Visas and green cards are documents issued by the government. But visas are different from green cards. Citizens of foreign countries cannot travel to the U.S. without visas; visas grant the holders the right to travel to America.
U.S. consulates and embassies issue visas and these visas will permit the holders to travel to a U.S. port of entry. At the port of entry, immigration authorities will grant the foreign nationals entry into America if they are admissible into the country. The U.S. government issues two types of visas, immigrant and non-immigrant visas.
Non-immigrant visas are for people who seek to visit the country on a temporary basis. Temporary visitors, tourists and students can obtain non-immigrant visas and visit the country for a short period of time. Most non-immigrant visas do not permit the holders to work in the country but foreign workers who hold work visas can work in America. People who hold non-immigrant visas will have to extend their visas if they seek to extend their stay. If not, they need to leave the country prior to the expiration of their visas.
A green card is issued to a foreign national who enters the country with an immigrant visa. People who hold immigrant visas will be permitted to enter into the country as permanent residents. Unlike non-immigrant visas, immigrant visas are issued to foreign nationals who wish to settle in the U.S. and who are eligible for legal status in the country.
Immigrant visa holders who travel to the U.S. will be issued green cards. These cards refer to permanent resident status. Green cards are not similar to non-immigrant visas like tourist visas or work visas. These cards are identification documents issued to non-U.S. citizens as proof of their legal status in the country. Foreign nationals can obtain these cards in few different ways. They can get green cards based on family sponsorship, employment or through the green card lottery program.
People who hold these cards can remain in the U.S. for any number of years. However, this does not mean that the green card holders can travel freely in and out of the country. Green cards are revocable. Resident cards are issued only to those who wish to make the country their permanent home. Permanent residents who plan to make another foreign country their permanent home are likely to lose their green cards. The country will consider that such residents have abandoned their U.S. residence and cancel their green cards.
Legal residency authorizes immigrants to permanently live and work in the U.S. Permanent residents can apply for U.S. citizenship after living in the country for a five year period. They also need to meet other eligibility requirements to do so.