Under special provisions in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), foreign nationals can sometimes expedite citizenship by serving in the U.S. armed forces. Typically, the qualifying branches of military for service-based naturalization include the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve, and certain components of the National Guard.

Since 2002, U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) has naturalized over 89,000 members of the military. Additionally, spouses of U.S. service members who are currently or will be deployed may be eligible for accelerated naturalization. In some cases, individuals are able to complete the naturalization process while abroad.

There are three basic avenues that individuals can take when pursuing citizenship through military service:

  • Peacetime Naturalization: During peacetime, non-citizens who honorably serve at least one year in the United States military must receive a Permanent Residence Card (“green card”) before they are eligible for U.S. citizenship. However, they have the advantage of applying for citizenship just one year after receiving their green card (versus the five years many others must wait). If honorably discharged, the individual will need to file an application within 6 months or else he/she will have to wait the standard five years to file.
  • Service During Periods of Hostility/Wartime: Non-citizens who enlist in the U.S. armed services during wartimes may apply for citizenship as early as their first date of service.
  • Naturalization and Basic Training Initiative: This initiative gives noncitizens who enlist in the military the opportunity to naturalize after they graduate from basic combat training. The naturalization interview and Oath of Allegiance are worked into basic training and done on the military base.

Applicants in the armed forces must still meet the following general requirements for all naturalization applicants: show good moral character, prove basic knowledge of the English language and U.S. government and history, and take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States Constitution. After officially taking your oath, you will receive a Certificate of Naturalization proving your citizenship.

The path to citizenship through military service can be complicated and there are many time-sensitive components to the process. If you’re concerned about correctly completing all the required steps, hire an immigration attorney to assist you. A military immigration lawyer can also help you apply for a green card or a K-1 visa for your fiancee.The immigration lawyers at Salmon-Haas can serve as your advocate if you’re seeking naturalization through military service, or experiencing complications related to this process. Please feel free to contact us for a complimentary consultation to discuss your case. We are happy to see how we can be of assistance.

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