Naturalization Through Military Service

BY Robert L. Reeves & Nancy E. Miller

As we mentioned last week, immigrants have been quick to show love and gratitude to their new homeland by volunteering to serve in the military.  Immigrants have served as infantry soldiers, medics, foreign-language translators and every other job opened to them in every branch of the military.  Almost 8% of the 1.4 million military personnel on active duty is made up of foreign-born service members.  And the United States government has shown its appreciation in the most meaningful way possible – by allowing those who offer their lives for their country to receive the most precious prize of citizenship.  In fact, the government has waived some of the requirements for naturalization for those who have honorably served their adopted country.

One who is applying for citizenship, and is not in the military, must be at least 18 years old and have been a lawful permanent resident (LPR) for at least five years prior to application (or three years if the applicant is married to a United States citizen and the parties have been living in marital union for three years).  He or she must continuously reside in the U.S. for the five (or three) year period subsequent to obtaining lawful permanent resident status and must be physically present in the United States for at least one-half that time.  The applicant must also be a period of good moral character.  The terms “reside”, “physically present” and “good moral character”  have special meaning under immigration law and could be subjects of articles themselves.  An experienced and knowledgeable immigration and naturalization attorney should be consulted to determine how these words apply to your situation.
An LPR who has served in the military for an aggregate of one year and who is either still in the Armed Forces or was honorably discharged may apply for citizenship without regard to the residency and physical presence requirements.  To qualify under this program, the applicant must either file while he is still in the military or within 6 months of having been honorably discharged. 

A non-citizen who serves honorably in time of war or declared hostilities during a period designated by the President through Executive Order need not be have obtained LPR status in order to apply for citizenship.  Physical presence and residency requirements are also waived under this provision.  On July 3, 2002, President George W. Bush designated the period beginning September 11, 2001 to the time of passage as a period in which the Armed Forces were engaged in hostility for purposes of permitting expedited naturalization.

President Bush also created a program called Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI).  The program recruited certain legal aliens who were also U.S. licensed medical professionals or who spoke certain strategic languages.  The applicants were required to pass special immigration and security screening before being approved for enlistment.  Once accepted, they were placed on an accelerated path to U.S. citizenship.  If they failed to serve honorably for five years, they could lose their U.S. citizenship.  Although the program was reputed to be very successful, the Obama administration suspended it.  Many are petitioning the government in hopes of reopening the program.
Immigrants have shown their gratitude to the U.S. by volunteering to defend her shores.  The government has reciprocated by offering an expedited path to citizenship.   Thank you to the immigrants who have exhibited such self-sacrifice and to the government for recognizing it in such a meaningful way.