U.S. Citizenship Through Military Service
Immigrants have a long and proud history of serving in the United States’ armed forces, nowhere more so than in Hampton Roads with its large military population. The Department of Defense states there are about 30,000-plus non-citizens serving on active duty. Since 2002, more than 100,000 foreign-born U.S. soldiers, airmen, and sailors gained U.S. citizenship through military service.
The issue of immigrants serving in the military has been highlighted by the news media as the Trump administration seeks to restrict this route to citizenship by imposing more background checks. A program allowing undocumented immigrants to serve in the military (MAVNI) was even suspended.
How Do You Obtain Citizenship Through Military Service Based on Wartime Service?
Recruits who enlisted in the armed forces during a time of conflict (we are currently in a time of conflict – The War on Terror) can apply for U.S. citizenship much earlier than otherwise able.
Applicants applying under I.N.A. Section 329, 8 U.S.C. Section 1440, must meet most of the identical requirements of any other applicant for naturalization including being able to read, write, and speak English, being able to pass a test on American history and government, having good moral character, and swearing an attachment to the U.S. Constitution. However, applicants are not held to the usual requirements regarding time as a lawful permanent resident living in the United States.
Most applicants for naturalization are required to be physically present in the United States for 30 months (18 months if sponsored by U.S. citizen spouse). Military personnel can avoid this requirement.
Instead of waiting for five years to apply for naturalization, members of the armed services serving during a time of conflict can apply for citizenship much quicker.
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), you can apply for citizenship based on military service if you comply with the following conditions:
- You have completed Form N-426, Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service*;
- You demonstrate the ability to read, write and speak English;
- You prove a knowledge of U.S. history and government;
- You can show good moral character for at least one year before filing the N-400 until the time of naturalization; and
- You show an attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution.
*Please keep in mind that the Form N-426 is required for Military Naturalization and can only be certified after 180 days in active-duty status, or at least one day in a combat zone. The USCIS considers boot camp to be active duty, so date calculations should be started from the day an applicant has started boot camp. Any time after enlisted, but prior to boot camp does not count towards the 180-day requirement. There are also specific rules that vary with each branch of the military on who is authorized to certify the Form N-426. It is important to make sure that the form is certified properly prior to submission.
What Counts As Military Service for Citizenship Through Military Service?
Members of the U.S military in the U.S. Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, or Coast Guard, or in a National Guard unit that is federally recognized as a reserve constituent of the U.S. Armed Forces, are all eligible to apply for military naturalization.
What if You Have Already Been Discharged from the U.S. Military?
If already discharged by the military, the discharge must have been honorable. There is also a deadline. Applicants can only apply for expedited military naturalization for the six months following discharge.
Can Military Families Gain Expedited Citizenship?
Spouses of U.S. citizen members of armed forces may be eligible for expedited or overseas naturalization as well as the children of service members.
Spouses of service members who are U.S citizens and will be deployed may be eligible for expedited naturalization in the United States. An applicant for naturalization must meet the following requirements under section 319(b) of the INA.
- The applicant must be age 18 or older;
- He or she must have a good moral character;
- Has the ability to write, read and speak the English language;
- Has knowledge of U.S. government and history (known as civics);
- Is willing and prepared to take an Oath of Allegiance to the U.S. Constitution;
- The applicant should have obtained lawful permanent resident status before the citizenship interview or test;
- Must show that his or her U.S. citizen spouse is deployed abroad as a service member;
- Declare in good faith upon naturalization an intention to reside abroad with the U.S. citizen spouse and to reside in the U.S. immediately at the end of the spouse’s service abroad.
Can Undocumented Immigrants Serve in the U.S. Military?
Undocumented immigrants typically cannot serve in the U.S military. A valid and lawful immigration status is a basic requirement for enlistment in the U.S. military. Generally, the U.S. armed forces require people who enlist to be U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, or lawful permanent residents. Exceptions to the rule that undocumented immigrants cannot service in the military have been made under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program. This program has since been suspended.
However, if an immigrant is already enlisted in the military and does not have a valid status, he or she may still be able to apply for military naturalization.
Gaining citizenship through military service is becoming increasingly difficult. At Gardner & Mendoza P.C., we believe people who have served this country honorably should have a right to become citizens. Call us at (757) 464-9224 to let us help you with these complex applications.