The differences between having a visa and being a U.S. citizen

On Behalf of | Sep 18, 2023 | Immigration Explained

In today’s increasingly interconnected world, the United States remains a top destination for individuals seeking a better life, education and career opportunities. Many people from around the globe aspire to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

However, becoming a part of the American dream is not a one-size-fits-all journey. The following are some of the significant differences between having a visa and being a U.S. citizen.

What is the primary difference?

A visa allows foreign nationals to enter, stay or work in the United States for a specific purpose and duration. Visas come in various types, each tailored to a specific purpose. Conversely, U.S. citizenship is the highest legal status attainable in the United States. It offers individuals full rights and privileges under U.S. law, including the right to vote, work without restrictions and live in the country indefinitely.

The limitations of visas

While visas open doors to the United States, they have certain limitations. One of the most critical distinctions between visas and citizenship is the temporary nature of visas. Visa holders can stay in the U.S. only for the duration specified on their visa, ranging from a few weeks to several years. Once their visa expires, they must either leave the country or apply for an extension or change of status.

Additionally, visa holders do not enjoy the same rights and privileges as U.S. citizens. They cannot vote in federal elections, run for public office or enjoy certain social benefits like Medicare and Social Security.

The journey to U.S citizenship

Becoming a U.S. citizen is a significant milestone that typically requires several steps. Before pursuing citizenship, individuals need to obtain lawful permanent resident status, commonly known as a green card. This involves living in the U.S. for a specified period, often five years, as a permanent resident.

To apply for U.S. citizenship, applicants must meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have a good moral character
  • Demonstrate a basic understanding of U.S. government and history

They should then pass a citizenship test and participate in an interview with a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer. The test assesses their knowledge of English and U.S. civics. Upon approval, candidates attend a naturalization ceremony where they take the Oath of Allegiance, pledging their loyalty to the United States.

If you are considering relocating to the United States, understanding the distinctions between having a visa and being a citizen is crucial in making informed decisions about your immigration goals. Whether you choose the path of a visa or pursue the coveted status of a U.S. citizen, it’s important to consult a legal professional to receive the guidance you need to achieve your desired aims.