Immigration vs. U.S. Citizenship: The Key Differences You Need to Know

Immigrating to a new country is a daunting experience, but one that can provide a person or their family countless opportunities that they may not have had before. In most cases, immigration results in permanent residency or citizenship for people who were born in other countries. In fact, the United States welcomed over 800,000 new citizens in 2021 alone, with 2022 data promising to be even higher when calculated. 

Learning everything there is to know about immigration, along with the path to citizenship that it presents, can help a person recognize if immigrating to the United States is something that may be beneficial for them. 

What is Immigration?

Generally speaking, immigration refers to the lawful migration to a new country where a person plans on becoming a lawful permanent resident. There are a variety of reasons a person may choose to immigrate to another country with the most prominent being to reconnect with friends or family, and environmental factors in their home country such as war, or human rights violations just to name a few. 

However, immigration is simply the process of going to that new country. Oftentimes, people think that once they’ve immigrated to a new country, that’s the end of the story. Visas will expire, though, meaning an immigrant needs to become a permanent resident or citizen or they will be deported. 

What is Citizenship? 

On the other hand, citizenship is the allegiance of an individual to a particular country. The qualifications for citizenship vary depending on the country in question, but a country reserves the right to revoke citizenship from a person at any time if they do not live up to their obligations. Being recognized as a citizen of the United States provides far more rights and freedoms than being an immigrant on a Visa or even an immigrant with a personal residency card (Green Card). 

What Can a Citizen Do That Permanent Residents Can’t? 

There are a number of benefits to converting from permanent residency to citizenship, with the most prominent including:

  • U.S. citizens have the right to vote
  • U.S. citizens have the right to petition a longer list of foreign family members who may join them in the United States
  • U.S. citizens can apply for loans, scholarships, and other means of financial assistance
  • U.S. citizens can travel freely within the United States or internationally
  • U.S. citizens can work as a federal or state employee

How Long Can You Remain on a Visa?

Oftentimes, an immigrant to the United States starts out on an immigrant Visa before finding a way to acquire a Green Card that offers permanent residency and the ability to work legally in the U.S. However, many immigrants are not aware of the fact that Visas are temporary. 

The specific length of time a Visa is valid can vary depending on the type of immigrant Visa, but the majority of Visas have a maximum length of two years. If you believe you are being unlawfully removed from the country as an immigrant, reach out to an immigration attorney who can help sort out your case. 

Becoming a U.S. Citizen: The Multi-step Process

Immigrating to the United States is often just the first step. Afterwards, many immigrants choose to seek out permanent residency or citizenship so that they can remain in the country. The steps required to become an American citizen are arduous, but certainly doable: 

  • Secure a Green Card and hold it for at least five years (or three years if you are the spouse of a citizen)
  • Be at least 18 years old, speak, write, and read basic English, and be of good character
  • Prepare a Form N-400, which is the official application
  • Submit your form and pay any applicable fees
  • If instructed, complete a biometrics appointment for fingerprinting
  • Pass an interview where basic English skills and American history questions will be covered
  • Receive an approval or denial decision
  • Take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States
  • Receive proof of citizenship 

The Bottom Line

Becoming a United States citizen affords a person a slew of rights that some countries around the world do not offer to their citizens. With a right to liberty and freedom, becoming a U.S. citizen is an excellent way for any immigrant to begin deepening their roots in America. Whether you are considering becoming a permanent resident or citizen, don’t hesitate to contact an immigration attorney if you believe something has gone wrong with your journey. 

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