Do you know the difference between a green card, which is officially known as a Permanent Resident Card, and a visa? How does marriage affect immigration?

Sharon Rummery, a public affairs officer with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office and the Immigration Services provided some answers:

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Green card or visa

While both a green card and a visa allow people to live and stay in the U.S., they are in fact, quite different. A green card allows people to live and work permanently in the United States, while a visa is more temporary.

Rummery said there are two types of visas, however - an immigrant visa and nonimmigrant visas.

Nonimmigrant visas are temporary visas which allow someone to enter the U.S. and live in the U.S. for a specific period of time. Immigrant visas, however, allow someone to enter the U.S. on a permanent basis.

The terms green card and immigration visa can be used interchangeably, Rummery said.

She added that an immigration visa or green card is much more difficult to obtain than a nonimmigrant visa or visitor visa, as there are only a select number of these visas allotted every year and the eligibility requirements are quite strict.

In general, she said, one secures an immigrant visa through family sponsorship, special immigration status or employer sponsorship. A green card is harder to secure, but it offers many benefits and is the only option for someone who wants to live permanently in the U.S.

With a nonimmigrant visa, permanent residence is still outside the U.S., but with a green card, the person becomes a permanent resident of the U.S. This means a person can stay and work in the U.S. indefinitely. The nonimmigrant visa offers a temporary status, while a green card is for permanent status.

Employment and marriage

Another way for people to immigrate is to be petitioned by a potential employer.

Rummery said, "Commonly, an employer will bring employees in on temporary work visas, and subsequently petition them to immigrate - to become permanent residents."

For people who have been successfully petitioned by a family member or employer, they stay in the U.S. for five years and then they become eligible to apply for citizenship, Rummery said. "If people adjust their status through marriage with a U.S. citizen, the wait for eligibility is just three years," she said.

Armed forces

Rummery said people can enlist in the armed services if they are a permanent resident. Once they do that, they become immediately eligible to apply for citizenship even though they haven't had a green card for the full five years.

Rummery said those in the armed services wait just one year, except in time of war.

"Since we're presently at war, there's no wait at all," she said.

Refugees and asylum

Rummery also explained that some people immigrate as refugees, meaning they find themselves in the U.S. in a non-immigrant status such as foreign students, visitors, temporary workers, etc. Those people, she said, might file for asylum, if they can show that people like them are being persecuted in their home country, and they are afraid to return.

"Some have actually suffered persecution themselves," she said.

Cancellation of removal

People who have lived in the United States out of legal status, or undocumented, for 10 or more years can show that they have a relative who would suffer severe hardship without the illegal relative. Those who are undocumented could be people who crossed the border without being apprehended or perhaps came on a visa, but didn't leave when the visa expired. These people can be given what is called cancellation of removal by an immigration judge, Rummery said. She said more information can be found on the Department of Justice's website,

More information

For more information about immigration, visas or green cards, visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website at or visit the Department of Homeland Security website at