The primary immigration benefit to non-citizens in the military is a fast-track to United States citizenship. An applicant for naturalization will still need to show ‘good moral character,’ but some of the time requirements are waived or reduced.

One Year of Military Service During a Period of Peacetime

According to INA §328, if you have served honorably in the U.S. armed forces for at least one year during a period of peacetime, you may be eligible to apply for citizenship if you have held a green card for at least one year. Typically, individuals must be a lawful permanent resident for either 3 or 5 years before they can apply for citizenship.

In addition to holding a green card for a year, an applicant must also demonstrate the following:

  • Be on active duty* and have Form N-426, Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service certified by the military;
  • Apply within six months of being honorably discharged and demonstrate that you were honorably discharged. **
  • Be at least 18 years old;
  • Demonstrate good moral character for the preceding five years;
  • Pass an American civics exam;
  • Speak English;
  • Swear an oath to the U.S. constitution.

*Active duty means “full-time duty in active military service of the United States,” which includes service in the U.S. Marines, Army, Navy, Air force, or Coast Guard, including those in active duty in the reserves. Generally, those in inactive duty in the National Guard or Reserves are excluded.

** “Naturalization may be revoked if the service member is discharged under other than honorable conditions before having served honorably for a total of five years.”

Additionally, military members and veterans do not have to pay the naturalization filing fee.

Military Service During Periods of Hostilities

Under INA §329, if you serve in the military during periods of ‘armed conflict,’ you can apply for naturalization immediately. Designated periods of armed conflict include the following periods:

  • April 6, 1917-Nov. 11, 1918
  • Sept. 1, 1939 – Dec. 31, 1946
  • June 25, 1950 – July 1, 1955
  • Feb. 28, 1961 – Oct. 15, 1978
  • Aug. 2, 1990 – April 11, 1991
  • Sept. 11, 2001 – present

In addition to having served honorably, an applicant must meet the following requirements:

  • If currently in the military submit a certified form N-426, Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service, or, if you have been honorably discharged you can submit an uncertified Form N-426, along with your form DD-214;
  • Must have served at least six months for the Department of Defense to certify honorable service;
  • Can be of any age;
  • Must have been a lawful permanent resident, or physically present in the U.S. at the time of enlistment; *
  • Demonstrate good moral character for one-year preceding application;
  • Pass an American civics exam;
  • Speak English;
  • Swear an oath to the U.S. constitution.

*An applicant under INA§329 does not have to be an LPR, so long as they were physically present at the time of enlistment, reenlistment, or extension. Physically present means in the U.S., the Panama Canal, American Samoa, the Swains Islands, or “onboard a public vessel owned or operated by the U.S. for noncommercial service.”

Active duty members of the military will file their N-400 at a U.S. domestic office; however, they will be eligible for overseas processing.

Conditional Residency

Conditional residents who are eligible to naturalize under this provision, who would be eligible even if they were not an LPR (were present during enlistment), are not required to file Form I-751 before applying for naturalization.

Posthumous Citizenship for Deceased Members of the Military

Foreign nationals who die from injury or disease incurred in, or aggravated by their military service, are eligible for citizenship post-death. In addition to the above, the individual must have:

  • Served during a period of hostility; and
  • Served honorably; and
  • Been present in the United States or a territory, or aboard a U.S. public vessel at the time of enlistment; OR
  • Became an LPR at any time after enlistment.

Applications for posthumous citizenship are filed on Form N-644, Application for Posthumous Citizenship, and must be filed within two years of the individual’s death.

If you are a non-citizen who is or has been in the military, or if you are the family member of an individual in the military, please contact an immigration attorney who is trustworthy and knowledgeable! Our attorneys at Landerholm Immigration, APC, have extensive experience in cases involving immigration benefits for members of the military and their family members. Please call us at (510) 491-0291 to see how we can help!