For those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces—which includes multiple branches of the military—the U.S. Navy, the Marine Corps, the Air Force, and the U.S. Army, there is a path to U.S. citizenship via naturalization. The power to establish uniform rules of naturalization is one of the most important powers expressly granted to Congress by Article I of the U.S. Constitution.
Naturalization via military service provides immigrants a way to live in the United States that is legal and an alternative to the many problems faced by undocumented immigrants over the long term. For example, many undocumented immigrants fall ill on their crossing to America, face threats to their health once they have arrived in the United States ( as they are not able to receive proper healthcare or apply for health insurance because of a lack of legal status), fear being persecuted and/or deported by authorities, and are also unable to adjust their status legally or file any petition on behalf of others (family/close relatives) to adjust their status to come to the U.S. Thus, naturalization presents an opportunity for those eligible to embrace the rights and responsibilities of being a citizen, and ultimately awards more opportunities for citizens and aliens looking to apply residing in the U.S.
As such, the USCIS has created a priority naturalization process for military service members—those who have sacrificed their freedoms so citizens can remain free. This guide is meant to address the eligibility for citizenship based on the type of service that military members have completed, and what the steps are for getting this process started:
Eligibility for Naturalization Through the Military Services
According to USCIS definition, if you are serving or have served in the U.S. armed forces and are interested in becoming a U.S. citizen, you may be eligible to apply for naturalization under special provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The whole process is rather simple compared to that of the common naturalization. You can apply for naturalization either via mail or online application.
In terms of specific eligibility requirements, if you have served honorably in the U.S. armed forces for at least one year during the peacetime, you may be eligible to apply for naturalization. If you have served during the wartime (designated periods of armed conflict, listed on USCIS website “Service During Periods of Hostility” section,) you can apply as soon as the service is completed.
Before you start the N-400 filing, make sure you obtain your Form N-426, Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service, from your Chain of command. If you have already left the U.S. armed forces, you can submit an uncertified Form N-426 with a photocopy of your DD Form 214, Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, or NGB Form 22, National Guard Report of Separation and Record of Service, for the applicable periods of service listed in Form N-426. The aforementioned forms serve as the proof of your military service; therefore it’s crucial that you get the related form ready before you file Form N-400.
- Form N-400
- N-426, if you are currently serving in the military
- DD Form 214 or NGB Form 22, if you are separated from the U.S. armed force.
- Petitioner’s passport photos*2: Every applicant needs to provide 2 passport-style photos (2 inches by 2 inches)
- Copies of any pertinent documents, which includes but not limited to the below (if applicable:)
- birth certificate
- permanent residency card
- marriage certificate
- Divorce decree, etc.
- A written court statement: If an arrest or conviction has been removed from your record, this statement proves that no charges were filed
- Other supporting documents related to the above documents (if applicable.)
Note: The rest is the same as the standard process as Naturalization.
Types of Service
The naturalization process for military service members is part and parcel of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which was enacted in 1952. The INA is contained in the United States Code (U.S.C.). The U.S. Code is a collection of all the laws of the United States. Title 8 of the U.S. Code covers Aliens and Nationality.
Section 1439 pertains to Naturalization through service in the armed forces and hereby reads:
“A person who has served honorably at any time in the armed forces of the United States for a period or periods aggregating one year, and, who, if separated from such service, was never separated except under honorable conditions, may be naturalized without having resided, continuously immediately preceding the date of filing such person's application, in the United States for at least five years, and in the State or district of the Service in the United States in which the application for naturalization is filed for at least three months, and without having been physically present in the United States for any specified period, if such application is filed while the applicant is still in the service or within six months after the termination of such service.”
Essentially this provision in the INA exempts military service members from many of the requirements regular civilians would need to meet in order to be eligible for naturalization.
Here are some requirements and conditionalities as it relates to the type of service the INA is discussing:
- Those who have served for one year or longer in peacetime or in an active duty situation may be eligible to file their N-400
- Those who have served in peacetime will need to submit a completed Form N-426, Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service at the time of their N-400 filing
- Those filing will need to be an LPR at the time of the naturalization interview
- Those filing will need to pass the same naturalization Civics and English test as other non-military N-400 applicants
- Those filing who have been active duty, Reserves, or National Guard do not need to prove five years continuous residence
Service members can ask their commanding officer to certify their N-426 application. If you have already separated from the U.S. armed forces, you may submit an uncertified Form N-426 with a photocopy of your DD Form 214—Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty.
Service members should be reminded to fill out their N-400 online and mail to the following address with their Certificate included, if applicable:
P.O. Box 4446
Chicago, IL 60680
For those who are stationed abroad during the time of filing and need to be fingerprinted, your prints will need to be submitted via a completed FD 258 fingerprint card and two passport-style photos taken by a commanding officer or other military officials.
Service members also have the privilege of being able to submit their fingerprints at an application support center if they are in the U.S. before they file their N-400. Service members can also request a specific USCIS citizenship interview at a specific office if addressed in a covering letter attached to their application.
Posthumous Citizenship for Military Members
If you want to apply for citizenship for one who served honorably in the U.S. armed forces and died as a result of injury or disease incurred during his/her military services (in active-duty status) during a specified period of military hostilities, you can apply accordingly for posthumous citizenship under section 329Aof the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA.)
The exact form to file is Form N-644, Application for Posthumous Citizenship. You can file on behalf of the deceased military member within 2 years of his/her death. Further information can be found on USCIS website. You can file it only through paper filing, and those related forms/documents are requested to be delivered to California Service Center.
Once the form is approved, USCIS will issue a Certificate of Citizenship in the name of the deceased person confirming posthumously that he/she was a U.S. citizen on the date they passed away. The provisions of the law extend immigration benefits will be given to the deceased citizen’s spouse, children, and parents, as stated on USCIS.
Further information regarding Naturalization Through the Military Services is listed here.
You are always welcome to contact Visa2us regarding any question during the naturalization process!