Visas and green cards are often misunderstood, some people think they are the same. They are not the same, though are related. A visa is a temporary pass, while a green card is a permanent pass in the U.S. In the United States, both green cards and visas are issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Green cards are also called Permanent Resident Cards. Also note that there are different types/categories of visas and green cards. In this article, you will learn all about visas and green cards, their differences, types, permanent residency, etc.
What is a Visa?
A visa is a document that grants an alien the right to come to the United States port-of-entry and apply for entry into the U.S. for a visit or temporary stay. This means that visas have shorter validity period than green cards. Below is a typical image sample of a U.S. non-immigrant visa.
Different Types/Categories of US Visas
The two main categories of visas are: Non-immigrant visas and Immigrant visas.
What are Non-Immigrant Visas?
Non-immigrant visas are various the types of visas that are issued to aliens who wish to stay temporarily in the United States for a specific reason. Once they are done with their job/tasks in the U.S., they will leave the country. This implies that non-immigrant visa holder does not have permanent residency. However, it is also possible to obtain permanent residency with your non-immigrant visa if you follow some loops and channels.
Examples of non-immigrant visas include: students visas, work visas, business/tourist visas, exchange visitor visas, transit/ship crew visa, domestic employment visas, journalist and media visa, etc.
What are Immigrant Visas?
Immigrant visas are the types of visas that grants the holders the right to enter the United States, and also grants them permanent residency. An immigrant visa makes you eligible to apply for a green card. Note that immigrant visas are more difficult to obtain than non-immigrant visas. They are petition-based, and require that a citizen of the U.S. files a petition for the visa on behalf of the visa applicant. The few exceptional cases are the cases of winners of asylum immigrants, Diversity Visa Lottery and refugees.
Examples of immigrant visas include: immediate relatives and family sponsored visas, employer-sponsored visas, religious workers visas, diversity immigrant visa, returning resident visa, etc.
For more details about visa categories, check out this article: Directory of Visa Categories.
What is a Work Visa?
A work visa is a type of non-immigrant visa that give the holder the right to work in a foreign country. These visas are either issued in the passport or as a separate document. Work visas policies vary from country to country. So if you are planning to relocate to a foreign country like U.S.A., U.K., Canada, etc., you need to first know the work visas policies, rules and regulations of that country. In some foreign countries, work visas are highly work-specific. This means that each category of work visa is meant for a particular job or work field. Once you are granted any of these types of work visas, you cannot work in another job field apart from the one that your work visa type permits.
Categories of Work/Workers Visas in the U.S.
In the U.S., temporary work visas are issued to aliens who wish to work in the United States for a specific period, after which they will return to their country.
The different categories of temporary work visas in the U.S. include:
- H-1B Visas: For employees in specialty occupations and fashion models. The sub-categories here are H-1B1, H-1B2 and H-1B3. Note that H-1B visas normally have a residency cap of 3 years.
- H-1C Visas: For registered nurses working in a health professional shortage area as determined by the U.S. Department of Labor.
- H-2A Visas: For temporary or seasonal agricultural workers.
- H-2B Visas: For temporary non-agricultural workers.
- H-3 Visas: Trainees other than medical or academic. This classification also applies to practical training in the education of handicapped children.
- L1 Visas: For intra-company transferees. The sub-categories here are L-1A and L-2A.
- O-1 Visas: For individuals with extraordinary abilities or achievements in sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics and motion picture or TV production.
- O-2 Visas: For persons accompanying solely to assist an O-1 non-immigrant.
- P-1 Visas: For individuals or team of athletes, or members of an entertainment group. The sub-categories here are P-1A and P-1B.
- P-2 Visas: For individual performer or part of a group entering to perform under a reciprocal exchange program.
- P-3 Visas: For artists or entertainers, either an individual or group, to perform, teach, or coach under a program that is culturally unique.
- Q-1 Visa: For participants in an International Cultural Exchange Program.
- CW-1 Visa: For CNMI-Only transitional workers.
- E-1 Visas: For treaty traders and qualified employees.
- E-2 Visas: For treaty investors and qualified employees.
- E-2C Visas: For Long-term foreign investors in the CNMI.
- E-3 Visas: For certain “specialty occupation” professionals from Australia.
- I Visas: For Representatives of foreign press, radio, film or other foreign information media.
- R-1 Visas: For religious workers.
- TN Visas: For North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) temporary professionals from Mexico and Canada.
- For most of these work visa categories, the prospective U.S. employer must file a petition (called Petition for a Non-immigrant Worker: Form I-129) with the USCIS on behalf of the visa applicant or prospective employee. Only a few non-immigrant visas allow the applicant or prospective employee to work in the U.S. without an employer having first filed a petition on behalf of the visa applicant or prospective employee. Such visa types include the non-immigrant E-1, E-2, E-3 and TN visas, as well as, in certain instances, the F-1 and M-1 student and J-1 exchange visitor visas.
Also, for most of these work categories, the prospective employer needs to first acquire a labour certification or other forms of approval from the Department of Labour on behalf of the visa applicant or prospective employee, before filing the petition.
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What is a Green Card?
A green card (also known as Permanent Resident Card) is an immigration identity document which permits immigrants to enter into the United States, live and work there for as long as they wish. Although some U.S. green cards don’t have their expiry date written on them, according to the USCIS, most of them expire after ten year.
This does not mean that the green card holders’ status has expired. All they need to do is to renew the document. As long as the green card holders are have not violated the terms and conditions, and are not found guilty of any crime in the immigration court, their permanent resident permit remains valid.
You cannot obtain any benefit (not even a travel permit) with an expired green card. So it is very important to keep your green card up-to-date. The hope of most green card holders is to become a full U.S. citizen one day.
NOTE: For immigrants granted conditional resident status, their green cards is valid for 2 years.
Below is a typical image sample of a U.S. immigrant green card.
Different Types/Categories of Green Cards
The types of green cards include:
1. Family Preference Immigrants Green Cards
The U.S. immigration law permits certain aliens who are family members of U.S. citizens that have legal permanent resident permit to become lawful residents too based on some specific family relationships.
Family members of U.S. citizens eligible to apply for this category of green card include:
- First Preference (F1): Unmarried children (21 years old and above) of U.S. citizens.
- Second Preference (F2A): Unmarried children (under 21 years old) and spouses of lawful permanent residents of the U.S.
- Second Preference (F2B): Unmarried children (21 years old and above) of lawful permanent residents of the U.S.
- Third Preference (F3): Married children of U.S. citizens.
- Fourth Preference (F4): Siblings (brothers and sisters) of U.S. citizens (if the U.S. citizens is 21 years old and above).
For more details, check out this guide: Green Card for Family Preference Immigrants.
2. Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens Green Card
If you are an intermediate relative of a U.S. citizen, you can legally get a permanent resident permit (green card).
Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens eligible to apply for this category of green card include:
- A spouse of a U.S. citizen.
- An unmarried child of the U.S. citizen under the age of 21 years.
- A parent of a U.S. citizen who is up 21 year of age and above.
For more details, check out this guide: Green Card for Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizen.
3. Employment-Based Immigrants Green Cards (For Permanent Workers)
The U.S. immigration law has provided various ways through which foreigners can be eligible to get a green card and become permanent U.S. residents legally.
Here are the five categories under the Employment-Based Immigrants green cards:
- First Preference (EB-1) Green Card: For Priority Workers. Eligible applicants under this category include:
- EB-1A: Foreigners with extraordinary abilities in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics.
- EB-1B: Outstanding professors and researchers.
- EB-1C: Outstanding multinational company managers and executives.
- Second Preference (EB-2) Green Card: For Advanced Workers. Foreigners holding advanced professional degrees or those who have extraordinary abilities or intellectual skills (including national interest waivers) that can benefit the United States as a nation.
- Third Preference (EB-3) Green Card: For Skilled Workers, Professionals and Other Categories of Unskilled Labour Workers: For example, teachers, engineers, architects, plumbers, drivers, cleaners, etc. At least two years of training or experience is required.
For more details about the EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3 green cards, check out this guide: Green Card for Employment-Based Immigrants.
- Fourth Preference (EB-4) Green Card: For special immigrants. The following are special immigrants:
- Religious workers.
- Special Immigrant Juveniles.
- Certain broadcasters.
- Certain retired officers or employees of a G-4 international organization or NATO-6 civilian employees and their family members.
- Certain employees of the U.S. government who are abroad and their family members.
- Members of the U.S. armed forces.
- Panama Canal company or Canal Zone government employees.
- Certain physicians licensed and practicing medicine in a U.S. state as of January 9, 1978.
- Afghan or Iraqi translators or interpreters.
- Iraqis who were employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government.
- Afghans who were employed by the U.S. government or International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
For more details, check out this guide: Employment-Based Immigration: Fourth Preference EB-4.
- Fifth Preference (EB-5) Immigrant Investor Program: The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program was established by the USCIS for foreign investors (and their spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21) who eligible to apply for green card and become permanent residents of the U.S. legally. Foreign investors who wish to apply for EB-5 green card must meet the following criteria:
- Make the necessary investment in a commercial enterprise in the United States.
- Plan to create or preserve 10 permanent full-time jobs for qualified U.S. workers.
For more details, check out this guide: EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program.
Below is the screenshot of the summary of the permanent workers visa categories.
The U.S. Humanitarian Programs
These are special humanitarian and protection programs for refugees, asylum seekers and victims of various crimes and abuse). Every year, the USCIS runs a number of humanitarian programs and protection to assist individuals in need of shelter or aid from disasters, oppression, emergency medical issues and other urgent circumstances. The U.S. government holds green card lottery for people in various countries and continents like Asia, Africa, Oceania, etc. Applicants are randomly selected and given the U.S. permanent residence permit.
For more details check this guide: The U.S. Humanitarian Program.
Visa vs. Green Card vs. Citizenship
The relationship, differences and benefits of visa, green card and citizenship in foreign countries like the U.S. are summarized in the screenshot below.
In summary, visa gives an alien the right to enter a foreign country and stay for a short time, green card gives an alien the permanent residency right, the right to enter and leave the foreign country any time and the right to live and work in any part of the foreign country. A citizen enjoys more right than a green card holder.
Some of the rights and benefits that citizens enjoy which green card holders don’t include:
- The right to vote and to be voted for (voting franchise) in local, state, and federal elections.
- Right to apply for visas for their relatives to join them and live permanently in their country of citizenship (for example the United States).
- The right to acquire citizenship for their children born abroad.
- Right to apply for certain federal jobs.
- A citizen cannot be deported from their country of citizenship. However, a U.S. Naturalized citizenship can be revoked if the citizen did not get it legally.
- A U.S. citizen can travel many countries outside of the U.S. with just a U.S. passport (no visa).
What is Permanent Residency?
Permanent residency is the right to live in a foreign country for as long as the alien wishes. One of the major differences between a green card holder and a visa holder (especially non-immigrant visa holder) is that the green card holder has legal permanent residency right, while the visa holder does not, especially in the United States. Green card holders have the right to reside permanently in the U.S., and work in any part or industry in the country.
Also, the green card holders’ status remains valid unless they have were found guilty or have been convicted of committing a felony at the immigration court. Also note that the validity period of most green card is ten years, after which the holder will apply for renewal.
NOTE: Although green card grants its holders permanent residency, but it does not grant them the right to vote, receive federal funding for college expenses, or the right to serve on juries.
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You have now learnt all about US visas and green cards, their types, categories, their similarities and differences. You also learnt about humanitarian programs and permanent residency. One of the most popular non-immigrant US visas is the work visa, which gives the holder the right to work in the US. You now have a ground knowledge about US visas and green cards.
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