Becoming a Citizen in the U.S. Military

Gates Presides Over Naturalization Ceremony For Military Personnel
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If you are a member of the U.S. Armed Forces and are interested in becoming a U.S. citizen, you may be eligible to apply for citizenship under special provisions provided for in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

Recent changes in the relevant sections of the INA (Sections 328 and 329) make it easier for qualified military personnel to become U.S. citizens if they choose to file a naturalization application.

In addition, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has created a streamlined process specifically for military personnel serving in active-duty status or recently discharged.

Eligibility Requirements

Normally, a non-citizen wishing to become a United States Citizen must have five years of legal permanent residency in the U.S. to apply. Non-citizens married to a U.S. citizen for at least three years can apply after three years of residency.

However, special provisions apply for members of the Armed Forces:

Peacetime Military Service: Under INA Section 328, persons who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces (including active duty, reserves, or national guard), can file for naturalization based on their current or prior U.S. military service. The requirements for eligibility are that the applicant must have served honorably or have separated from the service under honorable conditions, have completed one year or more of military service, and be a legal permanent resident at the time of his or her examination by USCIS on the Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.

This used to be three years, but Congress changed it to one year in 2002. Filing for naturalization under this provision of the law, Section 328 of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, as amended (INA), excuses the applicant from any specific period of residence or physical presence within the United States, so long as the application is filed while the applicant is still serving in the military or within 6 months of an honorable discharge.

Service During Hostilities : By Executive Order Number 13269, dated July 3, 2002, President Bush declared that all those persons serving honorably in active-duty status in the Armed Forces of the United States at any time on or after September 11, 2001, until a date to be announced, are eligible to apply for naturalization in accordance with the service during hostilities statutory exception in Section 329 of the INA to the naturalization requirements. This means that individuals with even one day of honorable active duty service can apply for citizenship, regardless of how long they have been a resident. Note: Under this provision, individuals who apply for citizenship after discharge must present a DD Form 214, with service characterized as "Honorable," or "General." Those with other characterizations (including Entry Level Separation) are not eligible.

Section 329 of the INA also applies to service members who served on active duty during World War I, World War II, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam Conflict, and Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

Posthumous Citizenship: Under section 329a of the INA, non-citizen service members who die while serving honorably in an active-duty status during a declared period of hostilities, including Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom, and whose death was as a result of injury or disease incurred in or aggravated by that service, are eligible for posthumous naturalization. An application for posthumous citizenship can be filed on behalf of the deceased service member only by the next-of-kin or another representative. If the application is approved, the individual is declared a U.S. citizen retroactively to the day of his or her death.

Section 319(d) of the INA provides for the naturalization of the surviving spouse of a U.S. citizen who died while serving honorably in an active duty status in the armed forces of the United States. The spouse and U.S. citizen service member must have been living in the marital union at the time of the citizen's death. All the other usual requirements for naturalization must be satisfied except that no prior residency or physical presence in the United States, a state, or immigration district is required to file a naturalization application.

Moral Character: To be eligible for naturalization, you must be a person of good moral character. CIS will make a determination on your moral character. Some of the factors CIS may consider are:

  • Criminal record -- The Application for Naturalization, Form N-400, asks several questions about crimes. You should report all crimes you have committed, including ones that have been expunged (removed from your record) and those that happened before your 18th birthday. If you do not tell CIS about these crimes and they are discovered through background checks, you may be denied naturalization even if the crime itself was not a crime for which your case could be denied.
  • Lying-- If you do not tell the truth during your interview with the CIS, they may deny your application for lacking good moral character. If CIS grants you naturalization and you are later found to have lied during your interview, your citizenship may be revoked. If you have questions, you may want to seek advice from an immigrant assistance organization, legal assistance attorney, or an immigration attorney before applying.

Proficiency in the English Language: The law requires applicants to demonstrate an understanding of the English language, including the ability to read, write, and speak simple words and phrases in the ordinary usage of the English language.

Knowledge of Civics: According to the law, applicants must show that they have a knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history, principles, and form of government of the United States.

Revocation of Citizenship:

Under current law, citizenship may be revoked if the citizenship was granted under Section 329 of the INA (Service During Hostilities) if the service member is discharged under other than honorable conditions. This does not apply to Section 328 of the INA (Service During Peacetime). In 2003, Congress considered legislation which would have amended the INA to allow revocation of citizenship in either case, if the member served less than five years and was discharged under other than honorable conditions, but this legislation was never passed.

Application Process

Every military installation should have a designated point-of-contact to handle your application and certify your Request for certification of Military or Naval Service (N-426). You should inquire through your chain of command to find out who this person is, so they can help you with your application packet.

Points of Contact: The Department of the Army has directed its Battalion (BN) and Brigade Combat Team (BCT) S-1s, Personnel Services Battalions (PSB), Personnel Service Centers (PSC), Military Personnel Divisions (MPD), and Military Personnel Offices (MILPO) to assist Soldiers with their applications for citizenship and to coordinate with the U.S. Army Human Resources Command (USAHRC) as necessary to facilitate the process.

The Air Force has designated Military Personnel Flights (MPFs) as their functional area for citizenships. Airmen can also complete applications online through the virtual Military Personnel Flight.

For the Navy, each Naval command is required by NAVADMIN 251/04 to establish a Citizenship Representative.

The Designated Representative for the Marine Corps is the servicing Legal Assistance Officer.

Step 1 -- Prepare. Reading and understanding is the first step in the naturalization process. Since some naturalization requirements are difficult to understand, many people have questions. This guide should help. You'll also want to read A Guide to Naturalization.

Step 2 -- Obtain the Required Forms. You can obtain the required forms from your command representative, or you can call the USCIS Form Line at 1-800-870-3676 to request the “Military Packet.”

Step 3 -- Complete the Naturalization Eligibility Worksheet (included in your packet). If you do not meet all the requirements, you will save time by waiting until you are eligible to apply. If you still have questions about your eligibility after completing the Naturalization Eligibility Worksheet, you should seek advice from your command representative or by visiting your local legal assistance office.

Step 4 -- Complete your Application. After you have completed the eligibility worksheet and believe you are eligible for naturalization, you need to complete the Application for Naturalization ( Form N-400 ).

It is required that all military applicants, regardless of filing category, fill out and submit the G-325B version of the Biographic Information form. Please be aware that you will be required to answer questions about your application at your interview. When completing your application, it is essential that you answer all questions honestly.

Step 5 -- Have your Fingerprints Taken. Obtain the Fingerprint Notice from your "Military Packet." Through a prior agreement with CIS, Military Citizenship Representatives in your command have the authority to schedule fingerprinting appointments at the servicing CIS facility by filling in the appropriate information and handing the completed notice to you. Since CIS fingerprint facilities will not accept a blank Fingerprint Notice, it is essential for you to ensure that your servicing Citizenship Representative actually has filled out this form. It is then your responsibility to show up at the designated CIS fingerprint facility on the appointed date with the completed Fingerprint Notice in hand for presentation to the appropriate CIS official.

After you receive the fingerprint appointment notice, go to the fingerprint site. Take your fingerprint notice letter from CIS, your Permanent Resident Card, and another form of identification (driver’s license, military ID, passport, or state identification card) with you. Your second form of identification should have your photograph on it. CIS will send your fingerprints to the FBI. If the FBI rejects your fingerprints, CIS will notify you to schedule a second visit to the fingerprint site.

Military Personnel physically located overseas (i.e., outside the 50 United States, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands) should contact the nearest Military Police unit or Security Manager and request that two sets of DARK and CLEAR fingerprints be taken on FD-258 Fingerprint Cards. CIS will not accept fingerprints on any other type of form or card. The two sets of fingerprints on FD-258 cards will be included in the citizenship application packet mailed to CIS from overseas locations.

Step 6 -- Have your Photographs Taken. You must include two color photographs with your application. The specifications for these photographs are the same as those for a U.S. passport photo.

Step 7 -- Collect the Necessary Documents. You will need to include copies of several documents with your application. Send an English translation with any document that is not already in English. The translation must include a statement from the translator that he or she is competent to translate and that the translation is correct. In some instances, you must send original documents. If you must send an original document to CIS, remember to make and keep a copy for your records.

Step 8 -- Bring your Completed Application to Your Servicing Citizenship Representative. The representative will verify the application and service data and then complete the back side of Form N-426.

In some services, the Representative is authorized to indicate the service member's characterization of service on the Form N-426, based on the member's military service records. In other branches/commands, this will have to be completed by the unit commander. As a general rule, a member is considered to be serving honorably unless a decision has been made, either by the member's commander or a court martial, to discharge him/her under less than honorable conditions.

In the rare cases where the character of a member's service is questionable, ONLY the member's commander can decide this issue, and the sole criterion for the decision is: If the member were being discharged today, based on his/her record, what type of discharge would the member receive? If Honorable or General or Under Honorable Conditions, the character of service on the N-426 will read “honorable.” If Under Less than Honorable Conditions, the N-426 character of service item will NOT read “honorable.”

Step 9 -- Mail the Application Packet to CIS. This is done by the servicing Citizenship Representative. In some commands, coordination is first required with higher headquarters. In other commands, the SCR sends the document directly to the Nebraska Center (which is the CIS center designated for expedited military citizenship processing).

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Nebraska Service Center
P.O. Box 87426
Lincoln, NE 68501-7426

    Step 10 -- Wait for CIS To Schedule your Interview. You should receive a receipt within 30 days after the Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) Nebraska Service Center receives your application for citizenship. If you have not received your receipt within 60 days after your SCR mailed your application packet, you may ask your SCR to send an E-mail status inquiry to the CIS Nebraska Service Center. The CIS Nebraska Service Center will NOT answer E-mail status queries from individual military members.

    The CIS goal is to process your case and notify you of your interview date within four months after receipt of  the application packet. The CIS interview site will schedule your interview and mail you a notice of the date, time, and place. If you have not received your interview notice within five months after CIS acknowledged receipt of your application, you may ask your SCR to send an E-mail status inquiry to the CIS Nebraska Service Center.

    Step 11 -- Attend your Interview. Go to the CIS office on your notice for the interview at the specified time. You should appear at the office where you are to be interviewed before the time of your interview. Since many CIS offices are crowded, you should not bring other people with you. If you fail to appear at your interview without contacting CIS, your case will be administratively closed. If your case is closed and you do not contact CIS within 1 year to reopen it, your application will be denied due to abandonment. Rescheduling an interview may add several months to your naturalization process.

    If CIS schedules your interview for a date when you are not available due to deployment or other military necessity, write on the interview notice why you cannot attend and when you expect to be available (sometime after you expect to return to your home station or mobilization station) and mail the annotated notice back to the address of the CIS office that sent you the interview notice. If feasible, attach a copy of your deployment orders to the annotated notice you return to CIS. CIS has assured the military services that they will work with members to reschedule interviews missed due to military necessity, PROVIDED the member keep CIS informed of their status.

    In some cases, CIS may ask you to bring additional documents to the interview. These documents will be listed on your appointment letter. If you fail to bring the necessary documents, your case may be delayed or denied.

    During your interview, your ability to read, write, and speak English will be tested. You will also be given a civics exam to test your knowledge and understanding of U.S. History and Government. Many schools and community organizations help applicants prepare for their citizenship tests. Some of these programs are very good; however, CIS does not review or approve any of these outside classes or materials. You may first want to check the CIS website for available study material. Test questions are provided as part of the CIS Guide to Naturalization.

    Your English language proficiency will be tested in one or more of the following ways:

    • Reading—To test your reading ability, you may be asked to read aloud parts of the N-400, read a set of civics questions and answer them, and/or read several simple sentences aloud.
    • Writing—To test your writing skills, you may be asked to write one or two simple sentences.
    • Speaking—Your speaking ability will be tested when you answer questions about yourself and your application.

    Your knowledge of U.S. History and Government will be tested by requiring you to answer orally a set of civics questions or to take a written multiple choice test with as many as 20 questions.

    At your interview, a CIS officer will place you under oath and then ask you about:

    • Your background
    • Evidence supporting your case
    • Your place and length of residence
    • Your character
    • Your attachment to the U.S. Constitution
    • Your willingness to take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States

    The CIS officer may ask you questions to make sure you meet all the eligibility requirements. Be prepared to explain any differences between your application and other documents you have provided to CIS. Remember that you are under oath. Always tell the truth during your interview. If you are granted citizenship but CIS finds out later that you lied on your application or during your interview, your U.S. citizenship may be revoked.

    Step 12 -- Wait for the CIS Decision. After your interview, your application for U.S. citizenship will be granted, continued, or denied.

    Granted -- Sometimes, CIS can tell you if you will be granted citizenship at the end of your interview. Otherwise, you will receive a notice telling you when and where your oath ceremony will be held.

    Continued -- -The CIS officer may also continue your case. This means your case is on hold. The most common reasons for continuation are failing the English and civics tests or failing to give CIS the documents they need. If your case is continued, you will either be asked to come to a second interview, usually within 60-90 days of the first interview or to provide additional documents.

    Denied -- CIS may also deny your application for naturalization. If CIS denies your application, you will receive a written notice telling you why. There is an administrative review process for applicants who receive denials. If you believe that you were wrongly denied citizenship, you may request a hearing with a CIS officer. Your denial letter will explain how to request a hearing and will include the form you need. The form for filing an appeal is the Request for Hearing Proceedings under Section 336 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, Form N-336.

      Step 13 -- Take the Oath. If CIS approves your application for naturalization, you must attend a ceremony and take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. CIS will notify you by mail of the date and time of your ceremony. The notice CIS sends you is called the Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony, Form N-445. In some cases, CIS may give you the option of taking the Oath on the same day as your interview. If you decide to take the same day oath, CIS will ask you to come back to the office later that day. At this time, you will take the Oath and receive your Certificate of Naturalization.

      When you arrive at the ceremony, you will be asked to check in with CIS. Try to arrive early. Remember, there are many other people being naturalized with you who must also check in. If you cannot attend the ceremony on the day you are scheduled, return the CIS notice (Form N-445) to your local CIS office with a letter explaining why you cannot be at the ceremony and requesting that CIS reschedule you.

      You will be required to return your Permanent Resident Card to CIS when you check in for your oath ceremony. You will no longer need your Permanent Resident Card because you will receive your Certificate of Naturalization at the ceremony.

      If more than a day has passed between your interview and the ceremony, you will need to answer several questions. These questions are located on the back of your notice from CIS (Form N-445). You should read the questions carefully and mark your answers before you arrive at the ceremony.

      You are not a citizen until you have taken the Oath of Allegiance. If you are unable to swear the Oath, you may replace these words with "solemnly affirm." If you are unable to use the words "so help me God" because of religious beliefs, you may omit these words. If you believe you qualify for a modified oath, you should include a letter with your application explaining the situation. CIS may also ask you to provide a document from your religious organization explaining its beliefs and stating that you are a member in good standing.

      After you have taken the Oath, you will receive your Certificate of Naturalization. You may use this document as proof that you are a U.S. citizen. It is strongly recommended that you obtain a U.S. passport soon after your naturalization ceremony. A passport serves as evidence of citizenship and is easier to carry around or replace if lost than a Certificate of Naturalization. If you lose your Certificate of Naturalization, it can take as long as a year to obtain a new certificate.

      The keys to success in achieving your goal of becoming a citizen of the United States are accuracy, completeness, and communication. It is essential that you follow correctly all of the CIS instructions. Completely furnishing all of the requested information and responding to all communications from CIS as quickly as possible will help. If you qualify for naturalization and follow the correct procedures, you will become a citizen of the United States of America.

      Above information courtesy of the United States Army, United States Air Force, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

      (Compiled from Army Member's Guide to Citizenship, published by the Army, and the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services)

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