Immigration terms such as visa” and “green card” may be confusing. These terms are often used interchangeably, although they refer to two different things. It is also common for individuals to use these terms in ways that are different from their original meanings. 

A visa gives an individual the right to enter the United States. It is a physical stamp that an individual receives in their passport or equivalent document. A visa generally has to do with entry into the United States. The term visa also refers to a category in which an individual travels to the United States for a temporary stay, such as a student visa and/or a temporary worker visa.

The term green card is actually a slang term that is related to the process of obtaining United States citizenship, rather than simply entry into the country. The term green card application can actually refer to a process such as adjustment of status and/or naturalization. The emphasis of a green card is more on citizenship and residency status than admissibility into the United States. A green card is a plastic photo identification card that an individual receives when they are granted lawful permanent resident status. 

It is important to note that green cards are known as permanent visas, even though the term visa usually refers to temporary visa categories. This may clarify some confusion regarding these terms.

What Role Does an Immigration Lawyer Play in Terms of Visas and Green Cards?

An immigration lawyer provides assistance with applications for both a visa and a green card. A lawyer can assist an individual in obtaining a visa so they can travel to the United States. If an individual has restrictions that may cause them to be inadmissible, such as a criminal record, a lawyer can assist in obtaining a waiver or assist with an appeal if their original claim is denied.

Once an individual has successfully and legally entered into the United States, they may begin to consider how to obtain permanent resident status, or a green card. This is usually the first step towards obtaining full United States citizenship. A lawyer will be able to assist in determining whether an individual is eligible for a green card. A lawyer can also provide advice regarding keeping green card privileges, so an individual does not lose their chance at obtaining citizenship.

These steps typically involve large amounts of paperwork. Additionally, the applicant will typically be required to attend immigration hearings at several points during the process. A lawyer can provide advice on these matters as well as representation during proceedings.

What is a Temporary Visa?

A temporary visa, or nonimmigrant visa, allows an individual to study and/or work in the United States for a period of time. An individual can obtain a non-immigrant visa for a temporary stay or an immigrant visa for a permanent stay in the U.S. Visitors to the United States can also obtain temporary visas for things such as:

  • Business;
  • Tourism; and/or
  • Pleasure.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) oversees immigration visas. In some cases, an individual may obtain a visa waiver. A visa waiver allows an individual to enter the United States without having to complete the visa application process. Criteria for obtaining a visa waiver include:

  • The individual is coming to the United States for 90 days or less;
  • The individual is a citizen of a visa waiver country;
  • The individual has a valid passport;
  • In many cases, the individual must provide a round trip ticket with their return date; and
  • The individual must fill out certain forms from the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services.

No matter which type of visa an individual obtains, they will be subject to a maximum length of stay in the United States. Since these visas are issued for a limited duration of stay in the United States, the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) may revoke an individual’s visa if they appear to intend to stay beyond the allowed time period.

Can I Lose My Green Card or Permanent Resident Status?

Yes, an individual can lose their green card and/or permanent resident status. Once an individual receives lawful permanent resident status, they are eligible to live and work in the United States permanently. 

The green card serves as the physical documentation of their lawful permanent residence status. In general, this status cannot be lost unless the individual renounces the status and/or commits a violation of laws. If a green card is revoked, the individual will lose their permanent resident status and all related privileges. 

There are two main ways an individual can lose their lawful permanent status and have their green card revoked. These are violations of law and leaving the United States for extended periods of time. Violations of laws include criminal and/or civil violations, not just immigration law violations. 

Lawful permanent residents are not permitted to leave the United States for longer than a specified amount of time. Typically, trips outside the United States cannot exceed one year. Therefore, if an individual wishes to keep their green card and/or lawful permanent resident status, they should avoid engaging in the aforementioned behaviors.

What Violations Can Cause Me to Lose My Green Card?

One of the most common ways individuals lose their green card is by committing a violation of the law. Lawful permanent resident status may be revoked for civil and/or criminal violations, including those offenses that do not result in jail time. In addition, serious offenses may be grounds for immediate deportation.

Although minor violations may not cause an individual to lose their green card, the majority of crimes involving moral turpitude can. Crimes involving moral turpitude involve socially offensive behavior, including:

  • Lying;
  • Violence;
  • Stealing; and/or
  • Similar behaviors.

Lawful permanent residents are required to inform the immigration authorities of any change of address. These changes of address must be reported within 10 days of moving. This is one of the most common ways an individual can lose their green card and/or be deported. Although it may seem like a small offense, it is taken seriously by the authorities because it can appear an individual is attempting to evade immigration authorities.

Can I Travel Outside of the United States?

In general, yes, an individual can travel outside the United States. However, an individual should avoid taking a trip outside the United States that lasts more than one year. An individual’s green card can be revoked if it can be proven they intend to make another country their permanent home. If an individual remains outside the U.S. for longer than one year, it may be difficult for them to re-enter the country and they may be required to submit additional paperwork, including a re-entry permit.

How Can I Contact an Immigration Lawyer?

If you need help with immigration matters including a visa application and/or a green card application, it is important to contact an immigration attorney. You can post your case online and receive reviews of your legal issues and information on attorneys to contact. An experienced lawyer will assist you throughout the process. 

In some cases, your loved one may need assistance abroad. If that is the case, you can contact an immigration attorney on their behalf to get the process started more quickly.