Service members, certain veterans of the U.S. armed forces, and certain military family members may be eligible to become citizens of the United States The “United States” means the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. See INA 101(a)(38). under special provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), to include expedited and overseas processing.
There are general requirements and qualifications that an applicant for naturalization must meet in order to become a U.S. citizen. These general requirements include:
Good Moral Character (GMC)
Residence and physical presence in the U.S.
Knowledge of the English language
Knowledge of U.S. government and history
Attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution
The periods of residence and physical presence in the United States normally required for naturalization may not apply to military members and certain military family members. In addition, qualifying children of military members may not need to be present in the United States to acquire citizenship. Finally, qualifying members of the military and their family members may be able to complete the entire process from overseas.
Special naturalization provisions for members of the U.S. armed forces date back at least to the Civil War. See Appendix 1 for a table listing legislation affecting military members and their families. Currently, the special naturalization provisions provide for expedited naturalization through military service during peacetime See Chapter 2, One Year of Military Service during Peacetime (INA 328). or during designated periods of hostilities. See Chapter 3, Military Service during Hostilities (INA 329). In addition, some provisions benefit certain relatives of members of the U.S. armed forces.
As of March 6, 1990, citizenship may be granted posthumously to service members who died as a direct result of a combat-related injury or disease. See INA 329A. See the Posthumous Citizenship for Active-Duty Service Act of 1989, Pub. L. 101-249, 104 Stat. 94. Posthumous citizenship under INA 329A was not initiated until 2004 through subsequent legislation, thereby providing substantive benefits to survivors (the amendments were retroactive to 2001). See the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004, Pub. L. 108-136, 117 Stat. 1392. Before this legislation, posthumous citizenship could only be granted through the enactment of private legislation for specific individuals.
Congress and the President have continued to express interest in legislation to expand the citizenship benefits of non-U.S. citizens serving in the military since the events of September 11, 2001. Legislation to benefit service members and their family members has increased considerably since 2003.
1. Executive Order Designating Period since September 11, 2001 as a Period of Hostility
On July 3, 2002, then President, George W. Bush, officially designated by Executive Order the period beginning on September 11, 2001 as a “period of hostilities.” The Executive Order triggered immediate naturalization eligibility for qualifying service members. See Executive Order 13269 signed on July 3, 2002 (67 FR 45287, July 8, 2002). See INA 329.
At the time of the designation, the Department of Defense (DOD) and legacy INS announced that they would work together to ensure that military naturalization applications would be processed expeditiously. USCIS adjudication procedures for military naturalization applications reflect that commitment.
2. Legislation Affecting Service Period, Overseas Naturalization, and Benefits for Relatives
On November 24, 2003, Congress enacted legislation See the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004, Pub. L. 108-136, 117 Stat. 1392. to:
Reduce the period of service required for military naturalization based on peacetime service from three years to one year. See INA 328(a).
Add service in the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve during periods of hostilities as a basis to qualify for naturalization. See INA 329(a).
Expand the immigration benefits available to the spouses, children, and parents of U.S. citizens who die from injuries or illnesses resulting from or aggravated by serving in combat. These benefits extend to such relatives of service members who were granted citizenship posthumously.
Waive fees for naturalization applications based on military service during peacetime or during periods of hostilities. See INA 328(b) and INA 329(b) (Fee exemptions)
Permit naturalization processing overseas in U.S. embassies, consulates, and military bases for members of the U.S. armed forces. See 8 U.S.C. 1443a (Permitting overseas proceedings).
Efforts since the 2003 legislation have focused on further streamlining procedures or extending immigration benefits to immediate relatives of service members.
3. Legislation Affecting Residence, Physical Presence, and Naturalization while Abroad for Spouses and Children
On January 28, 2008, Congress amended existing statutes to allow residence abroad to qualify as “continuous residence” and “physical presence” in the United States for a spouse or child of a service member who is authorized to accompany the service member by official orders and is residing abroad with the service member. See the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, Pub. L. 110-181, 122 Stat. 3, which amended INA 284, INA 319, and INA 322.
Under certain conditions, a spouse or child of a service member may count any period of time that he or she is residing (or has resided) abroad with the service member as residence and physical presence in the United States. This legislation also prescribes that such a spouse or child may be eligible to have any or all of their naturalization proceedings conducted abroad. Before this legislation, the law only permitted eligible service members to participate in naturalization proceedings abroad.
INA 284(b) limits the circumstances under which the LPR spouse or child is considered to be seeking admission to the United States. This means that the spouse or child will not be deemed to have abandoned or relinquished his or her LPR status while residing abroad with the service member. The provision ensures reentry into the United States by LPR spouses and children whose presence abroad might otherwise be deemed as abandonment of LPR status.
INA 319(e) allows certain LPR spouses to count any qualifying time abroad as continuous residence and physical presence in the United States and permits eligible spouses to naturalize overseas.
INA 322(d) allows the U.S. citizen parent of a child filing for naturalization to count time abroad as physical presence and allows the child to naturalize overseas.
4. Fingerprint Requirement (Kendell Frederick Citizenship Assistance Act)
On June 26, 2008, Congress mandated that USCIS use enlistment fingerprints or previously submitted USCIS fingerprints to satisfy the naturalization background check requirements unless a more efficient method is available. See Chapter 6, Required Background Checks. See the Kendell Frederick Citizenship Assistance Act of 2008, Pub. L. 110-251, 122 Stat. 2319.
5. Expedited Application Processing (Military Personnel Citizenship Processing Act)
On October 9, 2008, Congress amended existing statutes to mandate USCIS to process and adjudicate naturalization applications filed under certain military-related provisions within six months of the receipt date or provide the applicant with an explanation for why his or her application is still pending and an estimated adjudication completion date. This legislation affects naturalization applications under INA 328(a), INA 329(a), INA 329A, INA 329(b), and surviving spouses and children who qualify under INA 319(b), or INA 319(d). See the Military Personnel Citizenship Processing Act of 2008, Pub. L. 110-382, 122 Stat. 4087.
C. Legal Authorities
8 U.S.C. 1443a – Overseas naturalization for service members and their qualifying spouses and children