Visa vs Passport
Visa vs Passport: One common question a soon-to-be expatriate comes across in their research is the difference between a Visa and a Passport. Oftentimes, the terms are used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Just having a Passport does not mean you have Visa rights (such as an expired passport). Likewise, having a Visa in a country does not mean you have a Passport in that country as well (foreign nationals in the U.S. on a temporary visa).
Let’s review the basic difference between a Visa and a Passport.
What is a Visa?
A Visa is something that a foreign national of another country applies for so that they can enter the country legally, for an extended period of time — the amount of time may vary based on the type of visa. In the U.S., a person applies for a Visa at USCIS. For example, if a person wants to come visit the United States as a tourist and the country that they are citizen of is not part of the visa waiver program (see below) or they want to stay for an extended period of time, they will normally apply for a B1/B2 tourist visa.
Having a tourist visa does not allow for the right to employment and/or another benefits that an employment visa or permanent residence status provides — but it does allow the foreign national to visit and travel around the United States.
Visa Waiver Program
Some countries have a visa waiver program with the United States — and various other countries have visa waiver programs with third party countries. With the U.S. visa waiver program, a foreign person is authorized to travel to the United States without a visa.
Usually, the foreign person can remain in the United States for 90-days before they have to leave. The idea behind the visa waiver program is to allow people from certain “friendly” countries to travel to the United States temporarily without having to go through the formalities of applying for a visa — depending on the type of visa a person applies for it can take a very long time.
What is a Passport?
A passport is merely a form of identification. It is issued by the government of the country of the individual citizen so that the citizen can obtain an identification booklet or card for travel.
Countries generally require that the person applying for the passport is a citizen of that country. In the United States for example, even though a legal permanent resident has nearly all the same rights (and tax requirements) as a U.S. citizen — they cannot be issued a U.S. passport until they are a citizen of the United States.
Visa-Status in the Passport
When a person obtains a visa status, their passport is updated to reflect that visa status. Under most circumstances, the passport is shown each time a person enters or exits a port of entry so that the government can keep track as to how long a person has been in the United States.
This is crucial when it comes to issues such as whether or not the foreign national subject to US tax on their worldwide income because they met the substantial presence test.
Expatriation and Visa/Passport
When it comes time for expatriation, the US requires that the person have citizenship in another country — so that they are not stateless. This is why it is important for the soon to be expatriate to obtain citizenship in another country — along with obtaining a passport from that foreign country — before seeking expatriation.
Golden Visa Pit Stop
For some individuals, they may seek to obtain a Golden Visa. Let’s say the expatriate has citizenship in the U.S. and foreign country “X.” Foreign country X may not offer the necessary travel access for the different countries they intend on traveling to. Therefore, they make seek to obtain a Golden Visa as a permanent resident of one of the eleven countries that offers the program. This is because some of the countries will issue a passport that will allow travel to upwards of 180 plus countries — without a visa.
In conclusion, it is important that before a person seeks expatriation, that they get their ducks in a row. This is especially important for US citizens seeking to renounce their US citizenship. Before doing so, they must make sure that they have citizenship in another country as well as a valid passport for us the United States government may not approve the expatriation application.
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