What’s The Difference Between A Green Card And A Visa?

What’s The Difference Between A Green Card And A Visa?

This a question that gets asked often and is based upon a certain amount of confusion.  The starting point for alleviating the confusion and understanding the key differences between a green card and a visa is understanding that the entire American immigration system is based upon only two categories of persons: immigrants and non-immigrants.

What Is A Visa And Who Can Get One?

shutterstock_650428597-300x200A visa, as the term is often used, generally means temporary permission issued to a non-immigrant allowing the person to enter and remain in the United States for a limited period of time with the expectation that the non-immigrant will return to his or her home country prior to the expiration of the visa.  For example, students who come to the United States to study, businesspersons who come to transact business for a short period and tourists are all non-immigrants that receive visas.  Visas are generally issued at United States Embassies overseas which are part of the United States Department of State.

What Is A Green Card And Who Can Get One?

On the other hand, a person who wants to live in the United States on a permanent basis is given an immigrant visa.  Once a person has an immigrant visa, he or she can seek permanent residency in the US by getting a permanent residency card or “green card” issued by the Department of Homeland Security.  The card derives its name from the fact that, historically, it’s been green in color.  Hence, it came to be known informally as the “green card.”  Once an individual is issued an immigrant visa, they can travel to the United States and then apply for a green card.  The following persons can apply for a visa and green card at the same time:

  • People with immediate relatives who are US citizens living in the US
  • Most people applying for employment-based immigration
  • An abused spouse or child if the abuser is a US citizen
  • Special immigrant juveniles


There are two types of green cards:

  1. conditional resident card (conditional “green card”) lasts for two years and is for foreign investors or spouses of an American citizen who got married less than two years before you received permanent resident status or came to the U.S. on your immigrant visa. A person can’t renew a conditional green card — you have to prove, within 90 days of the card expiring, that you have met the conditions necessary to get a permanent resident card. If you don’t prove this before the card expires, you will no longer have lawful resident status in the United States.shutterstock_1623544363-300x199


  1. permanent resident card(permanent “green card”) lasts for 10 years. You’ll need to get a new card every 10 years and can submit the paperwork as early as six months before your green card expires. If you let your card expire, your status doesn’t change (so you’re still a permanent resident and won’t be sent home!) but you are breaking the law, because permanent residents are required to carry a valid green card at all times.

Understanding the difference between a visa and a green card requires understanding the difference in categories of persons divided between immigrants and non-immigrants.



The immigration laws are complex.  One wrong move or bad decision can have life altering consequences.  Call us today or get in touch with us through this website and let us help you.  At the BestImmigrationLawyer.com, we have over 50 combined years of legal experience ready to help you deal with any immigration issue.  BestImmigrationLawyer.com practices immigration law throughout the United States and its territories.

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