The United States has a long history of welcoming immigrants who serve in its armed forces, recognizing their valuable contributions to national security and the nation as a whole. Military service provides a unique path to U.S. citizenship for eligible non-citizens. In this blog, we will explore the options available for obtaining citizenship through military service.
1. Naturalization During Wartime
One of the most expedited paths to citizenship is available to non-citizens who serve in the U.S. military during times of declared hostilities. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) Section 329, service members who meet specific criteria may apply for naturalization immediately, without the usual residency and physical presence requirements. To be eligible:
- You must be at least 18 years old.
- You must have served honorably in the U.S. armed forces during a designated period of hostilities.
- You must be a lawful permanent resident (Green Card holder).
- You must have filed an application for naturalization while still in the military or within six months of separation.
- You must meet English language and civics test requirements, although some exceptions may apply.
2. Naturalization After Peacetime Service
For non-citizens who serve during peacetime or outside of designated periods of hostilities, they can still apply for naturalization, but they must meet the standard naturalization requirements, including:
- Being a lawful permanent resident.
- Having resided continuously in the United States for at least five years (or three years if married to a U.S. citizen).
- Demonstrating good moral character.
- Meeting English language and civics test requirements.
Service members can initiate the naturalization process during their military service or after honorable discharge.
3. Citizenship for Spouses and Children
Military service members are not the only ones who can benefit from military-related pathways to citizenship. Their spouses and children may also be eligible for expedited naturalization under the INA Section 319. To qualify:
- The service member must be a U.S. citizen.
- The spouse must be a lawful permanent resident.
- The family must be residing together in the United States.
4. Citizenship for Posthumous Service
In the unfortunate event that a non-citizen service member dies while serving in the U.S. armed forces during designated periods of hostilities, they may be granted posthumous citizenship, provided they were eligible for naturalization at the time of their death.
5. Citizenship Through MAVNI Program (Discontinued)
The Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program was a special recruitment program that allowed certain non-citizens with critical skills, such as medical professionals or linguists, to enlist in the military and become eligible for expedited naturalization. However, the MAVNI program was discontinued, and no new applicants are being accepted.
Military service provides valuable opportunities for eligible non-citizens to become U.S. citizens, recognizing the contributions and sacrifices they make in serving the nation. Whether through expedited naturalization during wartime, posthumous citizenship, or benefits for spouses and children, these pathways demonstrate the U.S. government’s commitment to honoring those who serve in the armed forces. If you or a family member are considering joining the military as a pathway to citizenship, it’s essential to understand the specific requirements and consult with legal experts or immigration officials to navigate the process successfully.