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Green Card vs Visa: The Differences You Need to Understand

by Eric

It seems like everyone wants to go to America. The Department of State issued more than four million visas in 2020. But visas are only part of the picture. Thousands of others received green cards to live inside the United States. They are distinct from visas, yet few people can tell the difference between the two. What is a green card vs visa? What privileges does each document provide? How does someone apply for either one? Answer these questions and you can expedite your journey into the United States. Here is your quick guide. Read more.

What Distinguishes a Green Card from a US Visa?

A Green Card is a permanent residence permit that enables you to become a citizen of the United States, which is the primary distinction between a Green Card and a visa. A visa, on the other hand, is a momentary authorization granted for short-term stays.

What Is a Green Card? 

A green card is a card that establishes a person is a permanent resident of the United States. The holder can work, live, and travel to any part of the country. They maintain citizenship from their home country.

Though the holder has permanent residency, the card itself expires after 10 years. Cards can get revoked if the resident commits a felony.


There are several types of green cards. Family-based cards go to immediate family members of American citizens or green cardholders. These include parents, children, and widows. The government grants a green card by marriage when a non-American citizen marries a citizen. The card functions just as a family-based one does.

Employment-based cards go to workers who must stay in the country indefinitely. The government does not extend these cards regularly. They often go to professors or individuals with advanced degrees. Humanitarian cards go to refugees, asylum seekers, and crime victims. Some people can receive green cards through entirely random lotteries.

Getting a Green Card :

The application process depends on the type of card you are applying for. For a family-based card, you must complete an application. Your family member must submit a document attesting to your relationship. Green cards by marriage also require an application. If the marriage was initiated less than two years before the card was issued, the card will last two years. Employment-based cards require an offer of employment. You must attach a written notice of your offer to your application.

Asylum and refugee seekers qualify for green cards after one year of life in the United States. They must show proof of their grant of admission and whatever available documents they have. The Department of State imposes a time cap for applicants for the lottery program. The process requires an online application, submission of documents, and a verbal interview.

If you are present in the United States under a visa, you can apply to adjust your status. This is an expedited process that involves submitting a few forms. You can renew your green card online or through paper forms. The Department of State may require you to submit to an interview or fingerprint scan.

What Is a Visa? 

A visa is a document that the United States government requires for foreign nationals to enter a port-of-entry. There are two main types of visas. A non-immigrant visa allows an individual to enter for a specific purpose. They may want to visit for a vacation. They may come to the United States to attend a school or perform work. These visas are closely regulated. Most last up to 90 days, though they can be renewed. You cannot perform work if your visa is for a vacation.

An immigrant visa starts the process to permanent residence in the United States. You must have one to fill out your green card application.

Getting a Visa:

Every embassy has its own process for visa applications. But most follow some basic steps. For a non-immigrant visa, you need to complete an online application. The application requires a passport and travel itinerary. If you are applying for business or work, you may need a resume and confirmation of a job offer. You will need to upload a photo of yourself. It must be a color photo in which your face is clearly visible. Once you submit an application, you need to have an interview with a State Department employee. Call the embassy or consulate near you to schedule an appointment.

During your interview, you may be asked to submit fingerprint scans. You may also need to submit medical information, including vaccination forms. For an immigrant visa, you need to submit an application with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. After they process this application, you must supply them with an Affidavit of Support. An American citizen must write a document accepting financial responsibility for you.

After this step, you must complete a separate online application. This includes providing necessary documents like birth and marriage certificates. Once this application is processed, you then participate in an interview. This includes a medical examination. Both application processes take time, with immigrant visa processes lasting months. Do not assume that the government will approve your application. Wait for confirmation before traveling to the United States.

The Differences Between a Green Card and a Visa:

The main difference between the two documents is how long they last. A green card expires after ten years, though it indicates permanent residency. Most visas last up to 90 days and then require renewal. A green card provides full liberty for the holder to live and work. A visa holder’s liberty may be limited depending on what type of document they hold. A vacation visa does not permit work-related activities. You must apply for a green card inside the United States. You can apply for a visa outside the country at a consulate.

Green Card vs Visa:

The green card vs visa debate is not much of a conflict. A green card bestows permanent residence to non-American citizens. It allows the holder to live wherever they want in America. Immediate family members of residents and workers can apply for one. A visa provides temporary access to the United States. A non-immigrant visa is for tourism and work. An immigrant visa is the first step toward acquiring a green card. Apply for your visa online. Provide all paperwork, including your passport. You can travel the world once you tackle the issues. Follow our coverage for more immigration guides.

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