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

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Did you know there are different kinds of visas and different kinds of green cards?

These terms tend to be thrown around as blanket terms to describe forms of United States residency for immigrants. If you are planning to visit the United States, you may be wondering if you need a visa or a green card. If you’re planning to live in the United States, you may be wondering if your visa is all you need or if a green card is necessary.

So, what exactly is the difference between a visa and a green card? Which one do you need for your particular case? And if all visas and green cards are not the same, which one do you need? Well, we are here to help!

What is a Visa?

There are two broad categories of visas.

  • Nonimmigrant visas are for temporary visits by foreign nationals to the United States.
  • Immigrant visas are for foreign nationals who intend to live permanently within the United States.

A citizen of a foreign country must first obtain a visa before they can enter the United States. Visas are placed in a traveler’s passport, which is issued by their country of citizenship.

Different Types of Nonimmigrant Visas

There are many different kinds of nonimmigrant visas, each with its own purpose for temporary travel in the United States.

Some of the more common visas include, but are not limited to:

  • Business and tourist visas- A foreign national who intends to enter the United States for business, tourism, or a mix of both would need a Business/ Tourism visa.
  • Temporary work visa- A foreign national who intends to enter the United States to work will need a temporary work visa. A temporary work visa differs from a business visa because the foreign national intends to work for a United States business. For a work visa, your prospective employer may be required to obtain a labor certification or other approval from the Department of Labor on your behalf. Work visas range from agriculture labor and medical workers to religious workers. Carefully consider your trade if you need to apply for a work visa.
  • Student visa- Student visas are for foreign nationals who seek temporary residency in the United States in order to pursue an education. Student visas are not limited to just college attendees and exist for elementary schools, high schools, and seminaries. Students can not travel on a visa waiver program or with a visitor visa.

Different Types of Immigrant Visas

Immigrant visas can start the process of becoming a permanent resident, otherwise known as a green card holder. It is important to remember that an immigrant visa is not a green card and you will still need to go through the green card process, even if you have been granted an immigrant visa.

Some of the more common immigrant visas may include but are not limited to:

  • Spouse of a U.S. citizen- This is the visa you would pursue if your spouse is a United States citizen. In this process, your spouse becomes your sponsor, accepting responsibility for you. This process is lengthy and can come with many expenses related to the process. There are many requirements your U.S. sponsor must meet.
  • Employment-based- Every year, about 140,000 employment-based visas are made available to qualified applicants. There are several categories of employment-based visas. Perhaps you possess extraordinary skills and abilities, or you have an advanced degree. These visas, like a work visa, may need an employment-based sponsor. Also, keep in mind your spouse and your minor, unmarried children may also apply for an immigrant visa with you.
  • Intercountry adoption- This is a visa that probably more American citizens worry about, rather than foreign nationals. This visa is necessary when adopting a child from a country other than your own and bringing them back to live in the United States permanently with you and your family.

Do I Always Need a Visa?

For the most part, any foreign national who intends to visit the United States will need a visa. Some exceptions include the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which permits citizens of 41 countries to travel to the US for business or tourism for stays of up to 90 days without a visa.

Also, citizens of Canada and Bermuda do not need a visa to visit the United States for up to 180 days.

What is a Green Card?

A green card, also known as a permanent resident card, means you are and intend to remain a permanent resident of the United States. A green card is often the first step in becoming a United States citizen.

While there is not as much variance in green cards as there is in visas, there are still a few different categories. Some include:

  • Family-based green card- This would be the green card you would be eligible for if you are the spouse of a U.S. citizen, the unmarried minor child of a U.S. citizen, or the parent of a U.S. citizen who is at least 21 years old.
  • Refugee or asylee green card- If you were granted asylum status or refugee status at least one year ago, you can apply for a refugee or asylee green card.

Which One Do I Need?

If you are having trouble making sense of all this information, the best thing to do is consult an immigration attorney. Call the Law Office of Shelle-Ann Simon, PLLC, at 281-606-0800. A good immigration lawyer will help you navigate the complicated applications and prerequisites you need to get your visa or green card.

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