What Is the Difference Between a Green Card and a Visa?

By Julia at Legal Language
Posted on 03/22/2012
In Adjusting Status, Immigration

statue of liberty green card vs visaGreen card or visa: what’s the difference?

Green cards and visas are both government-issued documents for immigrants, but they bestow very different rights and privileges in the US.

The critical difference is that a green card allows the holder to remain and work in the US indefinitely (given some caveats), while the visa is reserved for a temporary stay.

Depending on the type of visa you have, however, you may also be able to work during your stay in the US.

Green Cards

A green card is evidence of lawful permanent resident status in the US. Permanent residency authorizes an immigrant to the US to live and work in the US indefinitely. However, in order to maintain permanent residency, one must not commit an act which makes you removable from US under the law, abandon your status, or forget to renew your green card.

Green cards are often confused with visas because they are considered a type of immigrant visa. The most critical difference is that traditional visas are nonimmigrant, which means they permit the holder to stay only temporarily.

Green cards can be obtained in several ways. For example, you may qualify for an employment-based green card. There are several categories for employment-based applications that are grounded in preference categories. Workers with advanced degrees or exceptional ability are processed in higher numbers.

The most popular way to obtain a green card is through qualifying family members. These family-based green cards are granted to immigrants who are married or are close relatives to US citizens or legal permanent residents.

Successful applicants to the Diversity Visa Lottery are also granted green cards.  A refugee or asylee may also apply for permanent residence after one year of living in the US.

Aside from the obvious benefit of staying in the US indefinitely, green card holders can also qualify for citizenship status after living in the US and staying out of trouble for a certain number of years.


A visa, on the other hand, grants the holder only the right to apply for entry into the US. Citizens of most foreign countries must obtain a visa before entering the US.

Visas are usually issued at US consulate and embassies abroad and allow individuals to travel to a US port of entry and request permission to enter. However, even a visa does not guarantee that you will be permitted to enter the US.

Nonimmigrant visas are reserved for people who wish to be in the US on a temporary basis. These visas are reserved for tourists, students and temporary workers. Usually tourists and students are not permitted to work while in the US.

However, temporary workers have permission to work. In order to work on a nonimmigrant visa, you must have a qualifying occupation, such as those for religious workers, unskilled laborers or some college-educated professionals.

If your visa is set to expire, you must either renew it or leave the US. Although some nonimmigrant visas allow you to apply for a green card while you are authorized under a temporary visa, most do not. This rule is referred to as the dual intent doctrine.

Have a visa and want to apply for a green card? Consult an attorney to find out how to avoid running afoul of the dual intent doctrine and disqualifying yourself from permanent resident status.

3 Responses to “What Is the Difference Between a Green Card and a Visa?”

  1. http://yahoo.com Says:

    _What Is the Difference Between a Green Card and
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  2. Lingise Celestin Says:

    To whom it may concern,
    This are my two questions
    1- The date of next Diversity Visa Lottery.
    – If you are applying from the internet and which way can i find the difference between the wrong one and the right one that what is the right way to play the Diversity Visa Lottery(USA)
    2- Which way to use to immigrate in USA from outside and if you can list different categories.
    Thanks a lot
    Lingise Celestin

  3. Darius Newman Says:

    Your priority date for your lawful permanent residence (i.e. green card) processing is April 3, 2014. What does this mean? Do I still need to complete a I485 & I-140

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