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What’s the Difference between Permanent Residents, U.S. Citizens, & Immigrants?

The hot-button political issue of American immigration seems to get more complex and controversial each year. In 2023, Texas Governor Greg Abbott and his Attorney General announced proposals to prevent individuals from China and Russia from acquiring real estate, but the first draft of the state bill in question didn’t make a clear and sufficient distinction between legal residents, nonimmigrants, and naturalized citizens. That legislative project was eventually revised, and Governor Abbott continues to endorse it, but it will likely face legal challenges because of the incorrect manner in which it was drafted.

Immigrants & Nonimmigrants in the United States

Foreigners in the U.S. are classified according to the visa programs and benefits provided by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as well as the State Department. To this effect, there are two main visa categories:

  • Nonimmigrants – These are foreign-born individuals whose stays in the U.S. aren’t intended to be permanent. These foreigners include tourists, students, businesspeople, artists, athletes, skilled employees, and others.
  • Immigrants – These are foreigners who intend to live in the U.S. through the various programs and benefits offered by USCIS. These individuals include close relatives, refugees, asylum seekers, and special categories such as Afghan and Iraqi people who collaborate with the U.S. Armed Forces.

The migrants who travel in caravans to the southern border with Mexico hope to become immigrants through the asylum, refugee, and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programs. With the exception of foreigners in the TPS program, immigrants don’t have expiration dates on their visas. Nonimmigrants always have expiration dates, although some of them, such as H-1B workers, can extend their stays through a couple of processes.

Permanent Residents

Now that we have clarified the immigrant and nonimmigrant categories, it’s easier to understand permanent residency status. Immigrants in the U.S. are expected to follow certain USCIS processes to maintain their legal status. Invariably, this means getting employment authorizations, conditional resident cards, and, eventually, green cards. If a tourist or an H-1B worker decides to marry an American citizen, the individual can move from the nonimmigrant category through a petition for Adjustment of Status. 

H-1B workers who believe their visas won’t be renewed may want to check with their parents and relatives to see if they are able to gift them the required funds to apply for an EB-5 visa. San Diego residents should be aware that econometric studies and other business requirements must be completed for the EB-5 visa, and the legal fees may be higher as a result.

Work permits, conditional residency, and green cards are benefits managed by USCIS. This federal agency is also in charge of naturalization, which is the maximum benefit offered to immigrants. Naturalization requires at least five years of physical permanence in the U.S., and it grants immigrants all the rights of American citizens with only a couple of exceptions. 

Taking the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony turns foreigners into American citizens, but they’ll always be immigrants because they weren’t born on U.S. soil or to American parents overseas. This is why someone such as Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who was born in Canada, cannot be called an immigrant, since his mother was a citizen of the U.S.

It should be noted that some permanent residents choose to not pursue naturalization for various reasons. Most of the time, the reasons are related to keeping their foreign citizen status after consulting with an immigration law firm. This permanent residency status can be renewed every 10 years.

If they need help from attorneys with extensive expertise in the laws surrounding immigration, San Diego residents should contact KS Visa Law today. From family-based immigration to naturalization procedures, we can address all your immigration-related needs. Call 858-874-0711 to schedule an appointment.

July 2024