As an immigration attorney I often hear people’s misconceptions  about immigration in general and undocumented immigrants specifically. The other day a co-worker came up to me and said “so now illegals can get immediate citizenship with the new reform!” His comment was so full of misconceptions that I was not sure where to start.

I decided that I should write about common immigration misconceptions in a series of blogs. To start off, I want to discuss the  difference between permanent residency and  United States citizenship.

Permanent Residency vs. Citizenship

A common  misconception is  that  permanent residency and citizenship are the same thing. No, they are not.

Permanent Residency

Permanent residency is a visa status allowing a person to reside in the United States permanently, but he or she does not receive the benefits of being a citizen, such as voting. A permanent resident receives a social security number, and is able to work and travel inside and outside of the United States. This type of status requires the person to live the majority of the time inside the United States. If a person does not comply with the specific terms of permanent residency or if they commit certain crimes, they can be stripped of their residency status.


Citizenship in the United States is a great benefit for many people. Being a citizen  allows a person to live inside the United States, work and partake in the political realm, such as voting. While US citizens are permitted to live inside the US borders, they do not have to reside here permanently or even at all.

Essentially permanent residency is a path to citizenship and there are few ways around this path.
To become a citizen a person must:

  • Be born inside the United States
  • Be born outside the United States but to US citizen parents or parent (there are some restrictions to this)
  • Have lawful permanent residency (LPR) status for at least three years if they obtained their LPR status through a US Citizen spouse
  • Have LPR status for at least five years if they obtained their LPR status through any other means

Essentially, any type of immigration reform that may occur would not grant immediate citizenship to any of the 11 million undocumented foreign nationals living in our country; however, it may grant some sort of path to permanent residency which could thus lead to citizenship.

Click to read more about permanent residency and citizenship.

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