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How to gain citizenship through military service

Posted by attorney Maj Vasigh

Special provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) authorize U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to speed up the application and naturalization process for current members of the U.S. armed forces and recently discharged members. In addition, spouses of members of the U.S. armed forces who are or will be deployed may be eligible for expedited naturalization.

How to qualify

Generally, qualifying military service includes service with one of the following branches: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, certain components of the National Guard and the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve.

A member of the U.S. armed forces must meet the requirements and qualifications to become a citizen of the United States. He or she must demonstrate:

  • Good moral character
  • Knowledge of the English language
  • Knowledge of U.S. government and history (civics), and
  • Attachment to the United States by taking an Oath of Allegiance to the U.S. Constitution

Qualified members of the U.S. armed forces are exempt from other naturalization requirements, including residence and physical presence in the United States. All aspects of the naturalization process, including applications, interviews and ceremonies are available overseas to members of the U.S. armed forces and certain “command-sponsored" spouses.

A person who obtains U.S. citizenship through his or her military service and separates from the military under “other than honorable conditions" before completing five years of honorable service may have his or her citizenship revoked.

Service in peacetime

An individual may qualify for naturalization if he or she has:

  • Served honorably in the U.S. armed forces for at least 1 year.
  • Obtained lawful permanent resident status.
  • Filed an application while still in the service or within six months of separation.

Service during periods of hostilities

All noncitizens who have served honorably in the U.S. armed forces on or after Sept. 11, 2001, may immediately file for citizenship. This order also covers veterans of certain designated past wars and conflicts.

Naturalization at basic training

Both the army and navy give noncitizen enlistees the opportunity to naturalize when they graduate from basic training. Under this initiative, USCIS conducts all naturalization processing including the biometrics appointment, the naturalization interview, and administration of the Oath of Allegiance on the military base so the recruit is able to graduate from basic training as a U.S. citizen.

How to apply

Every military installation has a designated point-of-contact, generally in the personnel division or the Judge Advocate General’s Office, to assist members of the military prepare and file their naturalization application packet. That packet includes:

  • Application for Naturalization, USCIS form N-400. Members of the military are not charged a fee to file Form N-400.
  • Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service, USCIS form N-426. The military must certify this form before sending it to USCIS. Individuals separated from the military may submit an uncertified form N-426 with their DD form 214.

Once the packet is complete, send it to the specialized military naturalization unit at the USCIS Nebraska Service Center for expedited processing.

Customer service to assist the military

USCIS customer service specialists are available to respond to inquiries from members of the military and their families Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., Central Time, except federal holidays. They may contact USCIS by:

  • Calling the military toll-free telephone help line: 1-877-CIS-4MIL (1-877-247-4645), or
  • Sending an e-mail to the military customer service specialist: militaryinfo.nsc@dhs.gov.

Posthumous benefits

A member of the U.S. armed forces who served honorably during a designated period of hostility and died as a result of injury or disease incurred in or aggravated by that service (including death in combat) may be eligible to receive posthumous citizenship (citizenship after death), as long as the next-of-kin applies for posthumous citizenship within two years of the service member’s death. Other provisions of the law extend immigration benefits to the service member’s surviving spouses, children and parents.

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