Today, I'd like to talk about the difference between citizenship and lawful permanent residency. Before we dive into that, I want to define some terms and make sure we all know what we're talking about.


A citizen is a person who is either born in the United States or has been naturalized, which means that they, or possibly their parents, if they were a child under 18, has become a US citizen through naturalization. This means they took an oath of allegiance to the United States.

On the other hand, a lawful permanent resident is someone who is allowed to remain in the United States indefinitely. And the common terminology that everyone uses for this is that they have a green card. So, a lawful permanent resident is someone who has a green card. They are able to live and work in the United States long-term. But being a green card holder, a lawful permanent resident, is definitely not the same thing as being a US citizen. Let's talk about the differences.

Key differences

Number one, only a US citizen can vote. And only a US citizen can run for or hold federal office. As a lawful permanent resident, you are not permitted to vote in the United States and you’re not permitted to run for federal office. But there's more than that to the story.

You could lose your green card

You do not have all the rights of a US citizen if you hold a green card in your hand. For example, even though you have a green card, if you have committed a crime, or there's been a problem with your immigration application in the past, you could lose your permanent residency. It could be taken away from you.

A green card must be renewed

In addition, a green card, the little card that you received from immigration is called the I551. It needs to be renewed every 10 years. If you’re a US citizen, you don't have to go renew your citizenship every 10 years. You just are a citizen. With a US citizenship, you also get to carry a US passport. If you only have a green card as a lawful permanent resident, you are not allowed to have a US passport.

More limited access to benefits

And the final difference that I want you to know about is eligibility for benefits. If you are a US citizen, you’re eligible for all federal, state, and local benefits that are given to all US citizens under the law. And if you are a permanent resident, you may have to wait a specific period of time before you are eligible for benefits.

In addition, several of my clients have the problem that since they are not US citizens, they are not allowed to get a high enough security clearance for the job they want. So, they might be limited in their job options.

As you can see, there are several big differences between these two things. In my opinion, being a US citizen is always a much safer bet, but I talk with all my clients to determine what is the right choice for them.