Military Service & Immigration
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed June 20, 2016
This article has been written and reviewed for legal accuracy, clarity, and style by FindLaw’s team of legal writers and attorneys and in accordance with our editorial standards.
The last updated date refers to the last time this article was reviewed by FindLaw or one of our contributing authors. We make every effort to keep our articles updated. For information regarding a specific legal issue affecting you, please contact an attorney in your area.
Current and former members of the U.S. military, plus their immediate family members, are eligible for special immigration benefits. Non-citizen military service members may apply for citizenship after just one year of service, for example, while surviving family members of military veterans killed in action are given an expedited path to citizenship.
This article provides a general overview of the special immigration rules and benefits available to U.S. military service members, military veterans, and their families. For more detailed information, see "Naturalization Through Military Service: Fact Sheet" at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) website.
U.S. Military Service Members & Veterans
Only U.S. citizens may be commissioned officers in the U.S. Armed Forces, but non-citizens may still join the military. To qualify, non-citizens must have a valid green card, an established U.S. residence, and an established record of the U.S. as their home country. Those from a country considered hostile toward the U.S. may require a waiver.
The following benefits are extended to non-citizens who join the U.S. military:
- Citizenship After One Year of Service - Foreign-born individuals who serve honorably in the U.S. military for one year (either continuous or accumulative) may apply for U.S. citizenship immediately after receiving a green card. Applicants must otherwise meet all other criteria for naturalization. Applicants must fill out USCIS Form N-426 (Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service) in addition to the standard naturalization paperwork and procedures.
- Citizenship After Completion of Active Duty - Foreign born members of the U.S. Armed Forces may apply for U.S. citizenship after serving in an active duty capacity, regardless of immigration status, but must otherwise meet the standard criteria for citizenship. Those with a green card may bypass the five-year waiting period. Applicants must fill out USCIS Form N-426 (Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service) in addition to the standard naturalization paperwork and procedures.
- Posthumous Immigration Status Benefits - Those who have been killed in action, and their families, are eligible for adjustment of immigration status. The spouse, parents and children of U.S. citizens killed during active U.S. military duty are eligible for green cards or (if they already are lawful permanent residents) may apply for U.S. citizenship. Non-citizens killed in action may become citizens posthumously through a petition by the next of kin (using USCIS Form N-644, Application for Posthumous Citizenship).
Family Members of U.S. Military Service Members
The following adjustment-of-status benefits are available to family members of U.S. military service members:
- Residency While Stationed Abroad - Any lawful permanent resident (green card holder) whose spouse is a U.S. citizen serving in the U.S. Armed Forces may count time living abroad with his or her spouse toward residency requirements, as part of the requirements for naturalization.
- Green Cards for Immediate Family Members - The immediate family members (spouse, parents, unmarried children under the age of 21) of U.S. citizens (including those granted posthumous citizenship) killed in action as members of the U.S. military may apply for green cards. Unlike typical green card applications, family members of deceased military service members need not prove financial support or self-sufficiency.
- Citizenship for Family Members with Green Cards - The surviving immediate family members of those killed while serving in the U.S. military may immediately apply for citizenship if they already are lawful permanent residents (green card holders). All other citizenship procedures and criteria apply.
- Posthumous Citizenship - Non-citizens killed in action while on active duty for the U.S. military may receive U.S. citizenship posthumously, which would permit the immediate relatives of the deceased to adjust their status (see item #3 in the first section for more details).
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
Contact a qualified immigration attorney to help you get the best results possible.