Lawful permanent residents, or green card holders, cannot do everything that US citizens do and do not have the full protections of the US government that US citizens have. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people become U.S. citizens through the naturalization process.  I can think of 18 benefits of being a US citizen. Can you think of others that I should add to the this list?


  1. Patriotism and Voting – If you are making the US your permanent home and want to fully participate in the American democracy, becoming a citizen is vital. With rare exceptions, only citizens in this country can vote. And voting is the most basic way to effect change in the way the country is run. 

  2. Right to remain outside the US for unlimited amounts of time or to make their home elsewhere – The only way to guarantee you will forever have the right to remain in the US is to naturalize. Permanent residents are always at risk of losing their green cards if the spend long periods of time (180 days or more) outside the US. Since 9/11, this has become a more serious problem and more and more people are losing their residency status because they are deemed by port of entry officers as having abandoned their permanent residency in the US.

  3. Deportation  or Removal – If one is ever convicted of a crime – and not necessarily a very serious crime – there is a risk of being deported or removed from the US. Once you become a citizen, with rare exceptions, you retain your citizenship even if you run into criminal problems.

  4.  Apply for US passport and travel to many countries without needing a visa.

  5. Ability to enter and leave the US freely.

  6. Government benefits – Generally speaking, permanent residents have access to the same public benefits as citizens. However, in recent years, there has been more and more talk of making certain kinds of public benefits only available to citizens. The only way to ensure that this will not ever be a problem is to naturalize.

  7. Immigration for family members – US citizens receive priority treatment when it comes to bringing in family members. Citizens over 21 years of age can sponsor family members without waiting of a queue for a visa to become available. The same is true for spouses of US citizens and minor children of US citizens. US citizens can also sponsor adult children, parents and siblings, though the waits in these categories can be a few to several years. Green card holders, on the other hand, cannon sponsor parents or siblings.  And the wait to bring in children and spouses are much longer than for citizens. 

  8. Federal jobs – Certain types of jobs with government agencies require US citizenship. This is particularly true of jobs in the energy and defense sectors. 

  9. Running for office – Many types of elected positions in this country require the officeholder to be a US citizen. 

  10. Tax consequences – US citizens and permanent residents are not always treated the same for tax purposes. This is particularly true for estate taxes.

  11. Federal grants – While many federal grants are available to permanent residents, more and more are only available to US citizen applicants.

  12. More Student Aid – The federal government has different types of financial assistance for students, including scholarships and grants that are open exclusively to US citizens.

  13. International Protection – The US government protects its citizens abroad through its embassies and consulates. The US government assists citizens who are victims of crime overseas and provides assistance to US citizens abroad in the case of international disasters or emergencies. This is especially important if you are traveling overseas with other US citizens. In the event of an emergency evacuation, the US government may require non-US citizens to be separated from the US citizens that are being evacuated.

  14. Political contributions – While green card holders can legally donate money to campaigns if they are residing in the US, it is not clear that green card holders residing abroad – even temporarily – can do so.

  15. Obtaining US citizenship for children born abroad – In many cases, a child born abroad to a US citizen is automatically a US citizen.

  16. Full Social Security benefits – Citizens who retire abroad receive full Social Security benefits (whereas lawful permanent residents may receive only half their benefits and are subject to reciprocity agreements.) Retirees who do not have U.S. citizenship may have some restrictions on the amount of time that they can receive benefits while living outside the United States. Individuals should contact the U.S. embassy in their country of residence to determine what regulations exist for their particular country. The SSA has a publication that details the restrictions of residents of each country. 

  17. Public benefits – Citizens are eligible for more public benefits, such as Supplemental Social Security Income (SSI), Medicare, and Food Stamps.

  18. Never having to “renew” your green card again!

 Help me add to my list. What other benefits have I missed?

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