What’s the Difference Between a Green Card and a Visa?

Migrant Resources

What’s the Difference Between a Green Card and a Visa?

How to tell them apart

Confused about the difference between a green card and a visa? Don’t fret. Like most things involving the US immigration system, it’s complicated.

But life is about to get a little bit easier, because we’re here to break it down for you in terms we can all understand.

Keep reading to see a side-by-side comparison of a green card versus visa, so you’ll know what you need when planning to immigrate to the US.

What is a green card?

We said we were going to put these in simple terms, so here we go.

A green card is a document that proves you are legally allowed to permanently live in the United States. It is a kind of identification card specifically for migrants.

The official name for a green card is a permanent resident card. However, the term green card has become more commonly used.

Why is it called a green card?

As you might have guessed, the permanent resident card got its famous nickname because the card itself was green from 1946 to 1964.

Since then, the green card has actually been blue, pink, and yellow. However, nowadays, they are green once again!

Good to know:

  • If you are a permanent resident with a green card in the US, you are required to carry the card with you at all times. Failure to do so can result in a fine or jail time.
  • Green card holders are required to file US income taxes on a yearly basis.
  • Males from the ages of 18-25 are required to register with the Selective Service System (i.e. military conscription, aka the draft).

What is a visa?

A US visa is a document that allows you to travel to a US port of entry, airport, or border crossing to ask permission to enter the United States. Once you have been approved, you will get your visa stamped into your passport.

Important note:

Possessing a US visa does not guarantee you will be allowed to enter the US. Rather, it shows that a US consular officer has decided you are eligible to seek entrance for the specific purpose stated on your visa.

Citizens of certain countries are allowed to travel to the US without a visa. However, most will need to apply for a visa before their trip.

There are about 185 different types of visa grouped into two main categories: nonimmigrant visas and immigrant visas.

Good to know:

  • Nonimmigrant visas are for individuals who wish to travel to the US on a temporary basis.
  • Immigrant visas are for individuals who wish to live permanently in the US.
  • We’ve compiled a list of common questions about the US visa in an easy-to-understand visa FAQ. Have a look!

Green card vs visa

So, now that you have a basic understanding of green cards and visas, let’s compare them side-by-side with some common questions.

And that’s the green card versus the visa! Not so difficult when you break it down.

But keep in mind that these are just the basics. If you are applying for a green card or a visa, make sure to read up on all the specific eligibility requirements to make sure you qualify.

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