The United States honors itself in taking care of its military members. One way it helps its service members is by offering a special pathway to citizenship through military service. The pathway for service members includes many benefits for members and their families. Still, there are meticulous and strict statutes that must be followed to take advantage of the benefits.
Benefits of Citizenship Through Military Service
Serving the U.S. takes a lot of sacrifices, but with those sacrifices come a lot of benefits.
Accelerated Application Process
The waiving of the continuous residence and physical presence rules is one of the biggest benefits of citizenship through military service. Waiving these rules, along with allowing the applicant to be a legal permanent resident by the time of their interview instead of at the start of the naturalization application, significantly speeds up the process. You can also start the application after one year of honorable service or in some cases after just one day of service.
No Application Fees
The naturalization process costs $725 between the application fee and biometrics, not counting attorney and other legal fees. Those fees are waived for military members, in turn relieving and releasing applicants from an expensive burden.
The benefits of military service spread across your family when it comes to citizenship. Not only can your spouse and children become citizens as well, but for your spouse, they might be eligible to expedite their naturalization application.
Below are the requirements to apply for citizenship through military service:
- Serve or have served honorably for at least one year in the U.S. Army, Marines, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, or National Guard when the unit was recognized as a reserve for the U.S. armed forces
- Be at least 18 years old
- Have good moral character
- Be able to read, write, and speak English
- Pass the civics test
- Obtain legal permanent resident—green card—status by the time of your naturalization interview
Peacetime Service vs. Serving During Hostilities
While there are already many benefits to applying for citizenship through military service, there are further benefits if you served during periods of hostility.
How Peacetime and Period of Hostilities are Defined
If you served during peacetime, you have to wait after serving one year to apply for citizenship. However, if you served during a period of hostility, you can apply for citizenship after just one day of service.
The following are the periods of hostility according to USCIS:
- Word War II: September 1, 1939–December 31, 1946
- Korean War: June 25, 1950–July 1, 1955
- Vietnam War: February 28, 1961–October 15, 1978
- Gulf War: August 2, 1990–April 11, 1991
- War On Terror: September 11, 2001–Present
Being that the U.S. is still in a period of hostility, this means any military service member in active duty or reserve status can currently apply for citizenship after just one day of service. Periods of hostility end when a president issues an executive order marking the end of the hostility.
It is important to remember that you must still fulfill all the eligibility criteria no matter your service period.
Citizenship Through Military Service Process
Below are the forms, process, point people, and locations you need to know to apply for citizenship through military service.
The N-426 must be submitted with the N-400. The N-426 proves to USCIS that you served honorably in the military. If you are still serving in the military, your chain of command needs to certify the N-426. If you are already discharged from service, you can submit the N-426 without it being certified but need to also submit one of the following forms with it:
- DD Form 214, Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty,
- If you were in the National Guard, you need to submit NGB Form 22, National Guard Report of Separation and Record of Service
Along with the forms, USCIS will need to do security checks and will need your fingerprints. If you submitted fingerprints for a prior immigration application, then you will not need to resubmit. Also, if you’re currently serving abroad, you will need to get and submit FD-258 fingerprint cards along with two passport-style photos. The military police or officials with the Department of Homeland Security, a U.S. embassy, or a U.S. consulate can take the photos.
When submitting your N-400 and currently serving, make sure to show your unexpired military ID card or Delayed Entry Program ID card to the application support center.
If you’re currently serving, many military bases and installations have a USCIS liaison to help with the naturalization process. Those no longer serving should seek the help of an immigration attorney to help navigate the naturalization process.
After receiving all the necessary forms and documents, USCIS will schedule your interview and test.
Citizenship for Family Members of Service Members
If you’re married and stationed abroad—or will be stationed abroad—your spouse may be eligible for expedited naturalization. Along with the regular eligibility criteria required for naturalization, the spouse of a service member must meet the following additional criteria for expedited naturalization:
- Prove you’re married to a U.S. citizen who is or will be stationed abroad for at least one year
- Your spouse’s official orders need to say that you are allowed to accompany your spouse abroad
- Be a lawful permanent resident by the time of your naturalization interview
- Be in the U.S. when you’re going to be naturalized
- Show intent that after naturalization you will stay abroad with your spouse and then return to the U.S. after your spouse ends their time abroad
A spouse of a service member can have their entire application expedited further by contacting the Military Help Line at 877-247-4645. An expedited application is not a guarantee. It is done on a case-by-case basis, but it’s important to mention the travel orders.
Children of U.S. citizen service members who live abroad may be eligible to automatically acquire citizenship once the service member becomes a citizen. The following is the criteria for the child to be eligible:
- Have been under 18 years old on March 26, 2020—the date the Citizenship for Children of Military Members and Civil Servant’s Act was enacted
- Be a legal permanent resident
- Be in the legal and physical custody of a U.S. service member stationed abroad or the spouse of a U.S. service member stationed abroad
- It must be part of the service member’s official orders that the child is authorized to join the member abroad
- If the child is of the spouse, then the official orders must authorize the spouse to be with the service member abroad
Children of U.S. service members who are not stationed abroad fall under the regular statutes of all children of U.S. citizens.
It is important to know that while there are benefits to citizenship through military service, your citizenship can be revoked. If you are discharged within five years of being naturalized in any way other than honorably, you can lose your citizenship.