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Definition of Visa vs. Green Card

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What’s the Definition of “Visa” vs. “Green Card”?

Many people get confused over immigration terms like “visa” and “green card”.   Sometimes these words are used interchangeably, even though they refer to two different things.  And it’s also common for people to use these terms in different way from their original meaning. 

A “visa” gives a person the right to enter into the U.S.  Physically speaking, it is a stamp that you receive in your passport, or an equivalent document.  The main point is that the visa usually has to do with entry into the U.S.  The term visa can also refer to the category in which a person travels to the U.S. for a temporary stay (for example, “student visa” or “temporary worker visa”, etc.)

On the other hand, the term “green card” is actually a slang term that’s related to the process of obtaining U.S. citizenship, rather than simple entry into the country.  For example, the term “green card application” can actually refer to processes like adjustment of status or naturalization.  Here the emphasis is more on citizenship and residency status rather than admissibility into the U.S.  Physically speaking, the green card is a plastic photo ID card that the person receives when they are granted lawful permanent resident status. 

Finally, it helps to know that green cards are often called “permanent visas”, while the term “visa” usually refers to temporary visa categories.  This can help lift some of the confusion surrounding these terms.

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

Immigration lawyers provide assistance with applications for situations involving both visas and green cards.  For example, a lawyer can usually assist a person in obtaining a visa so that they can travel to the U.S. in the first place.  If the person has restrictions that might make them inadmissible (such as criminal record), a lawyer can often help them obtain a waiver, or an appeal if their original claim is denied.

Once the person has successful and legally entered into the U.S., they may begin considering how to obtain permanent resident status, i.e., a green card.  This is often the first step towards obtaining full U.S. citizenship.  Again, a lawyer will be able to determine whether the person is eligible for a green card.  They can also provide advice on how to keep green card privileges, so they don’t lose their chance at obtaining citizenship. 

All of these steps typically involve much paperwork, and the applicant will usually be required to attend immigration hearings at several points during the process.  An attorney can provide representation and advice on these matters in and out of the immigration court process.

How Can I Contact an Immigration Lawyer?

If you need assistance with immigration matters such as a visa application or a green card application, you can post your case online and receive a review of your legal issues.  An experienced lawyer can assist you with various tasks throughout the process.  In many cases, a loved one may need assistance abroad; if that’s the case, you can also contact an attorney on their behalf in order to get the process started more quickly. 

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 05-14-2014 11:46 AM PDT

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