Featured News 2020 Military Service and Immigration

Military Service and Immigration

Serving in the armed forces has long been a path to citizenship. In 1942, Congress exempted service members from naturalization requirements to boost recruitment for World War II. Today, more than 65,000 immigrants are active-duty service members, many of them seeking citizenship.

However, for the first time in history, active-duty service members are lesslikely to get their applications approved than civilians. If you’re looking for a way to guide your application through the immigration system quickly and smoothly, you’ll need an immigration attorney.

Speak with a qualified attorney about your immigration case in a free and confidential consultation today. Use our directory to find an immigration lawyer near you.

How Immigrant Service Members Can Become Citizens

Current and former members of the U.S. military may immediately apply for citizenship or permanent residence (i.e. a green card), no waiting period necessary. This applies to service members of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, or Coast Guard who are or have been on active or reserve duty, and sometimes their families too (although family immigration for service members has gotten more difficult in recent years). Anyone who served with the National Guard when it was an Armed Forces reserve component may also utilize the same benefits.

If you fall into either of these categories and are interested in obtaining U.S. citizenship, then you will still have most of the same requirements to fulfill. This requires demonstrating basic English literacy and a rudimentary knowledge of U.S. civics and history.

That being said, you would not have the same waiting period as non-service members do. It usually takes five years before people can apply for a green card or citizenship. Military members often do not wait as long, and they might not even have to get a green card before they can become a citizen.

Does This Only Apply to Service Members During War Time?

Whether or not you served in the armed forces during war or peace time, if you had at least a year of honorable service, then you can apply to become a U.S. citizen at the same time you get a green card—no additional wait necessary. This still applies in cases where the year of service was not one straight year but divided into separate blocks of time.

To apply, one must be at least 18 years old and been honorably discharged. To skip the waiting period, you’ll need to apply for citizenship within six months of your discharge.

Even Shorter Waiting Periods for War Time Enlistment

However, if you enlisted in military service during a time of war, then you might be able to skip the process of even getting a green card as well as the five-year waiting period. After one day of active military service, someone could go from being an undocumented immigrant to an applicant for U.S. citizenship.

Here is how this works:

First, you must have enlisted on U.S. territory; the Canal Zone, American Samoa, Swains Island, or a noncommercial U.S. ship all count too.

You also must have enlisted within these conflicts and time frames:

  • World War I (April 6, 1917-November 11, 1918)
  • World War II (September 1, 1939-December 31, 1946)
  • The Korean Hostilities (June 25, 1950-July 1, 1955)
  • The Vietnam hostilities (February 28, 1961-October 15, 1978)
  • Persian Gulf War (August 2, 1990-April 11, 1991)
  • "Operation Enduring Freedom" (September 11, 2001 onward)

You would still have the exams and language requirements, but not the age requirement. Of course, this is not a free citizenship enlistment. The USCIS will wait until a military member completes training first, and if that person does not serve honorably, they will lose their U.S. citizenship.

For Immigrant Service Members Who Are Killed in Action

If you are anxious about the status of your relatives if you are killed during active duty, there are also provisions in the law for military members who are killed in action; their families can still apply for green cards or U.S. citizenship. If, for example, someone is an undocumented immigrant, and they pass away on active duty with the U.S. Armed Forces, then their next of kin can apply for citizenship on their behalf, with USCIS form N-644 within two years of their passing. Then, once that person has posthumously become a citizen, their immediate relatives (spouse, parents, unmarried children younger than 21) can apply for green cards.

If someone is a U.S. citizen with undocumented family members, and that person dies in active duty, then their immediate relatives would be able to apply for a green card. If those relatives are already permanent residents, then they can apply right away for citizenship.

Get Your Case Heard Today!

If you have served in the U.S. military and are interested in availing yourself of immigration opportunities, do not wait to contact an experienced immigration lawyer today! With a legal expert on your side, you can navigate this complex area of law with success.

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