Visa vs. Green Card: Understanding the Key Distinctions


If you have been considering visiting or relocating to the US, you might be unclear about the difference between a visa and a green card. There is significant overlap; however, not all people with visas have or will obtain green cards. Green card holders often enter the nation using a visa. Confused? Do not be. This guide will clear all your doubts. Here you go.

Difference between a Visa and a Green Card

What is a US Visa?

An official document known as a US visa, which is granted by the US government, enables foreign individuals to enter the country for a defined time and purpose. It is often attached to a passport and acts as permission to visit the US for multiple purposes, including tourism, business, study, employment, or to be with family who are lawful permanent residents or US citizens.

Types of US Visas

There are different visa types available for individuals seeking entry into the United States. The specific visa category you need will depend on the purpose of your visit. Here are some common types of U.S. visas:

B-1/B-2 Visa (Visitor Visa): This is a nonimmigrant visa for individuals traveling to the U.S. temporarily for business (B-1) or tourism/pleasure (B-2).

F Visa (Student Visa): This visa is for individuals seeking to study at an accredited U.S. college, university, or language training program.

J Visa (Exchange Visitor Visa): This visa is for individuals participating in approved exchange programs, including students, scholars, professors, research assistants, and other cultural exchange programs.

H Visa (Temporary Work Visa): There are several subcategories of H visas, including:
H-1B Visa: For skilled workers in specialty occupations.
H-2A Visa: For temporary agricultural workers.
H-2B Visa: For temporary non-agricultural workers.
H-3 Visa: For trainees.
H-4 Visa: For dependents of H visa holders.

L Visa (Intra-Company Transferee Visa): This visa is particularly for employees of multinational companies who are being transferred to their company’s U.S. office.

O Visa (Extraordinary Ability Visa): This visa is for individuals having extraordinary ability in sciences, arts, education, business, athletics, or other fields.

P Visa (Athlete/Entertainer Visa): This visa is for internationally recognized athletes, artists, and entertainers.

K Visa (Fiancé(e) Visa): This visa is for foreign nationals who are engaged to be married to U.S. citizens and plan to enter the U.S. to marry their fiancé(e).

E Visa (Treaty Trader/Investor Visa): This visa is for individuals engaged in substantial trade between their country of origin and the U.S., or those making a significant investment in a U.S. business.

Diversity Visa (Green Card Lottery): This is a lottery program that provides visas to individuals from countries with historically lower immigration rates to the U.S.

These are a handful of examples of the various visa types available. Each visa category has specific eligibility requirements and application processes, so it is important to consult with the U.S. Department of State or an immigration attorney for detailed and up-to-date information based on your specific circumstances.

What is a Green Card?

Now the question is what type of visa is a green card? A green card, sometimes referred to as a US Permanent Resident Card, simply put, is a kind of visa that enables people to reside and work continuously in the US. It is provided to foreign nationals who have been granted legal permanent resident status by the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS). A green card means that a person has been given permission to live & work in the US permanently.

Different Types of Green Card

There are various different green card categories; the majority of them are described below:

• Family-based green cards- Family-based green cards are accessible to anyone who has a close relative who is a citizen/lawful permanent residents of the United States. In comparison to other family-based groups, immediate relatives, like unmarried children under 21, spouses, and parents of the U.S. citizens, have a higher priority & often experience shorter waiting times.
• Employment-based green cards- Green Cards based on employment are accessible to anyone who have a work offer from any U.S. firm. To prove that no competent U.S. workers are available, the U.S. company must first get a labor certification. According to the needs of the work and the employee’s credentials, there are 5 employment-based groups.
• Green Cards for Refugees and Asylees – These are accessible to people who are granted refugee or asylum status in the United States. People who were persecuted in their home countries because of their ethnicity, religion, nationality, political opinions, or membership in a specific social group are considered refugees. Due to their fear of persecution, asylees who are already present in the country have asked for asylum.
• Diversity Lottery Green Card- Green Cards awarded under the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, often known as the “Green Card Lottery,” are available in this category. People from nations with historically lower rates of immigration to the US are chosen at random for this program.
• Longtime Resident Green Card – These are offered to those who have been undocumented residents of the United States for a considerable amount of time. People must fulfill stringent eligibility requirements, which include demonstrating that they have been lawfully present in the country for a minimum of about 10 years, are of high moral character, and that their spouse, parent, or child who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident would suffer an exceptional & extremely unusual hardship as a result of their removal.
• Conditional Green Card- Individuals who married a citizen/permanent resident of the US or who made a substantial financial investment in a U.S. company may be eligible for conditional green cards. Conditional green cards in fact are valid for 2 years, and holders must submit an application to lift the restrictions before that time.

What is the difference between a Green Card and a Visa?

The difference between a green card and a visa is as follows,

A visa and a green card are both documents that allow individuals to enter and stay in a foreign country, typically the United States. However, there are noteworthy differences between the two:

• Purpose: A visa is a temporary authorization that allows an individual to enter a country for a specific purpose and duration. It could be for tourism, business, study, work, or other specific activities. A green card, or the Permanent Resident Card, grants permanent residency status in the United States, allowing the holder to live and work there indefinitely.

• Duration: Visas have expiration dates and are typically valid for a specific period, ranging from a few weeks up to several years, depending on the visa category. Green cards, on the other hand, do not have expiration dates and provide permanent residency, allowing the holder to reside in the country as long as they maintain their status.

• Intent: Visas are intended for temporary stays in a foreign country. They require the holder to demonstrate a non-immigrant intent, meaning they have a temporary purpose and plan to go back to their home country after the authorized period. Green cards, on the other hand, are intended for individuals who plan to permanently reside in the United States.

• Process: Obtaining a visa typically includes submitting an application, offering supporting documents, and attending an interview at a consulate or embassy. Visa applications are usually reviewed based on the purpose of the visit and the applicant’s ties to their home country. Green cards, on the other hand, require a more extensive process, often through employment sponsorship, family relationships, refugee/asylum status, or other special circumstances. It involves filing an application with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and going through a thorough background check and interview process.

• Benefits and Limitations: Visas provide certain rights and privileges based on the type of visa obtained, such as the right to enter the country, work, study, or engage in specific activities. However, they are limited to the duration and purpose for which they were issued. Green card holders enjoy more extensive benefits, including the right to work, live and study in the United States indefinitely. Green card holders also have access to various government services, certain social benefits, and the ability to apply for U.S. citizenship after meeting the eligibility requirements.

Green Card Validity vs. US Visa Validity

Green cards normally have a 10-year lifespan and should be renewed before they do. However, depending on specific conditions, like conditional permanent residency/other elements, the actual validity of a green card may change.

The kind of visa & the particular visa category determine how long a U.S. visa is valid. A tourist visa (B-2 visa), for instance, may be valid for six months or several years, but a work visa (like an H-1B visa), which may be extended, may be valid for up to three years.


Without mentioning visas and green cards, the immigration law procedure cannot be concluded. These two terms refer to the most important aspects of your journey. You can be confused about what they actually signify or how they connect to one another. Pre-application will be so important to your move to the US that it is essential that you understand these two characteristics- Visa, green card, and green card vs. visa as soon as possible. However, there is some crossover, so getting forward requires cutting things down to size. Hopefully the above guide has answered all your queries.


Q1. What is a visa?

A visa grants permission for the person to travel to the United States and serves as a preliminary approval for entry into the country.

Q2. What is a green card?

Technically speaking, green cards are a kind of visa that permits permanent residence. After arriving in the US, green cards are given out.

Q3. Can visa holders work in the United States?

It depends on the type of visa. Some visas, like the H-1B or L-1 visas, are specifically designed for employment purposes and allow individuals to work for a specific employer in the United States. Other visas, such as tourist or student visas, generally prohibit unauthorized employment. It’s essential to check the specific work authorization provisions associated with the visa category.

Q4. Can a visa holder apply for a Green Card?

Yes, in some cases, visa holders can apply for a Green Card through a process known as “adjustment of status” if they meet the eligibility criteria. This typically involves having an immediate family member who is a U.S. citizen or a U.S. employer sponsoring the visa holder for permanent residency.

Q5. Do Green Card holders have more rights and benefits compared to visa holders?

Yes, Green Card holders have several rights and benefits that visa holders do not possess. Green Card holders can live and work permanently in the United States, travel freely in and out of the country, and have access to certain social benefits and programs.

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