Residency Vs. Citizenship - Understanding The Differences

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Many people tend to use the terms ‘permanent residency’ and ‘citizenship’ interchangeably but there are differences, substantial differences. Fundamentally, a resident is a person legally living and working in a particular locality, however, citizen tends to be a person who legally belongs to a country. Both the terms might sound pretty similar as they both allow you to stay and work in the US but in reality, residency and citizenship are two very different statuses with some similarities.

Who is a Permanent Resident and who is considered as a US Citizen?
Lawful permanent residents in the US is someone who has been granted the right to live in the country indefinitely but continues to hold the citizenship status of another country. They get a ‘Green Card’ and enjoy a lot of privileges over the tourists, including the right to work in the US and seek employment for themselves or start a lawful business in the country. A permanent resident also has the freedom to enter and leave the US as per their will, however, your permanent residency status can be invalidated if you will be out of the country for more than one year. If you know that beforehand, you can apply for a re-entry permit. Besides this, permanent residents can file a petition for their immediate relatives (spouse and two unmarried children) to reside with them in the US. They are also entitled to some monetary and legal benefits – have the right to apply for government-sponsored financial aid for educational purposes, access to security clearances and exemptions from export restrictions, eligible to receive social security benefits, supplemental security income, and health-care benefits.

A person is considered as a citizen of the US if he is born anywhere in the US, i.e., by birth. If one of the parents was a lawful citizen at the time of the child’s birth then the child is eligible for derived citizenship is even if born in a foreign country.

Can a person become the US Citizen, if not by birth?
For people seeking the US citizenship, there exist a concept of naturalization, a process of obtaining citizenship. The people who immigrated to the US in pursuit of better education, career, job facility and higher living standards can always apply for US citizenship after they attain permanent residency status. During the application process, a few factors that might be considered are – age, behaviour while a permanent resident, ability to read, write and speak English and continuity of physical presence in the US.

Understanding the difference basis rights and benefits
Although, the permanent residency provides a plethora of benefits and opportunities to the immigrants staying in the US, which are significantly higher than that of people of temporary visas, citizenship is the highest status under US immigration law and comes along with its own benefits – eligibility to receive a US passport issued by the US State Department, right to vote, leave and enter the US without any restriction, benefit from US tax law, will not be subjected to deportation, ability to file a petition immigrate number of relatives to the US, allowed to sponsor your family members to obtain Green Cards and also grants eligibility for federal employee benefits.

For people on temporary student and work visas in the US the process of acquiring both residency and citizenship is a long wait. Despite the fact that a large section of the immigrant population choose these routes to work in the US and depend on renewals and employee sponsorships to maintain a legal status in the US, many a times they have to return to their countries owing to changing policies and economic regulations. The process of acquiring a permanent status in the US surely becomes a lot easier for foreign nationals who use investor visa programs to relocate to the country.

Both permanent residency and citizenship have their own pros and cons. In order to become a citizen of the US, one has to forgo the citizenship of the country they were born in. If retaining citizenship to your home country is important, Green Card stands as the best alternative. On the contrary, if one is planning to shift their base to the US permanently, citizenship might be a bit longer process but unlocks all the privileges an individual can have in the US.