What Is the Difference Between an H1 Visa & a Green Card?

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A green card is a document that permits a non-citizen to remain permanently in the U.S., while an H1 visa allows only a temporary stay, usually for work, school or travel. Green card holders have more rights and privileges than H1 visa holders, who are merely guests in the country.

Thousands of people live and/or work in the United States but are not U.S. citizens. Those individuals are here under different types of documentation, including green cards and H1 visas, formally H-1B visas. A green card is for permanent residents who are not citizens, while H1 visas are for those who are in the states temporarily, usually for work, school or vacation. Green card holders have more rights and privileges than H1 visa holders, who are in the States as "guests."

Length of Stay Requirements

Unconditional (10-year) green cards are permanent. Green card holders are not limited to the amount of time they are allowed to remain legally in the United States. H1 visas are temporary, nonimmigrant visas that are issued, in most instances, for a maximum of six years in two three-year allotments.

Work Authorization

A green card allows the holder to work in any job and in any industry anywhere in the United States or its territories. H1 visas are working visas and are limited specifically to the sponsoring employer; the visa holder cannot change jobs or move elsewhere without also changing his visa.

Travel for Visa Holders and Green Card Holders

Green card holders can come and go from the United States at will as long as their card has not expired and they have a valid passport. H1 visa holders must have a valid H1 visa stamp placed in their passport from a U.S. consulate abroad (this does not apply to Canadians), and they are limited to the dates specifically identified on the visa stamp. Also, some H1 visa holders are only allowed a certain number of trips in and out of the U.S. during the period the H1 is valid.

U.S. Citizenship

Green card holders can apply for U.S. citizenship after five years of status as a green card holder (three years if married to a U.S. citizen), assuming they have no serious criminal convictions. H1 visas do not allow for such a transition. An H1 holder must first obtain his green card, then apply for citizenship, if desired, after the requisite time period.

Criminal Matters and Effect on Status

Depending on the severity of the crime, and the frequency thereof, green card holders are generally afforded more leniency if they commit a crime in the U.S. H1 visa holders are under very strict scrutiny, and they can have their visas revoked and face deportation for any simple or lesser criminal matter such as a DUI.

Rights and Privileges

Green card holders are generally afforded the same rights and privileges as U.S. citizens except for the right to vote. H1 visa holders are truly considered "guests" of the country and cannot partake in many of the rights and privileges given to green card holders such as the right to serve in the military.

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About the Author

William J. Banks is a practicing Florida attorney with several years administrative and corporate law experience. He is published in law journals and online forums on matters as diverse as law and politics to pet care and household maintenance. He is the recipient of collegiate and graduate level writing awards and a recognized commentator in the community.