What Is the Difference Between a Green Card and a Visa?

Since 1820, the US has issued 88 million green cards. Every year, there are hundreds of thousands of visa and green card applications completed. As an immigrant, you may be wondering, what is the difference between a green card and a visa?

We’ll detail the differences and highlight when each is the proper route to take below. Keep reading to learn more about green cards, visas, eligibility, and application processes. If you already know your immigration legal needs and would like to speak to a knowledgeable Houston immigration attorney about your situation, we encourage you to call 281-697-6678.

What Is a Visa in Houston, TX?

A visa is an entry permit. It is a legal document that allows an immigrant to enter the US for a limited amount of time. There are two types of visas, an immigrant visa and a non-immigrant visa. The US consulates and embassies issue visas after receiving an application and completing an interview.

Not all immigrants are required to hold a visa to visit the US. Nationals that reside in countries that participate in the US Visa Waiver Program can bypass the process with a simple online form. A visa documentation is a stamp on the traveler’s passport.

Types of Visas in Houston, TX

There are over 100 visa categories! We will discuss the most popular types our clients obtain below:

Non-Immigrant Visas

A non-immigrant visa is needed for a temporary visit to the US. This could be for tourism, medical needs, business, or a vacation. Read more about the popular non-immigrant visas below:

Visitor B1/B2: 

B visas are temporary visas issued for work or visits.


Student visas are for immigrants completing a degree or course of study at a US school. These visas expire within two years of issuance.


Exchange visas are for those participating in an exchange program. These visas are also issued for some educational programs.


H visas are issued for temporary workers.

Immigrant Visas: 

Immigrant visas allow the traveler to move to the US. Any foreign national who wishes to live in the US must obtain this type of visa before coming to the US. Immigrant visas are much more difficult to obtain than non-immigrant visas.

People who have the end goal of securing a green card should try for this type of visa. Immigrant visas are issued to people with family sponsors.

What’s a Green Card in Houston, TX?

A green card is a permanent residence permit for immigrants. A green card is a physical card that people must carry with them. To apply for and receive a green card, the immigrant must first hold a qualifying visa and be in the US.

Once an applicant is issued a green card, they receive many benefits not available to visa holders. Green card holders have the same rights as US citizens, minus voting, and are allowed to freely travel in and out of the US. After five years of holding a green card, recipients can apply for citizenship.

Types of Green Cards in Houston, TX

Immigrants can apply for a green card in a few different situations. Read more about these below:


If an immigrant has immediate family living in the US, they can apply for a green card. Immediate family members of US citizens may also apply for green cards. Qualifying family members include the following:


Immigrants with some jobs may be eligible for an employment green card. If they are eligible, it’s possible their families could also apply for green cards for the same reason.

Diversity Visa Lottery Winners: 

The US randomly selects 50,000 people to win green cards annually from a pool of applicants in the green card lottery. Residents in Africa, Asia, and Oceania, among others, are eligible to submit their names into the pool.


In some instances, the US will issue green cards for humanitarian situations. These include the following:

What’s the Difference Between Green Cards and Visas in Houston, TX?

Many factors differentiate green cards and visas in Houston, TX. We’ll explain more below:

Eligibility Criteria


To be eligible for a visa, an immigrant must reside in a country that does not qualify for the visa waiver program. Visas are issued for short-term stays, such as medical appointments, travel, or exchanges. To receive a visa, the recipient can’t be convicted of any crimes. Once the visa expires, the holder is required to leave the country.


To receive a green card, the immigrant must hold a valid visa that is eligible for green card status. Green card applicants must have family members who live in the US, have a job in the US, and not have a criminal record.



Visas are only valid for 90 days from the date of entry. Most visas are not eligible for an extension.


Green cards are valid for 10 years after they are issued. Green card holders can renew it when it expires.

Processing Times


Visas are typically processed in five to seven weeks. However, some visas take longer to process than others. You can learn more about processing times for specific visas on this US government site.


The processing time for green cards is much longer than a visa. These applications typically take two to three years until processing is complete. Various factors impact this, so some may take longer.

Sponsorship Requirements and Citizenship Availability


Visa applicants do not have to be sponsored to receive a visa. Visa holders are not eligible for US citizenship.


To be eligible for a green card, the applicant must have a family member or employer in the US. After five years of holding a green card, applicants can submit documentation to receive citizenship. You can learn more about the citizenship process here.

Do I Need a Houston Immigration Lawyer to Get a Visa or Green Card?

It is not a requirement to have a lawyer when applying for a visa or a green card. As you can see above, there are many requirements for each of them. If an application is completed incorrectly or incompletely, it will be rejected and the applicant will have to start over.

Because of this, many immigrants find the help of an attorney valuable. Immigration attorneys are knowledgeable in the requirements for green cards and visas. They also have the insight needed to speed up the process in some cases. They help clients navigate immigration law so they can focus on adjusting to a new country and culture.

If you are considering working with an attorney to help you attain a green card or visa, we encourage you to reach out to see if we can assist. Contact us today to discuss our consultation fees.

Benefits of Hiring SimpleLawTX as a Visa Lawyer in Houston, TX

SimpleLawTX approaches law without the frivolous extras. Carey Worrell, SimpleLawTX’s founding attorney, is well-versed in many areas of law. She values intelligence, a relaxed demeanor, and straightforward solutions. Clients are not disappointed when they work with Carey. Read more about why below:

Years of Experience

Equipped with 20 years of legal experience, Carey Worrell prides her practice on providing top-notch legal services without all the unnecessary complexities. When clients work with SimpleLawTX, they gain access to a knowledgeable team that helps guide them through their legal issues.

Carey takes a no-BS approach to law. She won’t wine or dine with her clients, but she will provide outstanding legal services quickly, efficiently, and accurately. Clients enjoy working with SimpleLawTX because of the simplified approach to complex legal issues.

Transparent Pricing

SimpleLawTX believes in transparent, flat-rate pricing for legal services. While most of our services are listed on our pricing page, others can be more complicated and require a personalized consultation to determine the fee.

Immigration law has a lot of nuances and complexities. Some cases are much more extensive than others. Because of this, SimpleLawTX does not have flat rate pricing for these services. If you would like to inquire about immigration legal services, contact us at 281-697-6678 to discuss our consultation options.

Immigration Law Knowledge

Carey Worrell is knowledgeable in several areas of immigration law. She has helped clients obtain visas or green cards, achieve naturalization, and seek asylum. SimpleLawTX also has experience in expunging records for some situations.

There are many deadlines and requirements surrounding immigration law. Clients are pleased when working with Carey because not only does she understand these constraints, but she works quickly to ensure deadlines are met.

Speak to a Non-Nonsense Green Card Lawyer in Houston, TX

Now you understand the difference between a green card and a visa. No matter what your immigration law needs, SimpleLawTX wants to help. Our knowledgeable lawyer is available for consultations to discuss your situation. Contact us today to request your appointment.