Can I Join the Military if I am a Foreign National?

The quick answer is, it depends. If you are undocumented or hold a non-immigrant visa (NIV), you generally cannot join the military. If you are a green card holder, you can enlist in the military.

Limitations on Foreign Nationals in the Military

The Military Accessions Vital to National Interest Program (MAVNI): Those who are undocumented, generally cannot join the military. However, beginning in 2008, the Secretary of Defense created the MAVNI program to allow certain non-citizens with particular skills, to join the military. Included skills were interpreters of specific languages, certain cultural skills, and health care professionals. Those who were on TPS, DACA, had asylum, or held certain NIVs were eligible to apply for the MAVNI program. To apply, applicants must have held their status for at least two years immediately preceding their application. In October 2016, the MAVNI program was suspended and is currently under review.

Lawful Permanent Residents: As a lawful permanent resident (green card holder), you can enlist in the U.S. military; however, you cannot become a military officer until you become a U.S. citizen. Additionally, only U.S. citizens can obtain security clearances, so as a lawful permanent resident, you are limited in the jobs you can perform.

To enlist in the U.S. armed forces, in addition to being a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, you must also meet the following standards:

  • May enlist at 17 with parental consent or 18 without;
  • Be under a certain age, depending on the branch of the military;
  • Have a high school diploma or a GED;
  • Pass a physical exam;
  • Pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test.

Immigration Benefits for Non-Citizens in the U.S. Military

If you enlist in the military as a non-citizen, the primary benefit to you will be the waiver of the physical presence and continuous residence requirements for naturalization. What benefits you are eligible to receive is determined by whether you were on active duty during a period of peacetime, or hostility. For a full discussion of the immigration benefits for non-citizens in the U.S. military, click here.

Immigration Options for Non-Citizen Family Members of U.S. Military Members

There are several immigration benefits from which non-citizen family members of U.S. military service members may avail themselves. The first two, Parole in Place and Deferred Action are not permanent immigration solutions; they provide temporary benefits to family members. Both provide for work authorization, and Parole in Place provides for a lawful ‘entry’ for adjustment of status purposes. Read more about Parole in Place and Deferred Action here.

Additionally, under certain circumstances, lawful permanent resident spouses of U.S. service members may be able to count their time abroad as if they were resident in the U.S., for naturalization purposes.

Immigration Benefits for Family Members of Deceased Service Members

Under certain circumstances, family members of deceased U.S. service members, who died due to an injury or disease incurred in or aggravated by combat, may obtain lawful permanent residence or waive certain naturalization requirements. For a detailed discussion on immigration options for family members of deceased service members, click here.

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!