How are Visas and Green Cards Different?

Philadelphia immigration lawyers
frequently encounter clients who are unsure about the differences between visas and green cards. These are often mistakenly assumed to be the same documents, or at least interchangeable. However, there are some important differences between the two. Understanding more about what each means and the rights they bestow will help you better understand which option is right for you.

Despite their differences, green cards are often confused with visas. Green cards are a type of immigrant visa, meaning they offer permanent resident status. Nonimmigrant visas are temporary. The holder is required to leave the United States on or prior to the date listed on the I-94 form they receive at their time of entry.

Green Cards

A green card is a term that represents a type of identification, which serves as proof that an individual is a United States lawful permanent resident. A green card essentially allows the recipient to live and work in the country indefinitely. The holder maintains permanent residency until they abandon their status, neglect to renew their green card, or commit an offense that warrants removal from the United States.

Immigrants can obtain green cards several different ways:

  • Through family members: Family-based green cards are given to immigrants whose close family members or spouses are United States citizens or legal permanent residents.
  • Through a job: Employment-based green cards are issued to immigrants working in preferred sectors or possessing advanced degrees or skill sets.
  • As a refugee or asylee: After one year of living in the United States, refugees or immigrants in the United States on asylum can apply for permanent residence.
  • Via the Diversity Visa Lottery: Also known as the Green Card Lottery, this program makes 50,000 immigrant visas available nationally in an effort to encourage a diverse population.

In addition to being permitted to remain in the United States indefinitely, green card holders are eligible to apply for citizenship status after a certain number of years.


A visa is a document issued by the United States Department of State that gives someone permission to seek entry into the country at the United States border or any port of entry. A visa is represented by a physical stamp on the holder’s passport. Ultimately, a United States Customs and Border Patrol Officer stationed at the point of entry has the final authority when determining if a person will be permitted to enter the country.

Generally, applicants complete the application process for the nonimmigrant or temporary visas at the United States consulate in their country of origin. Marriage and employment visas are also obtained at United States consulates overseas. In some cases, people who are already in the United States can apply for a change of status with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. This would either grant them a green card without departing or a visa to be issued upon re-entry after leaving the country.

Philadelphia Citizenship Lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. Advocate for Clients Seeking Visas and Green Cards

If you or a loved one has questions about the process for obtaining a visa or green card, schedule a consultation with a Philadelphia citizenship lawyer at Surin & Griffin, P.C. today. Call us at 215-925-4435 or contact us online to get started. Located in Center City Philadelphia, we represent clients throughout Pennsylvania including those in Delaware County, Montgomery County, and Philadelphia County and nationwide.