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Resident vs Citizen in the USA: What Sets Them Apart?

Posted on March 20th, 2024

In the intricate landscape of U.S. immigration, distinguishing between the terms "resident" and "citizen" is crucial for anyone looking to make the United States their permanent home.

This article aims to clarify the differences between these two statuses, focusing on their unique rights, responsibilities, and the legal nuances that set them apart.

The distinction between a lawful permanent resident (often referred to as a green card holder) and a U.S. citizen goes beyond mere terminology; it affects one's legal standing, ability to participate in government, and obligations within the country.

By exploring the key characteristics and implications of being a resident vs a citizen, this piece provides valuable insights for those navigating their path through the complex terrain of U.S. immigration policy.

Understanding Different Migration Statuses

Navigating the U.S. immigration landscape requires a clear understanding of distinct migration statuses, primarily focusing on the categories of "resident" and "citizen".

Each status carries its own set of rights, responsibilities, and legal pathways, shaping an individual's life and opportunities in the United States.

What is a U.S. Resident?

A U.S. resident, in the context of immigration, refers to a lawful permanent resident (LPR) or green card holder.

This status allows individuals to live, work, and study in the U.S. on a permanent basis.

LPRs are granted this status through various pathways, including family sponsorship, employment, refugee or asylum status, or a diversity visa.

While residents enjoy many freedoms, certain rights, such as voting in federal elections, are reserved for citizens.

What is a U.S. Citizen?

U.S. citizenship can be acquired either by birth within the territory, through the principle of jus soli, or by naturalization for those who meet specific requirements after a period of permanent residency.

Citizens enjoy the full spectrum of rights, including voting, holding public office, and applying for a U.S. passport for international travel.

Unlike residents, citizens are not subject to deportation and can sponsor a broader range of relatives for immigration.

This section highlights the fundamental differences and privileges associated with being a resident vs a citizen, underscoring the importance of understanding one's status within the U.S. immigration framework.

Main Differences in Rights and Duties

The distinction between being a resident and a citizen of the U.S. encompasses various rights and duties, significantly impacting one's participation in society and obligations to the state.

Rights of U.S. Residents:

  • Live and work permanently in the U.S.
  • Access to social security benefits, if qualified.
  • Protection under U.S. law.
  • Ability to sponsor certain family members for residency.

Duties of U.S. Residents:

  • Obey all laws of the United States.
  • Pay taxes on worldwide income.
  • Support democratic government; cannot vote in federal elections.
  • Register for the Selective Service (if male and aged 18-25).

Rights of U.S. Citizens:

  • Vote in federal and state elections.
  • Travel with a U.S. passport.
  • Sponsor a wider range of relatives for immigration.
  • Eligibility for federal jobs and elected offices.

Duties of U.S. Citizens:

  • All duties applicable to residents.
  • Serve on a jury when summoned.
  • Participate in the democratic process.

These lists underscore the pivotal distinctions and responsibilities inherent to each status, reflecting the varying degrees of involvement and privilege within the U.S. legal and societal framework.

Navigating the Path to Citizenship

The process of transitioning from a permanent resident to a U.S. citizen is known as naturalization. This journey involves meeting specific residency requirements, demonstrating proficiency in English, passing a U.S. history and government test, and displaying good moral character. Preparing for naturalization can be complex, but it's a crucial step for those looking to fully embrace the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship.

The Impact of Legal Status on Taxation

Another critical aspect to consider is how one's status affects their tax obligations.

Both permanent residents and citizens are required to report their global income to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and pay taxes accordingly.

However, the specific tax implications can vary based on several factors, including length of stay in the U.S. and income source.

Understanding these nuances is essential for compliance and financial planning.

Notary and Translation Services for Immigrants

Navigating immigration documentation can often require the assistance of notary and translation services, especially for those who are not native English speakers.

Whether it's translating birth certificates, marriage licenses, or preparing legal documents for immigration proceedings, having access to reliable bilingual services is indispensable for a smooth process.

Why Legal Guidance Matters

Navigating the U.S. immigration process is a journey filled with complex legal procedures and stringent requirements.

Mistakes or oversights can lead to delays, denials, and unnecessary complications.

With 20 years of experience in the field, we’ve learned the importance of fighting to complete the immigration process legally and efficiently.

Personalized legal guidance not only simplifies this intricate process but also helps in saving costs associated with prolonged or complicated dealings with attorneys.

Our commitment is to provide clear, concise advice and support, ensuring your immigration requests are processed timely and effectively.

At Inmigración / Impuestos / Servicios Bilingües, we're dedicated to answering your questions and guiding you every step of the way towards achieving your immigration goals.


Understanding the key distinctions between being a resident and a citizen in the U.S. is crucial for navigating the complex immigration landscape.

This article has shed light on the significant differences in rights, responsibilities, and the legal pathways for each status, aiming to clarify these critical roles within U.S. society.

From living and working in the U.S. to the exclusive citizen privileges of voting and holding public office, we've outlined what sets these statuses apart.

At Inmigración / Impuestos / Servicios Bilingües, with two decades of experience, we're committed to guiding you through every step of the immigration process.

Our expertise ensures that your journey towards U.S. residency or citizenship is informed, efficient, and cost-effective.

For expert assistance or to get your questions answered, contact us at (603) 520-9392 or [email protected].

Let's navigate your immigration path together.

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