How to Get Citizenship Through Military Service

Posted by Frank Gogol

Serving your country in the U.S. military has many benefits. Not only do you protect the interests of U.S. citizens, but it can also be an avenue for professional growth.

Another advantage is that serving in the U.S. military can help fast-track your citizenship application. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) allows people born in other countries to gain U.S. citizenship through military service.

In some cases, you can get citizenship without going through the usual preliminary step of getting a U.S. green card first. In other cases, being part of the U.S. military service can decrease the time you have to wait between getting your green card and applying for citizenship.

 The exact legal requirements depend on whether you served during peace or wartime.

If you ever served in the U.S. military, read on to find out how to get citizenship through military service.

What Counts as Service in the U.S. Military?

The U.S. military has six branches of service: the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Space Force. 

Military members from any of these branches can take steps towards citizenship. 

If you served in a National Guard unit, you might also be eligible to get citizenship. Your citizenship claim would depend on whether your unit was federally recognized as a reserve component of the U.S. Armed Forces while you were serving.

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Eligibility

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) establishes eligibility requirements for citizenship. These requirements apply to non-citizen service members and certain veterans.

Section 328 of the INA defines eligibility for people who served during periods of “peacetime”. Section 329 of the INA defines eligibility for people who served during periods of “hostilities”.

Both INA sections 328 and 329 require military service members or veterans applying for citizenship to demonstrate:

  • good moral character
  • knowledge of the English language
  • knowledge of U.S. government and history (“civics”)
  • attachment to the principles of the U.S. constitution.

If you meet all of the requirements of either section 328 or 329 of the INA, you may apply for naturalization by filing Form N-400 under the section that applies to you. 

As a member or veteran of the U.S. military, certain other naturalization requirements may not apply to you. If you are currently active duty, you may not have to reside in or be physically present in the U.S. before you apply for citizenship.

There are two routes for how to get citizenship through military service – the peacetime route and the periods of hostility route. These are described in more detail below. 

One Year of Military Service During Peacetime

If you served honorably in the U.S. military for at least one year during a period of peacetime, you may be eligible to apply for citizenship.

During peacetime, you still need to get your green card to show that you are a lawful permanent U.S. resident. After that, if you have served at least one year in the U.S. military,  you can apply for citizenship.

The advantage is that instead of waiting until you’ve held your green card for five years before applying for citizenship, you can apply one year after receiving the green card. 

During your citizenship application, you will need to show that:

  • You have served in the U.S. military for a period or periods totaling at least one year
  • You served honorably. This is done by submitting a complete form of certification of military or naval service. Submitting this form also means you won’t have to pay the N-400 application fee
  • You have good moral character. This is usually done through character witnesses or other proofs of good moral character
  • You are a lawful permanent U.S. resident at the time of your citizenship interview
  • You can pass the citizenship test. This includes the ability to read, write and speak English, knowledge of U.S. history and government, and a demonstration of your attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution.

If you have already been discharged from the military after serving during peacetime, two further conditions apply: 

  1. Your discharge must have been honorable. 
  2. You have to apply for citizenship within six months of your discharge. If you only apply six months or more after your discharge, you will be back to having to complete five years as a green card holder before being able to apply for citizenship – just like other civilian applicants.

Service During Periods of Hostility.

If you enlist in the U.S. armed forces during wartime, you can apply for U.S. citizenship as early as your first day of service.

The citizenship requirements under Section 329 of the INA are the same as any other applicant for citizenship. These include being able to read, write, and speak English, having good moral character, being able to pass a test on American history and government, and swearing an attachment to the U.S. Constitution.

However,  if you are currently active duty, the permanent resident requirements may not apply to you. You do not have to reside in or be physically present in the U.S. before you apply for citizenship. You can apply for citizenship under this section while you are overseas.

Section 329 of the INA applies to all current military service members or veterans who served honorably in an active-duty status. It also applies to all current military service members or veterans in the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve. 

The following times are designated periods of armed conflict:

  • 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.

Applying for Naturalization

Many military installations have a designated USCIS liaison to help you with the citizenship application process. They will help you set up your N-400 submission and schedule the citizenship interview and test. You will also need to ask your chain of command to certify your honorable military service.

You can start the process of applying for citizenship yourself by sending an N-400, Application for Naturalization, to USCIS, following the instructions on the USCIS website. 

If you have already separated from the U.S. military, you may submit an uncertified Form N-426 with a photocopy of your Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty or National Guard Report of Separation and Record of Service for the applicable periods of service.

Your biometrics can be done at an application support center before you file your Form N-400. If stationed abroad, you may submit two properly completed FD-258 fingerprint cards and two passport-style photos taken by the military police or officials with the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. embassy, or U.S. consulate.

Similarly, your USCIS interview will either happen domestically as scheduled, or a USCIS field officer will be assigned to you. You can request an interview at a specific office in a cover letter attached to your application if desired.

Conclusion

Serving in the U.S. military can help fast-track your citizenship application. The Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.) allows people born in other countries to gain U.S. citizenship through military service.

In some cases, you can get citizenship without going through the usual preliminary step of getting a U.S. green card which proves your status as a lawful permanent U.S. resident. In other cases, being part of the U.S. military service can decrease the time between getting your green card and applying for citizenship.

 The exact legal requirements depend on whether you served during peace or wartime.

If you ever served in the U.S. military, do your research to find out how to get citizenship through military service.

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