Members of the U.S. Armed Forces may be eligible to naturalize and become U.S. citizens based on their service in the military. The naturalization process is quicker and less rigorous for eligible service members than for civilians. To qualify as a service member of the U.S. Armed Forces, an individual must have been enlisted to serve in one of the following military branches: U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps or Coast Guard. Additionally, certain members of the National Guard and the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve may also qualify as a service member if the individual can verify his or her service in the Selected Service.

Service members can verify their service by filing Form N-426, Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service, whether or not they are currently on active duty. A certified Form N-426 also establishes Selected Reserve service for members of the National Guard. However, even without a certified N-426, service in the Armed Forces and/or Selected Reserve can be verified with a copy of an applicant’s DD Form 214 or NGB Form 22, which should be submitted along with an uncertified N-426. Please note, NGB Form 22 is not considered acceptable proof of service in the Selected Service.

Like all noncitizens, service members must fulfill certain requirements before they are eligible to naturalize. At a minimum, all naturalization applicants must demonstrate good moral character, knowledge of U.S. government and history, have an understanding of the English language, and hold an attachment to the principles of the Constitution. Beyond those requirements, however, the remaining physical presence and residency requirements differ for service members and vary depending on whether they served in peacetime or during a declared hostility.

During peacetime, a service member may not have to fulfill the physical presence and residence requirements generally required to naturalize as long as he or she is a lawful permanent resident (LPR or “green card” holder), and has served honorably for more than one year. To take advantage of these relaxed requirements, the service member must file the application for naturalization while still in service or within six months of the termination of service. Within that timeframe, the service member can count his or her time in the service, including time spent either abroad or at home, in calculating his or her physical presence and residency in the United States. If the service member does not apply to naturalize during this window, then the standard physical presence and residence requirements will apply, which are explained in our overview at Naturalization and Citizenship.

Naturalization requirements are even less stringent for service members who have served during a time of war or declared hostilities. Service members who have served from September 11, 2001 to the present fall within this category because the President designated it a declared hostility (there are five additional designated periods of hostilities prior to September 11, 2001). Physical presence and residence requirements are waived for service members who have served honorably during this time period. Service members who are not “green card” holders, or who are out of status or undocumented, may also be eligible to naturalize in times of war or declared hostilities.

Whether in a time of peace or war, to begin the naturalization process, a service member must first certify his or her military service by filing Form N-426, Request for Certification of Military or Naval Service. The service member must contact his or her Point-of-Contact (POC) to help with this step of the process. Once it is verified that the individual has served, either during a time of peace or declared war or hostilities, the service member must file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, and Form G-325A, Biographic Information. All naturalization filing fees and biometrics fees are waived for service members. Service members may also benefit from an expedited naturalization process, requiring the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to process naturalization applications of current service members within six months.

Any service member interested in becoming a U.S. citizen is encouraged to contact his or her POC and/or an attorney to discuss how to obtain these benefits and to confirm eligibility. Our office is able to assist with all aspects of this process.

Posthumous Citizenship

A deceased service member may be eligible for posthumous citizenship. To be eligible, the service member must have served honorably in active-duty during a period of military hostilities and died as a result of injury or disease incurred while serving in an active duty status during such service. It is generally required that the service member have been an LPR to qualify for posthumous citizenship. The next-of-kin, spouse, child or parent of the deceased service member can request posthumous citizenship by filing Form N-644, Application for Posthumous Citizenship. This must be filed no later than two years after the death of the service member, and, if approved, a Certificate of Citizenship will be issued in the name of the deceased service member establishing posthumously that he or she was a U.S. citizen on the date of his or her death.

Family Members

A noncitizen spouse and child(ren) of a U.S. citizen service member in the U.S. Armed Forces may be eligible for expedited or overseas naturalization. As is the case with service members naturalizing, the spouse and child(ren) of a service member must still meet the naturalization requirements, as identified above. However, the noncitizen spouse and child(ren), may also qualify for relaxed residence and physical presence requirements by counting their qualifying residence abroad towards the physical presence and residence requirements for naturalization. A noncitizen spouse of a U.S. citizen service member may also benefit from expedited naturalization in the United States if his/her spouse is or will be deployed abroad. In either procedure, the spouse must meet the general naturalization requirements, as discussed above, and must have also lived in marital union for three years preceding the application. A noncitizen spouse interested in taking advantage of these benefits may contact our office for more information.

A U.S. service member may be able to apply for naturalization on behalf of his/her child while serving abroad. Among other requirements, the child must be under the age of 18 and be residing in the legal custody of the U.S. service member. In assessing the child’s physical presence and residency requirements, the time spent abroad by the child because of the U.S. service member parent may be counted. As suggested above, any service member interested in this process is encouraged to contact our office for more information.

Lawful Permanent Residency

Certain family members of a U.S. Citizen or LPR service member, may be eligible to acquire immigration benefits based on their familial relationship to the deceased service member.

Under U.S. immigration law, the spouse, child(ren), and parent(s) of a U.S. citizen service member who served in active duty and died as a result of injury or disease sustained or aggravated by such service may file a self-petition to adjust to LPR status. The family member must file Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, within two years of the death of the U.S. citizen service member.

Family members of a deceased service member who was an LPR may also be able to pursue immigration benefits. Where the service member had filed Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, for a spouse or child prior to his or her death, the beneficiary may pursue adjustment of status after the service member obtains posthumous citizenship. Where the spouse or child(ren) filed Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, to obtain LPR status prior to the death of the service member, he or she may still pursue adjustment if the service member is granted posthumous citizenship within two years of his or her death.

Parole in Place

A policy memorandum was issued on November 15, 2013 by the Obama administration to allow spouses, children and parents of active duty or veteran members of the U.S. Armed Forces or the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve to obtain parole in place, which entitles them to certain immigration benefits. Parole in place allows the foreign national to remain in the U.S. without fear of removal (deportation), to work lawfully while in the U.S., and in some cases, to “adjust status” to that of a permanent resident while remaining in the United States.

If granted parole in place, a spouse, child, or parent of a military member or veteran may be able to adjust their status to that of a lawful permanent residence (i.e. obtain a “green card”), even if they entered without inspection. “Parole in place” effectively replaces their “entry without inspection” and overcomes the ground of inadmissibility that prevented them from remaining in the U.S. and from becoming lawful permanent residents while remaining in the U.S. While “parole in place” is not a new concept, this policy memorandum underscores that applications filed by family members of the military should generally be considered favorably. The memorandum also clarifies that “parole in place” allows for adjustment of status for certain family members of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Among the reasons for implementing the parole in place initiative, is that “there is a concern within DoD [Department of Defense] that some active members of the U.S. Armed Services, individuals serving in the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve and individuals who have previously served in the U.S. Armed Forces or Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve face stress and anxiety because of the immigration status of their family members in the United States. … Military preparedness can potentially be adversely affected if active members who can be quickly called into active duty, worry about the immigration status of their spouses, parents and children.”

Parole in place is granted on a case-by-case basis and is purely discretionary. If granted, whether parolees are eligible to adjust status without a waiver is a critical question that should be assessed before filing for permanent residence. The help of a competent immigration attorney is strongly encouraged when applying for either parole or adjustment of status on this basis.

If you think you may qualify for parole in place, please call our office to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys who will be happy to explain in more detail your options and how our law office can assist you in the process.

The policy memorandum by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, released November 15, 2013, is available here.

Note: Foreign nationals seeking lawful status in the U.S. are subject to all immigration laws, and even with a lawfully recognized qualifying family relationship, may be inadmissible or otherwise unable to obtain permanent residence in the U.S. on other grounds, such as certain criminal convictions or immigration violations. This is true of anyone seeking immigration benefits from the U.S. government.

Please contact our office if you have any questions about this process or any of the information contained in this article.

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