Immigrants and the Military Path to Citizenship

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On April 30, Arizona State University hosted an event on immigrants in the military. There are thousands of immigrants who are not even U.S. citizens who have nonetheless joined the U.S. armed forces and are fighting for their adopted country.

Defending our country, however, is no guarantee against future immigration problems—even deportation­—if immigrant service men and women fail to take the steps to become citizens. Fortunately, the path to citizenship is easier for immigrants who have served or are serving in the armed forces.

Members of the armed forces serving during a period of hostilities are eligible for citizenship under a special section 329 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. (Since we are currently in a period of hostilities, begun in September of 2001, this is the provision that applies to recent veterans or active duty service members.) To qualify, a service member must serve honorably for any period of time in active-duty status or as a member of the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve.

Certain ordinary requirements for naturalization do not apply to these members of the military. For example, the five-year residence requirement does not apply. Instead, an immigrant member of the military need only have been physically present in the U.S. at the time of enlistment (whether or not the individual was admitted as a permanent resident) or the individual can be admitted as a permanent resident at any time after enlistment (or induction). The military applicant does not have to pay the application fee, nor is he or she required to be 18 years of age. Other requirements of citizenship apply—those relating to good moral character, knowledge of English and Civics, and attachment to the U.S. Constitution.

Members of the military may have their naturalization interview and Oath of Citizenship at a military installation abroad, instead of at a USCIS office in the U.S. Since 2003, more than 10,000 members of the military have been naturalized in ceremonies held in 28 countries.

USCIS has a brochure with information about naturalization for members of the military. You can find it here. Other resources for members of the military and their family members can be found on this page of the USCIS website.

Posted on May 5, 2014

Our Impact

  • The Campaign has completed over 3,700 naturalization workshops and clinics.
  • Over 250,000 citizenship applications completed since July 2011.

    Saved aspiring citizens and their families over $206million in legal and application fees.
  • Adopted scalable technology. MP3 players, Google Voice, and Virtual Private Network (VPN) services are being used to enhance naturalization service delivery.
  • Expanded New American Workforce (an effort to provide naturalization assistance within corporations) which has partnered with over 100 businesses across the nation, ranging from hotels in Miami to American Apparel in Los Angeles.
  • Deployed Citizenshipworks, an online tool, across the Campaign in multiple settings and languages. A newly redesigned platform guides applicants through through their citizenship application from start to finish and connects applicants to legal help at partnering non-profits.
  • Were instrumental in inspiring the US Citizenship and Immigration Service to support the Citizenship Corners initiative.
  • Created innovative partnerships with public libraries, school districts, universities, social service agencies, and employers, all of which yield not only greater numbers of applicants but also greater awareness of the naturalization process.
  • Deployed a large-scale volunteer recruitment program through an e-learning course.

    Reached diverse communities. Local partners consistently outreach and provide culturally competent and language-appropriate services.
Learn more from our
Impact Report.

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Who We're Helping

People come to America from all over the world with dreams of achieving a better life for themselves and their families and calling this great nation home. Eight million people who live, work, and pay taxes in this country are eligible for citizenship, yet only about eight percent of them naturalize each year. Find out more about these individuals and the barriers they face.Read More