What is the difference between a Green Card and a Visa?

Green Cards and U.S. visas are both government-issued documents for immigrants. However, they provide its holder different rights and privileges. The main difference between a Green Card and a visa is that a visa is only a temporary authorization that allows its holder to enter and remain in the U.S. for a given period and specific purpose. A Green Card is a permit that serves as proof of its holder's immigrant status and that allows him/her to reside and work in the U.S. permanently.

A U.S. visa holder is not authorized to work in the United States unless he/she has a specific type of work visa, as an H-1B visa, for example. Green Card holders have almost all the rights that the U.S. citizens have and can work and live anywhere in the United States, and visa holders are not eligible for these types of benefits. However, Green Card holders or permanent residents, do not have the right to vote or receive federal funding.

A U.S. visa allows its holder to remain in the U.S. for a given period and may even pave the way for a Green Card. A visa offers temporary status; the Green Card offers permanent residence status. Green Card holders may also sponsor their immediate relatives to get a Green Card and live and work in the United States.

There are also two types of U.S. visas: Immigrant visas and nonimmigrant visas. Nonimmigrant visas are temporary visas which allow someone to enter and live in the U.S. for a specific purpose and given a period of time. Immigrant visas allow someone to enter the U.S. on a permanent basis. The terms Green Card and immigration visa can be used interchangeably. An immigration visa or Green Card is much harder to obtain than a B1 visitor visa or another nonimmigrant visa, for example. This is because there are only a select number of immigrant visas allotted each year with strict eligibility requirements, and also every immigrant visa needs to be petitioned for by a citizen of the United States. That, however, excludes the winners of Diversity Visa Lottery, asylum immigrants, and refugees.

In general, one secures an immigrant visa through family sponsorship, special immigration status, or employer sponsorship. Once you have had an immigrant visa issued in your name, you will be eligible for applying for a green card.

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