The basic difference between a visa and a green card is that a visa is a temporary pass to enter and remain in the U.S. for a designated period of time while a green card is a permit that does not expire and allows the holder to remain in the U.S. as long as he desires. Many visas can result in a green card; however, the majority of visas require a designated entry and exit from the U.S.
A nonimmigrant visa refers to all types of visas that are issued based on the applicant's intention to leave the United States after her task or visit has ended. In definition, a nonimmigrant visa cannot result in permanent residency, though there are channels and loops that the applicant can jump through to obtain permanent residency with a nonimmigrant visa. Nonimmigrant visas include tourist and business visitor visas, temporary work visas, student visas and exchange visitors. These visas expire and are all subject to an I-94 date issued upon entry to the U.S. that states when you must leave the country. Failure to leave by the I-94 date results in the visa holder being out of status, which results in penalty of deportation and a possible ban from returning to the U.S. for a set period of time.
Immigrant visas are issued based on the intention of the applicant to remain as a permanent resident in the U.S. Once an immigrant visa is issued, the holder can enter the U.S. and apply for a green card. However, immigrant visas are more difficult to obtain than nonimmigrant visas and are petition based. All immigrant visas (excluding the Diversity Visa Lottery winners and refugee and asylee immigrants) must be petitioned for by a U.S. citizen. An applicant can be petitioned by a U.S. employer, family member or fiancée to receive a visa. The visa itself does not give the holder permanent residency; after entering the U.S. he must apply for a green card in order to remain in the country.
Legal permanent residents (LPR), or green card holders, are not visa holders as they are considered residents and are not subject to any time limit in the U.S. A green card does not expire unless the conditional rules are broken and the LPR is found guilty in immigration court. A green card can be considered a never-ending visa that expires only if the holder is convicted of a felony and found guilty in immigration court or if the holder abandons residence (the U.S.) for a period of one year or more.
Rights and Responsibilities
Visa holders, unless on a specific work visa, cannot work in the U.S. while green card holders are free to work in any occupation. A green card holder maintains all of the rights of a U.S. citizen except for the the right to vote, serve on a jury and obtain federal funding for college. Green card holders can own houses, open bank accounts, apply for a driver's license, apply for social security and are required to pay federal taxes. Depending on the type of visa, nonimmigrant visa holders can apply for a driver's license, bank account and social security if their visa type allows, such as an H1 visa. The majority of nonimmigrant visas, however, are not accompanied by the same rights as a green card is.