Military Service and U.S. Citizenship

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 Do You Need To Be a United States Citizen In Order To Serve In The United States Armed Forces?

When a person is a United States citizen, they are given certain rights as well as responsibilities. One example of this would be serving in the United States armed forces. However, while “illegal” immigrants cannot enroll in the military, immigrants are allowed to serve in the military.

Non-citizens are eligible to enlist in the military; however, they cannot be commissioned. What this means is that they cannot be called to active duty by the United States through the selected service program. Very simply put, they cannot be drafted. Additionally, they must meet specific requirements in order to be considered eligible for enrollment.

The process to serve begins by going through the general immigration process through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”). Next, the immigrant must obtain a green card and/or a visa, which must be valid for the entire period of their enlistment.

An “alien” can also enroll in the armed forces. “Aliens” are those living inside the United States who are not citizens; meaning, they have not been naturalized under any United States’ Law. In order to enroll, the alien must have an Alien Registration Receipt card. This must be a stamped I-94 or I-551 Green card/INS Form I-551. Additionally, they must have an established record that the United States is their home. A waiver may be required if they come from a country that is considered to be “generally hostile” toward the United States.

Can Serving In The United States Military Expedite U.S. Citizenship?

For their service, members who serve in the United States armed forces can expedite naturalization. Naturalization is the process in which a foreign citizen obtains U.S. citizenship. After becoming naturalized, the foreign citizen becomes a U.S. citizen, and is granted all of the same rights and privileges as that of a natural-born citizen. Generally speaking, only lawful permanent residents (permanent visa or green card holders) may apply for naturalization.

A lawful permanent resident (“LPR”) may apply for naturalization 5 years after they have received their green card. In addition to the 5 year naturalization waiting period, the LPR must meet specific eligibility requirements. It is important to note that immigration policies and eligibility requirements can change with each presidential administration. However, generally speaking, the applicant must be able to prove that they:

  • Are 18 years of age or older;
  • Have been in the U.S. for at least half of the time, roughly 2 ½ years;
  • Have resided for at least 3 months in the state in which they filed for citizenship;
  • Have not been outside of the U.S. for more than one consecutive year; and
  • Intend to make the U.S. their primary home.

Although most naturalization applicants need five years continuous permanent residency in the U.S., or three years when sponsored by a U.S. citizen spouse, military personnel can obtain U.S. citizenship much more quickly. They do not need to have continuous residency in the United States.

Additionally, most naturalization applicants must be physically present in the United States for 30 months, or 18 months if sponsored. However, military personnel can avoid this requirement completely. And, their USCIS filing fee which generally amounts to nearly $800 dollars, is also waived.

What Forms Must Military Members File For Naturalization?

The general process of immigration involves filing various documents and submitting to an interview process. Applicants for naturalization who are serving in the military. or who have served in the military, must generally submit a Form N-426. This is a Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service form submitted to the Department of Defense, and is for current or former members of the armed forces who are applying for naturalization.

When claiming eligibility for naturalization based on service in the U.S. armed forces, a signed and certified Form N-426 must be submitted along with Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. It should be signed by the appropriate military personnel; meaning, only military personnel serving in pay grade O-6 or above and equivalent civilian personnel with proper authorization may certify Form N-426.

When filing Form N-400, the applicant must also submit copies of the following:

  • Permanent Resident Card;
  • Marriage certificate, if applicable;
  • DD Form 214, NGB Form 22, or discharge orders;
  • Official military orders, if applying for naturalization based on military service and current service;
  • Evidence of their citizen spouse’s employment abroad, if applying under 319(b); and
  • Two passport-style photographs, if residing outside of the United States.

Service members seeking naturalization must meet the same requirements as anyone else applying for naturalization as a U.S. citizen. What this means is that they are required to demonstrate knowledge of the U.S. government and history, and they must be able to:

  • Read;
  • Speak; and
  • Write in English.

Additionally, they must be of good moral character.

Are There Any Circumstances In Which Naturalization May Be Revoked?

There are some circumstances in which naturalization may be revoked. Some common examples include, but may not be limited to:

  • Naturalization application fraud;
  • Evidence of a criminal record; and/or
  • The applicant was discharged from the military under “other than honorable conditions.”

What Else Should I Know About Military Service and U.S. Citizenship?

The amount of time spent on the process of naturalization may be different for each applicant. Generally speaking, an applicant for naturalization must wait 12-15 months from the date that the application is submitted until the date of the first interview. There may be additional interviews, or the need to submit additional documentation. As such, an applicant for naturalization should expect the entire process to take up to two years once their application has been submitted.

To clarify who may qualify for citizenship through military service, members of the U.S. Armed Forces include those who serve in one of the following branches:

  • Army;
  • Navy;
  • Marine Corps;
  • Air Force;
  • Coast Guard;
  • Some Reserve components of the National Guard; and
  • Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve.

If requested, the United States will award posthumous citizenship to military personnel who died while serving. Additionally, family members of the decedent will be given special consideration whenever applying for immigration status for themselves.

A Certificate of Naturalization is a specific document providing proof that a person has successfully obtained U.S. citizenship through the process of naturalization. This document is issued when the person is officially granted citizenship, and only to naturalized citizens of the U.S. As such, a person must first apply for U.S. citizenship before they can be issued the certificate.

Do I Need An Attorney For Issues Involving Military Service And U.S. Citizenship?

If you have any questions regarding military service and U.S. citizenship, or are experiencing issues related to the matter, you should consult with an experienced and local immigration lawyer as soon as possible.

Because the laws governing both immigration and military service are complex, an attorney will be best suited to helping you understand your legal rights and responsibilities. An attorney can help you determine which forms you will need to submit, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed, should any issues arise.

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