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List of differences between a US visa a nd a Green Card

The United States is one of the most popular tourism and permanent immigration destinations. The US issues over 6 million short-term visas every year compared to Green Cards— over 1 million are issued. Whether you are planning to visit the US short-term or long-term, it’s important to understand the difference between a Green Card and a US visa to know which type of permit you need.

What Are the Differences Between a Green Card and US Visa?

The main difference between a Green Card and a visa is that a Green Card is a permanent residence permit that allows you to become a US citizen. In contrast, a visa is a short-term permit issued for temporary visits. 

There are several other differences between a visa and a Green Card such as:

  Green Card Visa
Eligibility criteria Must hold a visa that allows you to apply for a Green Card (e.g., H1B visa) You must be from a country that does not qualify for the Visa Waiver Program
You must have a family member in the US. You must be visiting the US for a short- period (tourism, exchange visits, medical visits, etc.)
You must have an employer in the US.  You must leave the country when your visa expires.
You must not have a criminal record. You must not have been convicted of any crimes.
Validity  Ten years + renewable. 90 days per entry— an extension is usually not possible.
Fee $1,200 $160
Processing times Two-three years. Five to seven weeks.
Sponsor A family member or an employer is required for a family and employment-based Green Card. Not required.
Citizenship After five years.  Not applicable.

Differences in Types of Green Card and Types of US Visas

There are four main types of Green Cards that the US issues: 

  • Green Card for family purposes. 
  • Green Card for employment purposes. 
  • Green Card for returning residents.
  • Green Card for the diversity visa.

In comparison, the US has over 100 visa categories where some of the most popular visas include:

  • Visitor B1/B2 visa. B visas are issued temporarily to allow you to visit the US for recreational purposes or business purposes.
  • Student visa F1. A student visa is issued to a foreigner admitted to a US study program— usually valid for a year up to two years after you enter the country.
  • Exchange visitor visa J1. The exchange visitor visa is for persons attending an exchange program in the US or taking part in a particular educational program. 

Difference in Processing Fees

The application fee for a US visa is $160— without including processing fees which differ from visa to visa. On the other hand, the filing fee for a Green Card from outside of the US is $1,200, plus additional fees as shown below: 

  • Filing form fee: $535
  • Biometrics: $85
  • Medical examination fee: $200-$500

There might be other expenses you have to pay for your Green Card especially if you get the help of an immigration lawyer with your case.

How Does a Green Card Look Like VS a Visa?

A green card is very similar to an ID in size and form; it’s usually in plastic and has a greenish color— hence the name “Green Card.” A visa is usually a sticker or a stamp attached to your passport. 

Here is a side-by-side comparison of how a Green Card looks versus a visa:

Reading and Understanding a Visa
Source: travel.state.gov
green card example
Source: USCIS, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Application Process Differences

The application process is more complicated for a Green Card than a visa. Firstly, to apply for a Green Card, you must have a US sponsor for the permit, while you don’t need a sponsor for a visa. 

Then, you are required to provide a few extra documents for your Green Card than for your visa application. Additionally, you receive an NVC (National Visa Center) package from the US for your Green Card, which is not necessary for a visa. However, both applications are initially submitted at a local US embassy in your country. 

Green Card Validity vs US Visa Validity

A Green Card is valid for ten years from the date of issuance, but if you are a conditional permanent resident, then your card is valid for two years— after which you have to renew your Green Card

In comparison, your visa is valid for 180 days— US visas can be issued for ten years with multiple entries, but you are still allowed to stay in the country for only 180 days per entry. 

Green Card Processing Time VS Visa

It takes around five weeks (sometimes more) to process your US visa compared to a Green Card which may take up to three years. 

Find out more about the US visa processing times.

Traveling with a Green Card VS Traveling With a US Visa

If you hold a Green Card, you can travel freely from the US to other countries, but you must have your card with you along with the passport issued from your home country. Additionally, you visit several countries without a visa as a Green Card holder: 

  • Canada
  • Mexico
  • Costa Rica
  • Georgia
  • The British Virgin Islands
  • Aruba and Curaçao
  • The Balkans
  • Singapore
  • Peru

A US visa is issued to travel to the US. Still, it allows you to visit some other countries.

Find out where else you can go with a US visa.

Green Card VS Visa VS Citizenship

Here are the main differences between a US visa, Green Card, and citizenship:

  • A US visa is for short-term visits, and it only offers a pathway to permanent residence in specific cases, i.e., a work visa. 
  • A Green Card is a permanent residence permit that allows you to become a citizen in the US after five years of living in the country. 
  • US citizenship allows you to become a US national and obtain a US passport. 

Working With a Green Card VS a Visa

You can freely work in the US with your Green Card but not with a visa. You can only work with a US visa if you apply for an immigrant visa that offers a pathway to permanent residence and eventually to citizenship, such as a spouse visa. 

Benefits of Green Card VS Visa

You can benefit from a Green Card in the following ways:

  • Have the same rights as a US citizen (without voting).
  • Travel freely back and forth from the US. 
  • Have the option to become a US citizen after five years. 

The benefits of a Green Card are more significant than that of a visa for those that want to make the United States their permanent home. However, if you do not want to become a permanent resident in the US, then you need a visa. 

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