Citizenship for Military Members and Veterans

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Citizenship for Military Members and Veterans

Can I become a U.S. Citizen based on U.S. Military Service?

Under certain circumstances, service in the United States armed forces will allow someone to become a U.S. citizen. This may be true even if you are not a lawful permanent resident (in other words, even if the you have never had a “green card”).  This may be true even if you have not not lived in the United States.

General Requirements & Exceptions

Honorable active-duty service in the U.S. armed forces during a designated period of hostilities allows an individual to naturalize without being required to establish any periods of residence or physical presence in the United States. A service member who was in the United States, certain U.S. territories, or aboard an American public vessel at the time of enlistment, re-enlistment, extension of enlistment or induction, may naturalize even if he or she is not a lawful permanent resident.

“Qualifying military service” is generally in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and certain components of the National Guard and the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve.
If the qualifying member of the U.S. Armed Forces has served during a specified “period of hostilities, ”  he may immediately apply for naturalization under Section 329 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act.  As a practical matter, we have been in a “period of hostilities” since September 11, 2001 until the present, which will end at some future date when a Presidential Executive Order is issued to that effect. For more information, click here.

The qualifying member may also apply for naturalization during peacetime under Section 328 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act. For more information, click here.

The service member must have served honorably in the Armed Forces.  This means that at separation from military service, he or she must either have an honorable discharge, or a general discharge under honorable conditions.  For more information about discharge conditions, click here.

Individuals who die as a result of injury or disease during active duty during a “period of hostilities” may be eligible for ‘posthumous citizenship’ status under section 329A of the Immigration and Naturalization Act. Their service must have honorable.  For more information, click here.

Naturalization through Qualifying Service during Periods of Hostilities

Generally, members of the U.S. armed forces who serve honorably for any period of time (even 1 day) during specifically designated periods of hostilities are eligible for naturalization under section 329 of the INA through such military service.

In general, an applicant for naturalization under INA 329 must:
 

  • Have served honorably in active-duty status, or as a member of the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve, for any amount of time during a designated period of hostilities and, if separated from the U.S. armed forces, have been separated honorably;
  • Have been lawfully admitted as a permanent resident at any time after enlistment or induction, OR have been physically present in the United States or certain territories at the time of enlistment or induction (regardless of whether the applicant was admitted as a permanent resident);
  • Be able to read, write, and speak basic English;
  • Have a knowledge of U.S. history and government (civics);
  • Have been a person of good moral character during all relevant periods under the law;
  • Have an attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution and be well disposed to the good order and happiness of the U.S. during all relevant periods under the law.

There is no minimum age requirement for an applicant under this section.

The designated periods of hostilities are:

•    April 6, 1917 to November 11, 1918;
•    September 1, 1939 to December 31, 1946;
•    June 25, 1950 to July 1, 1955;
•    February 28, 1961 to October 15, 1978;
•    August 2, 1990 to April 11, 1991;
•    September 11, 2001 until the present;

The current designated period of hostilities starting on September 11, 2001, will terminate when the President issues an Executive Order terminating the period.

Current members of the U.S. armed forces who qualify for naturalization under sections 328 or 329 of the INA can proceed with their naturalization application either in the United States or overseas.

Naturalization through One Year of Qualifying Service During “Peacetime”

Generally, a person who has served honorably in the U.S. armed forces at any time may be eligible to apply for naturalization under section 328 of the INA. The military community sometimes refers to this as “peacetime naturalization.”

In general, an applicant for naturalization under Section 328 of the INA must:

  • Be age 18 or older;
  • Have served honorably in the U.S. armed forces for at least 1 year and, if separated from the U.S. armed forces, have been separated honorably;
  • Be a permanent resident at the time of examination on the naturalization application;
  • Be able to read, write, and speak basic English;
  • Have a knowledge of U.S. history and government (civics);
  • Have been a person of good moral character during all relevant periods under the law;
  • Have an attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution and be well disposed to the good order and happiness of the U.S. during all relevant periods under the law.

The applicant need not have had residency or have been physically present in the U.S. at all prior to filing for naturalization as long as the applicant files the application while still serving in the military or within 6 months of being honorably discharged from military service. If the application is filed more than 6 months after the applicant’s honorable discharge, the applicant must comply with the normal requirement of continuously resided in the United States for at least five years and have been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the 5 years immediately preceding the date of filing the application, EXCEPT that if the applicant was discharged less than five years prior to filing the naturalization application, the applicant’s period of service abroad will be used to satisfy the requirements for continuous residence and physical presence in the U.S.

How to Apply

Service members are not charged filing or biometrics fees.  Service members should complete the applications stated below to apply for naturalization:

Note: Every military installation should have a designated point-of-contact (POC) to handle your application and certify your Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service (Form N-426). You should inquire through your chain of command to find out who this person is so they can help you with your application packet.

The designated point of contact at your military installation may assist you with the following:

  • Certification of Form N-426;
  • Information about fingerprinting and how to comply with the fingerprinting requirement;
  • Submitting the N-400 package to the Nebraska Service Center (NSC) at the following address:

    The Nebraska Service Center
    PO Box 87426
    Lincoln, NE 68501-7426

Once your application is received, the NSC will review the application and send it to the USCIS office closest to your location.  If you have a preference as to where you would like to be interviewed, you may provide that information in a cover letter attached to your naturalization packet.

The USCIS office will set a date to interview you to determine your eligibility for naturalization.  If your application for naturalization is approved, USCIS will inform you of the date you can take the oath of allegiance.

U.S. Citizenship for Military Members Who Die During Active Duty

Individuals who die as a result of injury or disease during their period of military service may be eligible for citizenship status under section 329A of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, if:

  • They were serving during one of the specified periods of military hostilities;
  • They were serving honorably in the United States armed forces;
  • They were on active duty

A surviving family member must file Form N-644, Application for Posthumous Citizenship, on behalf of the service member within 2 years of his or her death. 

If approved, a Certificate of Citizenship will be issued in the name of the deceased veteran establishing posthumously that he or she was a U.S. citizen on the date of his or her death.

The issuance of a posthumous certificate of citizenship does not confer U.S. citizenship on surviving relatives. However, a non-U.S. citizen spouse or qualifying family member may file for certain immigration benefits and services based upon their relationship to a servicemember who died during hostilities or a non-citizen servicemember who died during hostilities and was later granted posthumous citizenship.


This information is an edited version of information originally authored by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service
 
June 2010