While outside of the legal world and government sector the terms Green Card and non-immigrant visa are sometimes used interchangeably, they are categorically separate types of permits. Here are the key distinctions:
A Green Card – which is officially known as a “permanent residence card” – is permanent, and entitles the holder to remain in the U.S. for the unconditional amount of time. Non-immigrant visas (of which there are several types) are temporary, and allow the holder the right to enter and remain in the U.S. for a specified period of time (typically up to a maximum of 6 years in two 3-year terms).
Legal Right to Work
Green Card holders are legally entitled to work in any industry, sector or field, anywhere in the U.S. or its territories. Non-immigrant visa holders may be allowed to work under certain conditions and for a specific employer, depending on the type of visa they hold.
Green Card holders may leave and return to the U.S. as often as they wish, provided that their card and passport are valid. Non-immigrant visa holders face restrictions and limitations on travel, such as travel dates, number of re-entries, and so on. Again, the type of non-immigrant visa determines these rules.
Provided they have no serious criminal convictions, Green card holders may apply for U.S. citizenship after 5 years (or 3 years if they are married to a U.S. citizen). Non-immigrant visa holders cannot apply for U.S. citizenship. They must first obtain a Green Card and apply accordingly.
Generally, Green Card holders are granted somewhat more flexibility and tolerance for committing certain non-severe criminal acts. However, non-immigrant visa holders must ensure that they comply with all laws at all times. A transgression that many people (including the courts) might view as relatively minor or non-serious, such as a DUI that does not result in an injury or accident, can result in a non-immigrant visa being revoked by USCIS.
This is not a distinction between the two types of permits, but it is worth noting because there is some confusion and misunderstanding around this aspect; especially in light of the prevailing political discourse. Here are the facts: neither Green Card holders nor non-immigrant visa holders have the right to vote. Only U.S. citizens have this right. While it’s true that Green Card holders enjoy many of the rights afforded to U.S. citizens, such as serving in the military, this does not extend to voting in any election (local, state or federal).
To learn more about the differences between a Green Card and non-immigrant visa, including specific details about various non-immigrant visa types such as (but not limited to): EB-1, EB2, EB-3, H-1B, F-1, R-1, L-1 and more, contact the team at Pollak PLLC today.
We are passionate about helping people realize the American Dream, reuniting families, and bringing the best and brightest minds to the U.S. so they can pursue their goals and make a positive, meaningful contribution to the community.
Karen-Lee Pollak is the Managing Attorney at Pollak PLLC located in Dallas, Texas. She is a frequent speaker, author and blogger on immigration issues. She can be reached at karenlp@pollakimmigration