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Immigration Benefits for U.S. Military Service Members

The intricate rules of immigration law may seem overwhelming. Some rules would leave you asking questions about how these rules apply to your case, but if you are a current or former member of the U.S. military, particular application processes may apply to your case. These special immigration benefits are provided to members of the U.S. military and their family members who want to migrate to the United States.

This article provides a comprehensive overview of the immigration rules and advantages for U.S. military service members and their families. Whether you are considering enlisting in the U.S. military or are currently in service, this article will give you insights into the immigration benefits you can avail of.

Military Service and Immigration

Current and former members of the U.S. military and their immediate family members are eligible for unique immigration benefits. Non-citizen military service members may apply for citizenship after just one year. For example, surviving family members of military veterans who died in action are given an expedited path to citizenship.

Am I Eligible To Join the U.S. Military?

U.S. Citizens and certain lawful permanent residents may join the U.S. military after meeting requirements and qualifications. The eligibility rules may get confusing, mainly because different requirements apply to each branch of service. 

There are also varying rules when applying for officer programs or as an enlisted service member. Officers are those who work as managers of the military. This program often requires a college degree and can be particularly competitive. Most U.S. military officers also have higher degrees or master's degrees. On the other hand, enlisted members do hands-on military work. They often require a high school diploma.

What Is the Minimum Qualification To Be Enlisted?

Each military branch has its standards when enlisting U.S. military members. However, the following are the minimum requirements to be enlisted:

  • A U.S. Citizen or a lawful permanent resident/Green Card holder
  • Can speak, read, and write English fluently
  • At least 17 years of age
  • A high school diploma
  • Passed the physical medical exam

Note that the age limit may vary depending on the branch of service. For instance, in the Air Force, the age requirement is 17 to 39 years old. For the Army, 17 to 35 years old. Meanwhile, for the Marine Corps, it is 17 to 28 years old. Due to these varying requirements, it is best to check the official website of the U.S. Department of Defense.

Can a Noncitizen Join the U.S. Military?

Yes. A noncitizen can join the U.S. Military. Foreign nationals with permanent resident status may enlist to enter the U.S. armed forces. However, the U.S. government may ask for extra requirements and restrictions to join the U.S. armed forces. For instance, the noncitizen must have a valid permanent resident card or temporary I-551. They must have the ability to speak, read, and write English fluently. 

The Secretary of Defense also authorized the U.S. military to recruit certain foreign nationals whose skills are vital to the U.S. interest. These critical skills include nurses, physicians, and specific experts in the foreign language.

Before these recent amendments, the Lodge Act of 1950 allowed noncitizens from Eastern European countries to enlist in the U.S. military between 1950 and 1959. In the late 1940s, the U.S. also started recruiting Filipino nationals into the Navy. The recruitment occurred when the U.S. signed the Military Bases Agreement in 1947, establishing U.S. military bases in the Philippines. Today, around 5,000 permanent residents are enlisted every year.

Benefits Provided to Noncitizens Who Join the U.S. Military

The following benefits are extended to non-citizens who join the U.S. military:

Citizenship After One Year of Service

Foreign nationals who serve honorably in the U.S. military for one year, continuous or accumulative, may apply for U.S. citizenship. Although military service members can avail of the unique immigration benefits, they should still meet other requirements. Applicants must complete USCIS Form N-426 (Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service). They should also go through the naturalization process and submit the standard paperwork.

Citizenship After Completion of Active Duty

Noncitizen members of the U.S. Armed Forces may apply for U.S. citizenship after serving in an active duty capacity, regardless of immigration status. Still, they must meet the standard criteria for citizenship. Those with a green card may bypass the five-year waiting period. Applicants must complete USCIS Form N-426 (Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service) and the standard naturalization paperwork and procedures.

Posthumous Immigration Status Benefits

For noncitizen U.S. servicemen who died in action, their families are eligible for adjustment of immigration status. The spouses, parents, and children of U.S. service members killed during active U.S. military duty are eligible for green cards. If the family members are lawful permanent residents, they may apply for U.S. citizenship. Noncitizens killed in action may become U.S. citizens posthumously through a petition by the next of kin, using USCIS Form N-644, Application for Posthumous Citizenship.

Immigration Benefits for 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 their spouse toward residency requirements asked for naturalization.

Green Cards for Immediate Family Members

Immediate family members of U.S. citizens killed in action as members of the U.S. military, such as a spouse, parents, and unmarried children under the age of 21, including those granted posthumous citizenship, 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 have resident status (green card holders). All other citizenship procedures and criteria apply.

Posthumous Citizenship

Noncitizens killed in action while on active duty for the U.S. military may receive U.S. citizenship posthumously, permitting the deceased's immediate relatives to adjust their status.

Naturalization Through U.S. Military Service

If you are applying for U.S. military service or have served in the armed forces, you may become a U.S. citizen through naturalization. You may check your eligibility to apply for these special provisions provided for U.S. military members. The special provisions are stated in Sections 328 and 329 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). 

INA noted that if you meet all the requirements mentioned in these sections, you may file for U.S. citizenship through naturalization by filing an Application for Naturalization or Form N-400.

A member or former member of the U.S. military has special requirements under INA. This means that conditions that apply to everyone else processing their U.S. citizenship may not apply to those filing for naturalization through military service. For instance, if you provided honorable service during the period of hostilities, the law does not require physical presence in the U.S. for any length of time before applying for naturalization. To establish eligibility for naturalization, you must meet the following:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Served honorably at any given time in the U.S. military for one year or multiple periods totaling at least one year of service
  • Submit a Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service (Form N-426) when applying for naturalization if you presently serve in the U.S. military. Or a photocopy of your Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty or other official discharge form for those not on active duty.
  • For those not currently in service, proof that if separated from active duty, you were separated under honorable conditions
  • Meet the residency and physical presence requirements for naturalization
  • Show the ability to read, write, and speak English fluently unless you were qualified for a waiver
  • Show good moral character for at least five years from filing your application for naturalization until you acquire U.S. citizenship
  • Show commitment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution and maintain good order in harmony with the United States as required by law

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) assists with the naturalization and immigration application process. There are designated USCIS liaisons that can help you with your application. You can also start your naturalization application online by creating an account and filing Form N-400. You may visit the USCIS website for more details or call the military helpline.

How To Apply for U.S. Military Service

Joining the U.S. military can be a life-changing and exciting experience. There are various reasons why young people nationwide show interest in joining the Armed Forces. Some want the job security and benefits of joining the military. Others respect the profession, being a household member with generations of service. If you are interested in joining the U.S. military, the following are the general steps that you need to observe:

  1. Meet with a recruiter
  2. Taking part in the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS)
  3. Taking part in the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test (ASVAB test)
  4. Pass the physical examination
  5. Assess your military career with a service enlistment counselor
  6. Take an oath of enlistment
  7. Undergo boot camp

Seek Legal Advice From an Immigration Law Attorney

Immigration laws in relation to U.S. military service can be filled with complex rules and requirements. Although the U.S. government provides unique immigration benefits to military service members and their dependents, it is still essential to understand the regulations surrounding this matter. 

For guidance and better assistance tailored to your case, it is best to consult an immigration lawyer. They can assist you in understanding the laws and rules related to this process. With their experience in handling immigration matters, they can look at your and your family's eligibility for residency or naturalization applications.

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