Okay, this little area of life can be confusing, mainly because there are so many damn terms for the same thing. Let's start with the basics: in terms of whether you're allowed to live in the U.S. or not, there are four legal statuses that you can have:

  1. You can just be an outright foreigner with no right to come to this country.

  2. You can obtain a visa that allows you to spend a finite amount of time here, usually for a discrete purpose.

  3. You can become a permanent resident, which allows you to live here indefinitely with almost all of the rights of a U.S. citizen.

  4. You can be a U.S. citizen.

People in the first category need to get a visa before they can start worrying about anything else. Those foreigners who are in the second category - here on a temporary visa - who are hoping to get promoted to the third category - permanent residents - need green cards. The only real distinctions between green card holders and citizens is that only citizens can vote, can collect some sort of government benefits, and can never be deported.

SoYouWanna know more? Check out our full-length article SYW get a green card?