Joining the Military to Become a U.S. Citizen

Members of the U.S. military serving in war time are entitled to special processing of their applications for naturalization or citizenship, as long as they're actively and honorably serving or recently received an honorable discharge. Those with green cards or temporary visas can serve in the U.S. military. These rules apply to those who were in active service on or after September 11, 2001, and to those who served in some prior conflicts.

The proposed DREAM Act would offer military service as a path to citizenship even for those in the United States illegally. This law has not passed.

Some Qualifications Are Waived

Most immigrants with green cards must wait three or more years to apply for naturalization or citizenship. The executive order waives this requirement for military members. It also allows military members to naturalize even if they're currently under an order of removal or deportation for being in the country illegally.

Some Qualifications Are the Same

Service members must meet the same other requirements as anyone else applying for naturalization as a U.S. citizen. They must demonstrate knowledge of the U.S. government and history, and they must be able to read, speak, and write English. They must be of good moral character.

A Few Other Requirements

During peacetime, members of the military must serve in the U.S. armed forces for at least a year to be eligible for the special naturalization rules. Military members file Form N-400 requesting citizenship, just as everyone else does, but they must do so while still on active duty or within six months of receiving an honorable discharge.

Service members must also file Form N-426 along with their N-400 forms. This is a Certification of Military or Naval Service, and it must be signed by military personnel.

Military Service May Help Your Spouse

The executive order also gives the spouses of military members certain naturalization privileges. They're eligible for quicker review of their applications and faster naturalization processing, but only if their husbands or wives are about to be deployed or have already been deployed.

Revocation Is Possible

A discharge "under other than honorable conditions" can revoke citizenship if a service member applies for naturalization while still in the military. An exception exists if the service member completed five years of honorable service first.

An Immigration Lawyer Can Help

The law surrounding military service as a path to citizenship is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact an immigration lawyer.

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