Obtaining U.S. Citizenship Through Serving in the U.S. Military

There are unique opportunities and exceptions that are applicable for immigrants who are members of the U.S. military. The Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.) permits individuals born in other countries to gain U.S. citizenship through U.S. military service in some instances without going through the usual preliminary step of getting a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence). This is a highly unusual possibility; almost no one else can apply for citizenship without having been granted a green card for several years. The precise legal requirements are dependent on whether a person served in the military during a time of war or peace.

What Sums Up as Service in the U.S. Military?

Members of the U.S. military can take steps toward U.S. citizenship by serving in either the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard or in a National Guard Unit while the unit was federally acknowledged as a reserve component of the U.S. Armed Forces. (See the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations at 8 C.F.R § 328.1).

How Long Must Someone Have Served in the U.S. Military Before Being Able to Apply for U.S. Citizenship?

According to U.S. law a member of the military must have completed a minimum amount of service before becoming eligible for U.S. citizenship. Exactly how long depends on whether the time served was during a time of war or of peace.

Service for A Minimum of One Year in the Military During Peacetime

Foreigners who serve at least one year in the U.S. military must get U.S. lawful permanent residence before they qualify for U.S. citizenship which comes with an advantage. That benefit is instead of having to wait until they have held their lawful permanent resident status for three to five years before applying for U.S. citizenship, they can apply one year after receiving a U.S. green card. (See § 328 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, or I.N.A., or 8 U.S.C. § 1439.) Also talk to an immigration lawyer for more information and advice.

There are other conditions that are applicable:

  • The applicant’s service must have been considered honorable
  • All applicants must at least be 18 years or older
  • Applicants must be of good moral character
  • Every applicant must be able to show knowledge about American history and government and the English language (written, spoken and read)
  • Applicants must demonstrate an attachment to the U.S. Constitution

Unlike other naturalization applicants, the application fee will be omitted and Form N-426, Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service will need to be filed with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) which will require the signature and input of a military official.

What happens if a foreign national has been discharged from the U.S. military? The member of the military must have been discharged honorably. However, after the discharge all files along with an application for naturalization must be submitted before a deadline. If after the deadline nothing has been filed, the requirement is that the member of the military will go back to having completed five years as a green card holder just like any other applicant.

Obtaining Naturalization Based On Military Service During Wartime

Anyone enlisted in the U.S. armed forces during wartime might be eligible for U.S. citizenship even after a day of service. (See I.N.A. § 329, 8 U.S.C. § 1440). Several periods of wartime count, most recently including the time that began September 11, 2001 and will conclude whenever the U.S. President announces a cease to the hostilities.

Applicants under this section of the law must meet most of the same requirements as any other applicant for naturalization. These include being able to read, write and speak English, having good moral character, being able to pass a test on American history and government, and (after approval) swearing an attachment to the U.S. Constitution. However, the applicant will not be held to the usual requirements pertaining to age and length of service as a permanent resident living in the United States.

Ask An Immigration Attorney for Help

It is always good to talk to an immigration attorney when it comes to obtaining U.S. citizenship through Naturalization especially if you are seeking to apply for citizenship while serving in the U.S. military. Call Gambacorta Law Office at 847 443 9303.