreign person. In general, there are three main ways to obtain permanent residence: through an employer; through a family link; or by request for refuge or asylum. Likewise, there is also the possibility of accessing Legal Permanent Residence (LPR) through the diversity visa lottery.

By obtaining your Green Card, the now resident obtains official immigration status in the country, so you have certain rights and responsibilities. Like the opportunity to work and have access to social security programs.

The LPR is part of the process to obtain citizenship in the United States. Residents who have more than five years of having obtained their Green Card holders, have the opportunity to apply for US citizenship.

The United States citizenship is obtained through naturalization or through parents. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) defines them as follows:

  • Naturalization is the process by which US citizenship is granted to a foreign citizen after they have met the requirements established by the US Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
  • Acquisition of citizenship through US parents at birth and after birth, but before reaching 18 years of age.

To apply for US citizenship, by naturalization it is necessary to be at least 18 years old, be a carrier of Green Card holders, and meet certain requirements related to age, marital status and military service. 

Subsequently, when completing the N-4000 form, the applicant must show up at an appointment to register fingerprints and then present an interview and an examination. These are the most important steps in the process, as the applicant must pass a civics test and English test (speaking, reading, and grammar). After obtaining citizenship, the now US citizen will have the following rights and obligations:

  • Right to receive protection from the United States.
  • Right to vote in the United States.
  • Right to work in the United States.
  • Right to live permanently in the United States.
  • Obligation to obey the laws of the United States.
  • Obligation to declare taxes.
  • Obligation to register in the Selective Military Service System if he is male and between 18 and 25 years of age.

The main difference between citizenship and naturalization with permanent residence or Green Card holders, is that citizens can live abroad as long as they want. People with permanent residence, for their part, must take care of their time outside the United States, otherwise they may lose their residence.

Another important difference is that citizenship is permanent and a renewal process is not necessary, unlike the Green Card holders, que debe renovarse cada diez años.  Además, la residencia es el camino para convertirse en ciudadano estadounidense.

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