Citizenship Through Military Service
United States Armed Services current members and recently discharged members are eligible under the Immigration and Nationality Act to be granted an expedited application and naturalization process. Individuals in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and certain components of the National Guard and Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve, along with qualifying spouses of servicemembers that are or will be deployed are eligible for expedited naturalization. In some instances, spouses are able to undergo the naturalization process abroad.
Requirements for Naturalization
The following are requirements and qualifications for a U.S. servicemember to become a citizen:
- Must demonstrate good moral character
- Must demonstrate knowledge of the English language
- Must possess knowledge of the U.S. government and history
- Must prove attachment to the United States by taking an Oath of Allegiance to the U.S. Constitution
Exemption is given to U.S. servicemembers for the requirements of residence and physical presence in the U.S. through the Immigration and Naturalization Act. All steps of the naturalization process such as application, interviews and ceremonies are available overseas to servicemembers and “command-sponsored” spouses. If a servicemember who obtained citizenship through U.S. Armed Forces service separated from the military for “other than honorable conditions” before completing five years of honorable military service runs the risk of having that citizenship revoked.
Requirements for naturalization for those servicemembers recently separated from the military:
- Must have at least one year of honorable service in the U.S. armed forces
- Must have obtained lawful permanent resident status
- Must have filed an application while still in service or within six months of leaving the service
The Immigration and Naturalization Act, under a special provision requiring a Presidential executive order, allows all noncitizens that have served honorably in the U.S. armed services after September 11, 2001 to immediately file for citizenship. In some circumstances this also allows veterans of specified past wars and conflicts to immediately file for citizenship. This allowance will be in effect until a future date when a Presidential executive order is signed to change this allowance.
New legislation has been passed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the form of the Naturalization at Basic Training Initiative encompassing Army servicemembers in 2009 and expanding to the Navy, Air Force and finally the Marine Corps in 2013. This allows servicemembers to leave basic training as a U.S. citizen. All naturalization processes including the capture of biometrics, interview and administration of the Oath of Allegiance is done by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services right on the military base.
Applying for Naturalization
All military installation will have a point-of-contact that can assist individuals with the application process when filing for naturalization. They are usually located in the Judge Advocate General’s Office. A packet including the following forms will be available and assistance will be provided in filling out the forms.
USCIS Form N-40, Application for Naturalization (the usual fee charged for filing this form is waived for servicemembers)
USCIS Form N-426, Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service (this form must be certified by the military before it is sent to the USCIS and those individuals already separated from the military must submit and uncertified form accompanied by their DD Form 214)
Once this packet is complete it should be sent certified mail, return receipt to the USCIS Nebraska Service Center at the following address for expedited processing:
US Department of Homeland Security
Citizen and Immigration Services
Nebraska Service Center
PO Box 87426
Lincoln, NE 68501-7426
For assistance from a USCIS customer service specialist call 1(877)-CIS-4MIL (1-877-247-4645). Help is available for military members and their families Monday through Friday 8:00 am to 4:30 pm CST excluding federal holidays. USCIS military customer service specialists can also be contacted through email at: email@example.com
Under the Immigration and Naturalization Act, citizenship can be granted posthumous for those eligible servicemembers who served honorably during specified times of hostility and died as a result of injury or disease incurred in or aggravated by their service, provided the next-of-kin applies for the citizenship within the two years following the srvicemember’s death. Surviving spouses, children and parents may be eligible for immigration benefits.
Many members of the military and their dependents have gained citizenship through these special benefits available servicemembers through the Immigration and Naturalization Act. The USCIS has naturalized 89,095 military members since September 2002 during ceremonies in 28 countries. The naturalization of 1,898 military spouses have taken place in 28 countries since 2008. Since 2009, 76 dependent military children have be given citizenship certificates during ceremonies in 5 countries.
- Make sure you’re eligible for citizenship. Use the online Naturalization Eligibility Tool to start the process. After you have completed your portion of the form, have your chain of command complete and certify Form N-426, Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service. Your chain of command, who must be an O-6 or above, may certify this form after you honorably complete at least one day of active duty during periods of hostility – which have been continuous since Sept. 11, 2001 – or one full year during peacetime. This time includes basic training.
Complete Form N-400. This includes completing Form N-426 and receiving certification from the previous step. Form N-400 instructions tell you how to complete the form, and indicate what documents you will need to provide to USCIS to complete the naturalization process. Gather those materials before completing and filing your application. You may file a paper application by sending it to the Lockbox indicated in the instructions, or you may file online after creating a myUSCIS account. USCIS will conduct security checks as part of the application process.
If you are overseas, you must provide two passport photos and two FD-258 fingerprint cards at the time you file Form N-400 (see step 3).
Provide your fingerprints. If you live stateside, you will receive a notice to go to an Application Support Center to provide fingerprints as part of the required security checks. Service members and veterans do not need an appointment to provide fingerprints at an Application Support Center, but you will need to bring your current military identification card. USCIS will use fingerprints from a previous immigration application if they are available.
If you are overseas, you may submit two FD-258 fingerprint cards and two passport photos taken by the military police or officials with the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. embassy, or U.S. consulate at the time you file Form N-400. Your enlistment fingerprints, if available, may be used if you are unable to report for fingerprinting.
Interview in person with an assigned USCIS officer at a designated location. The USCIS officer will review your application with you and will test your knowledge of both spoken and written English and U.S. civics and history. Depending on how your interview goes, the officer will recommend that your naturalization application be approved, denied, put on hold or continued for further review. If your Form N-400 application is denied, you will receive a written notice outlining the reasons for the denial and how you can appeal that decision by filing a Form N-336, Request for a Hearing in Naturalization Proceedings.
If you are stationed OCONUS you may be interviewed and naturalized overseas at certain installations.
- Attend an oath naturalization ceremony to take the Oath of Allegiance and officially become a U.S. citizen, if USCIS approves your Form N-400. This could occur on the same day as your interview or be scheduled for a future date.