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Becoming a Citizen in the U.S. Military


Becoming a Citizen in the U.S. Military

Several newly naturalized citizen service members recite the Pledge of Allegiance after being sworn in as U.S. citizens at the Al Faw Palace in Camp Victory, Baghdad.

Official Army Photo

If you are a member of the U.S. Armed Forces and are interested in becoming a U.S. citizen, you may be eligible to apply for citizenship under special provisions provided for in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

Recent changes in the relevant sections of the INA (Sections 328 and 329) make it easier for qualified military personnel to become U.S. citizens if they choose to file a naturalization application.

In addition, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has created a stream-lined process specifically for military personnel serving in active-duty status or recently discharged.

Eligibility Requirements

Normally, a non-citizen wishing to become a United States Citizen must have five years of legal permanent residency in the U.S. to apply. Non-citizens married to a U.S. citizen for at least three years can apply after three years of residency.

However, special provisions apply for members of the Armed Forces:

Peacetime Military Service: Under INA Section 328, persons who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces (including active duty, reserves, or national guard), can file for Naturalization based on their current or prior U.S. military service. The requirements for eligibility are that the applicant must have served honorably or have separated from the service under honorable conditions, have completed one year or more of military service, and be a legal permanent resident at the time of his or her examination by USCIS on the Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. This used to be three years, but Congress changed it to one year in 2002. Filing for naturalization under this provision of the law, Section 328 of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, as amended (INA), excuses the applicant from any specific period of residence or physical presence within the United States, so long as the application is filed while the applicant is still serving with the military or within 6 months of an honorable discharge.

Service During Hostilities : By Executive Order Number 13269, dated July 3, 2002, President Bush declared that all those persons serving honorably in active-duty status in the Armed Forces of the United States at any time on or after September 11, 2001 until a date to be announced, are eligible to apply for naturalization in accordance with the service during hostilities statutory exception in Section 329 of the INA to the naturalization requirements. This means that individuals with even one day of honorable active duty service can apply for citizenship, regardless of how long they have been a resident. Note: Under this provision, individuals who apply for citizenship after discharge must present a DD Form 214, with service characterized as "Honorable," or "General." Those with other characterizations (including Entry Level Separation), are not eligible.

Section 329 of the INA also applies to service-members who served on active duty during World War I, World War II, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam Conflict, and Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

Posthumous Citizenship:Under section 329a of the INA, non-citizen servicemembers who die while serving honorably in an active-duty status during a declared period of hostilities, including Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedon, and whose death was as a result of injury or disease incurred in or aggravated by that service, are eligible for posthumous naturalization. An application for posthumous citizenship can be filed on behalf of the deceased servicemember only by the next-of-kin or another representative. If the application is approved, the individual is declared a U.S. citizen retroactively to the day of his or her death.

Section 319(d) of the INA provides for the naturalization of the surviving spouse of a U.S. citizen who died while serving honorably in an active duty status in the armed forces of the United States. The spouse and U.S. citizen servicemember must have been living in marital union at the time of the citizen's death. All the other usual requirements for naturalization must be satisfied except that no prior residency or physical presence in the United States, a state, or immigration district is required to file a naturalization application.

Moral Character: To be eligible for naturalization, you must be a person of good moral character. CIS will make a determination on your moral character. Some of the factors CIS may consider are:

  • Criminal record -- The Application for Naturalization, Form N-400, asks several questions about crimes. You should report all crimes you have committed, including ones that have been expunged (removed from your record) and those that happened before your 18th birthday. If you do not tell CIS about these crimes and they are discovered through background checks, you may be denied naturalization even if the crime itself was not a crime for which your case could be denied.
  • Lying-- If you do not tell the truth during your interview with the CIS, they may deny your application for lacking good moral character. If CIS grants you naturalization and you are later found to have lied during your interview, your citizenship may be revoked. If you have questions, you may want to seek advice from an immigrant assistance organization, legal assistance attorney, or an immigration attorney before applying.

Proficiency in the English Language: The law requires applicants to demonstrate an understanding of the English language, including the ability to read, write, and speak simple words and phrases in ordinary usage of the English language.

Knowledge of Civics: According to the law, applicants must show that they have a knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history, principles, and form of government of the United States.

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