There are many paths to citizenship in the United States, and one of those paths goes through services in the U.S. armed forces. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), people born in other countries can gain U.S. citizenship through military service.
Serving in the U.S. military may help your path to citizenship by allowing you to skip the step of applying for permanent residency or decrease the time you have to wait to apply for citizenship after obtaining your green card.
What Counts as Service in the U.S. Military?
Serving as a member of any of the six branches of the U.S. military will count as military service for the purposes of obtaining citizenship. The six branches of service include:
- Air Force
- Coast Guard
- Marine Corp
- Space Force
Additionally, you may be eligible for citizenship if you serve in a National Guard unit, as long as your unit is federally recognized as a reserve of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Benefits of Citizenship Through Military Service
Obtaining citizenship through military service can be advantageous in many ways. Through this path to citizenship, you can get your application processed quicker, avoid fees, and help your family obtain citizenship, as well.
Accelerated Application Process
When applying for U.S. citizenship through military service, you greatly expedite the process. This is achieved in many ways.
For instance, applying in this manner will waive both the continuous residence and physical presence requirements for citizenship. Additionally, the applicant does not need permanent resident status until the time of their interview, rather than when they submit their application.
Added to that, you can start the application process after a single year of honorable service or, in some situations, after only serving for a single day.
Another significant benefit of applying for citizenship through military service is that you will not have to pay application fees. Between the application fee and biometrics, citizenship through naturalization costs most people hundreds of dollars. Fortunately, those fees are waived for military members, making citizenship far more affordable.
Obtaining citizenship through military service will also make getting citizenship far easier for your family. Your spouse and children will gain the right to become U.S. citizens. Additionally, your spouse may be able to expedite their naturalization application.
Serving in the military alone is not enough to grant you citizenship. There are other requirements that must be met for you to be eligible to apply for citizenship through military service. To be eligible, you must:
- Currently serve or have served honorably in the U.S. military (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, Space Force, or National Guard recognized as a reserve unit for the U.S. Armed Forces) for at least one year
- Be 18 years of age or older
- Pass the English portion of the citizenship test
- Pass the civics portion of the citizenship test
- Have good moral character
- Obtain permanent resident status by the time of your scheduled naturalization interview
Peacetime Service vs. Serving During Hostilities
Applying for citizenship during times of hostility can further expedite your path to citizenship beyond the benefits offered during peacetime. For example, during peacetime, you have to wait until you have completed a year of service before you can apply to become a U.S. citizen. However, when applying during a period of hostility, you can apply after a single day of service.
How Peacetime and Period of Hostilities are Defined
In the last 100 years, the U.S. has been in five different periods of hostility. These periods and the dates given were:
- Word War II: September 1, 1939, to December 31, 1946
- Korean War: June 25, 1950, to July 1, 1955
- Vietnam War: February 28, 1961, to October 15, 1978
- Gulf War: August 2, 1990, to April 11, 1991
- War on Terror: September 11, 2001, to present
As you can see, the war on terror period of hostility, which began with the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, is still considered ongoing. This period of hostility will remain until a sitting president signs an executive order marking the end of the hostilities.
With this period of hostilities still in effect, anyone who applies for citizenship through military service will follow the rules set out for times of hostility and is eligible to apply for citizenship after a single day of service.
Citizenship Through Military Service Process
It is essential to be aware of the process you must follow when applying for naturalization through military service. In addition to your application for naturalization, you must also submit a request for certification of your military service. If you are still in active duty, your chain of command needs to certify your military service form before you submit it.
If you are no longer serving, you don’t need this certification. However, you will need a certificate of release or discharge from active duty or a National Guard report of separation and record of service. In addition to filing forms, USCIS will need your fingerprints. If serving abroad, you will need to submit FD-258 fingerprint cards and two passport-type photos.
If currently serving, show your unexpired military ID card or Delayed Entry Program ID when submitting your application for naturalization. Once USCIS has received your forms and documents, they will schedule your interview and test.
Documents to Be Submitted for Citizenship Through Military
These are the forms you may need to complete when applying for citizenship through military service:
- Form N-400, Application for Naturalization
- Form N-426, Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service
- Form DD-214, Certificate of Release or Discharge From Active Duty
- Form NGB-22, National Guard Report of Separation and Record of Service
Citizenship for Family Members of Service Members
One of the biggest benefits of getting citizenship through military service is that you open things up for your family to obtain citizenship as well. Your spouse and your children can benefit when you become a citizen through military service.
Not only does obtaining citizenship give your spouse a path to naturalization, but if you are stationed abroad or will be stationed abroad, your spouse may qualify for expedited naturalization. In addition to the standard requirements for citizenship, your spouse must be able to show that they meet the following conditions to be eligible for expedited naturalization:
- Proof of marriage to U.S. citizen stationed abroad or set to be stationed abroad for at least one year
- Official orders that say your spouse is allowed to accompany you abroad
- Lawful permanent residency at the time of naturalization interview
- Presence in the U.S. at time of naturalization
- Proof of your spouse’s intent to stay abroad with you and then return to the U.S. when your time abroad ends
Expedited naturalization is not guaranteed even if these conditions are met. However, without meeting these conditions, expedited naturalization will not be an option.
Your children may be eligible to automatically acquire citizenship once you become a citizen through military service. In order to qualify for automatic citizenship, your child must:
- Be a legal permanent resident
- Be under 18 years of age
- Reside in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the citizen parent
Under the Citizenship for Children of Military Members and Civil Servants Act, the final requirement can be met if the child is in the legal and physical custody of a U.S. citizen Armed Services member stationed abroad or in the custody of their accompanying spouse.
The age 18 requirement is also altered in this situation, with the child needing to have been under age 18 on March 26, 2020, when the Citizenship for Children of Military Members and Civil Servants Act went into effect.
Get Help With Your Citizenship Application Today
When applying for citizenship through military service, you might want to consider working with an immigration services company. At ImmigrationDirect, we have helped countless military personnel complete their applications for naturalization.
While naturalization through military service can speed up the process, errors on your application can lead to delays. Contact us today to get started on your application.