Can Non-U.S. Citizens Join the United States Military?

Foreigners Serving in the US Military

There is great interest from all over the world from foreigners wanting to serve in the United States Military. Often, they know it can be a pathway to citizenship, but not always. The two branches of the government (DoD and DHS) do not work together to naturalize citizens. It is the same process for all holders of the Green Card, however, military members may have an expedited process.

There are some steps to be eligible for military service as a non-citizen.

Here is a frequently asked question on the topic:

Question: Can a Non-U.S. Citizen Join the United States Military?

Answer: Yes. A non-citizen can enlist in the military. However, federal law prohibits non-citizens from becoming commission or warrant officers. In order for a non-citizen to enlist in the military, he/she must first be a legal immigrant (with a green card), permanently residing in the United States. The Green Card is slang for Permanent Resident Card and has a 10-year span before it has to be renewed. The card is issued by the Citizenship and Immigration Services of the Department of Homeland Security and contains a photo and fingerprint. Years ago the Green Card was green, but today it looks something like a driver's license.

Once you receive your Green Card, you can go to the U.S. Military recruiter of the branch of service you desire. However, until you are a citizen you are not granted a security clearance so your ability to serve in higher responsibility positions will be denied.

 

It is important to note that the military cannot and will not assist in the immigration process. One must immigrate first, using normal immigration quotas and procedures, and -- once they've established an address in the United States -- they can find a recruiter's office and apply for enlistment.

For details, see our article, Enlistment Qualification Standards

Special provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) state:  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may expedite the application and naturalization process for current members of the U.S. armed forces and recently discharged service members.  Qualifying military service includes serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and National Guard. In addition, spouses of members of the U.S. armed forces who are or will be deployed may be eligible for expedited naturalization. Other provisions of the law also allow certain spouses to complete the naturalization process abroad.

Since July 3, 2002, under special provisions in Section 329 of the INA, President Bush signed an executive order authorizing all noncitizens who have served honorably in the U.S. armed forces on or after Sept. 11, 2001, to immediately file for citizenship. This order also covers veterans of certain designated past wars and conflicts. The authorization will remain in effect until a date designated by a future presidential executive order.

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