U.S. Immigration Lawful Permanent Resident vs. Citizen vs. Naturalization

U.S. Immigration Lawful Permanent Resident vs. Citizen vs. Naturalization

The United States is a nation of immigrants, offering various, but sometimes confusing, pathways to those who want to build a new life in the U.S. The paths have three basic categories:

  1. Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR)
  2. Naturalization
  3. U.S. Citizen

These all represent steps toward staying in the U.S., but they differ in terms of rights, responsibilities, and the degree of permanence and opportunities you may have.

Understanding the differences between these immigration milestones is important for those navigating the complex web of rules and regulations of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Whether you are a current Green Card holder, a candidate for Naturalization, or someone who wants to understand more about the immigration process, this article breaks down each stage, leading you to an informed path forward.

1. Lawful Permanent Resident (Green Card Holder)

In summary, the Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status, more commonly referred to as a Green Card holder, represents a significant achievement for those seeking to establish themselves in the U.S. Please see our in-depth article here for an explanation of how this stage of the immigration process works.

2. Naturalization

Naturalization is the process through which a Green Card holder applies for U.S. citizenship. Naturalization is the final step in the immigration process and represents a commitment to the ideals and values of the United States. It ensures that individuals who have made a life in the U.S. receive recognition for their contributions and can fully participate in American society.

Eligibility Criteria

To be eligible for Naturalization, an LPR must:

  • Be at least 18 years old at the time of filing
  • Be a Green Card holder for at least five years (or three years if married to a U.S. citizen)
  • Demonstrate continuous residence and physical presence in the U.S.
  • Be of good moral character
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the English language, including reading, writing, and speaking
  • Demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of U.S. history and principles

Steps Involved in the Naturalization Process

  • Filing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization
  • Attending a biometrics appointment to provide fingerprints, photos, and a signature
  • Attending an interview
  • Passing the English and civics tests, if applicable
  • Taking the Oath of Allegiance to the United States

3. U.S. Citizenship

Citizenship is the status granted to someone born to U.S. citizens or after a successful naturalization process. Becoming an American citizen comes with many advantages compared to LPR status. Here’s a look at how citizenship differs and what it offers.

Also, in many cases you can acquire or derive US citizenship from your parents if your parents were US citizens at the time of your birth or they became naturalized citizens before your 18th birthday. To get proof of US citizenship, you would need to file Form N-600.

Economic Value of Becoming a U.S. Citizen

One of the major benefits that naturalized citizens enjoy is higher employment rates and salaries. Research indicates that naturalized citizens have higher employment rates than noncitizens and earn 50–70% more.

When immigrants naturalize, they may enjoy economic benefits for themselves, their communities, and the country. In 2022, immigrant households earned $2.1 trillion in total income, allowing them to pay $382.8 billion in federal taxes and $196.3 billion in state and local taxes, leaving them with$1.6 trillion in spending power. Research finds that when immigrants naturalize, their individual earnings increase by an average of 8.9%, boosting the tax base and the amount they can spend locally. Obtaining U.S. citizenship – and the power to vote – will also give immigrants a voice in how their tax dollars are spent.

Distinction from Permanent Residency

Citizenship is the highest status available under United States law. It classifies an individual as a full member of American society. It gives additional rights, such as the right to vote and serve on a jury, the right to run for public office, and the ability to apply for a U.S. passport.

Ways to Become a U.S. Citizen

There are several pathways to obtaining U.S. citizenship, including:

  • Birth in the United States or one of its territories, with certain exceptions
  • A Green Card holder’s child may acquire citizenship automatically
  • Acquisition, such as through adoption or other circumstances
  • Naturalization, which is the process by which an LPR applies for and becomes a U.S. citizen

Rights and Responsibilities

U.S. citizens enjoy a broad range of rights, including:

  • The ability to travel with a U.S. passport
  • The right to run for elected office
  • The right to work for the U.S. government

Eligibility for federal benefits Citizenship also comes with a set of responsibilities, such as:

  • Serving on a jury
  • Registering for Selective Service if you are a male between the ages of 18 and 25
  • Upholding the principles outlined in the U.S. Constitution

U.S. citizens can also apply to have alien relatives come to live permanently in the United States. However, they must be able to prove their financial, immigration, and citizenship status.

Importance of Citizenship

Comparison and Decision-making

The distinction between Permanent Residency and Citizenship is critical, and the decision to pursue Naturalization should not be taken lightly. Here’s a comparison to help you make an informed decision.

Factors to Consider

When deciding between maintaining Green Card status and pursuing U.S. citizenship, it is essential to consider a few key factors, including:

  • The level of permanence you seek in the U.S.
  • Your personal and professional goals
  • Your comfort with the rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship
  • The benefit of voting and participating in U.S. elections

Pros and Cons

Each status has its own set of advantages and drawbacks. Pros and cons to weigh include:

  • Citizenship’s right to vote and its protection against deportation are major pros
  • A US citizen fully enjoys the rights and liberties protected and guaranteed under the US Constitution.
  • Another pro for citizenship is the increased ability to petition for family members to live in the US. And for immediate relatives of a US citizen, they don’t have to wait for a visa to become available unlike family members of lawful permanent residents.
  • As a US citizen, you don’t have to worry about being out of the US for too long. Unlike being a lawful permanent resident, there is not a limit to how long you can be outside the US.
  • There are more job opportunities for US citizens because there are 1000s of jobs that require US citizenship (i.e. federal employment).
  • Unlike lawful permanent residents and their green cards, naturalized US citizens do not have to renew their naturalization certificate. It’s good forever.
  • Retaining Green Card status may be advantageous for individuals whose home countries do not allow dual citizenship and you want to maintain your citizenship in your home country.

It is important to consult our MyImmigration attorney to discuss your specific circumstances and the best course of action for your individual situation. We can help you understand the legal implications, tax obligations, and other factors associated with either status.

Managing Immigration with MyImmigration.com

The path from immigration to citizenship can be complex. Understanding the differences between Permanent Residency and U.S. Citizenship and the process of Naturalization can help you make informed decisions.

Remember, the process may be complex, but you are not alone in your efforts; we are here to help. Contact us to discuss your specific case.

This blog serves as a general overview and is not intended to be legal advice. Schedule a consultation with me if you have questions or need personalized legal guidance. For the most up-to-date immigration information, you may want to visit US Citizenship and
Immigration Services at uscis.gov or the State Department at travel.state.gov.