What is the difference between a visa and a green card? As with so many things in life, what should be simple isn’t.  With that said, let’s tackle the difference between “Green Cards” and visas.

Many people are under the impression that the word “Green Card” and visa mean the same thing. In some ways they are correct, but in other ways they are not.  To begin with, let’s make sure we understand what a “Green Card” is.  The term Green Card is slang for Lawful Permanent Residence, and is evidenced by a Lawful Permanent Resident card that is commonly known as a “Green Card.”  For many, many years, Lawful Permanent Resident cards were not green.  However, recently, and in recognition to the term Green Card, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services has finally colored Lawful Permanent Resident cards green to match their name. In the end, the color of the card does not matter, but what actually matters are the rights bestowed upon the holder.  A Lawful Permanent Resident is allowed, and expected, to reside and remain in the United States permanently.  As such, the “Green Card” is technically a form of an immigrant visa, in that the holder has the intention to permanently reside/immigrate to the United States.  Instead of calling it an immigrant visa, people simply call it a “Green Card,” and the term has been synonymous with immigrant visa for many decades now.

In contrast to the Green Card, most people associate non-immigrant visas simply as “Visas.”  Non-immigrant visas come in many different forms, but they all share the same simple characteristic – the holder only intends to come to the United States on a temporary basis. The temporary basis may be only a few days or several years, and may consist of vacationing or living and working in the United States, but in the end, the holder of a non-immigrant visa intends to return to his or her home country.  It is typically a piece of paper permanently affixed to a page in your passport, and allows the holder to enter the United States for specific purposes only.  Like Green Cards, people typically refer to non-immigrant visas as simply “Visas.”

With this in mind, it is very important that you select the right type of visa (immigrant or non-immigrant) for your purposes.  A Green Card does not work like a tourist visa, nor does a tourist visa work like a Green Card. Each visa type has its own rules and methods for qualifications, so it is always best to discuss with an experienced immigration attorney your intents and purposes before you randomly apply for a visa of any type. To avoid some of the most common missteps that individuals go through in dealing with immigration issues, an immigration attorney can be a critical point of assistance for you. Don’t make the mistakes that others make and find out too late. Simply get legal help sooner rather than later.


This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice regarding What Is the Difference Between a Visa and a Green Card?, or other immigration matters , please feel free to contact Matthew L. White at  480.461.5304, log on to udallshumway.com,  or contact an attorney in your area. Udall Shumway PLC is located in Mesa, Arizona and is a full service law firm. We assist Individuals, families, businesses, schools and municipalities in Mesa and the Phoenix/East Valley.