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:
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.