US Citizenship for Military Members

Members of the U.S. armed forces may be eligible for U.S. citizenship by qualifying for naturalization through military service under Section 328 or 329 of the INA.

The U.S. armed forces means the Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and the Marines. Each military branch has different requirements for enlistment, but here are some standard requirements.

U.S. citizens and certain non-U.S. citizens can join the U.S. military.

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U.S. citizens for military purposes include citizens of Puerto Rico, the Northern Marianas Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Members of the U.S. armed forces may be eligible for U.S. citizenship by qualifying for naturalization through military service
Members of the U.S. armed forces may be eligible for U.S. citizenship by qualifying for naturalization through military service

Non-citizens are eligible to enlist in the military but cannot be commissioned. A non-citizen must

  1. have an Alien Registration Receipt Card (green card or stamped I-94 card showing lawful entry),
  2. have a bona fide residence established and
  3. have established a record of the U.S. as their home.

The military cannot help an illegal immigrant join the military. In order for an immigrant to join the U.S. military, you must already have a green card or valid visa and then begin the enlisting process. Only green card holder may qualify to become U.S. citizens by joining the military, so joining the military is a good way for a green card holder to become a U.S. citizen more quickly than it would normally take.

Military Family Members Who Entered the US Illegally

If you become a member of the US armed forces, you may be able to obtain a green card for foreign family members who entered the US illegally.

Normally, those foreigners who entered illegally must at some point depart the U.S. and reenter lawfully, but when they depart the U.S. they trigger a bar based on unlawful presence in the U.S. Even so, there is an Obama Administration policy allowing for parole in place for foreign family members of U.S. military and military veterans. Parole in place allows the foreigner to remain in the U.S. and obtain a green card without the need to depart the US and reenter lawfully, thereby triggering the bar.

Exception: Currently, the Navy and Marine Corps enlistment policies exclude those U.S. residents from joining the military if they have undocumented relatives in the U.S. This policy has been strongly criticized by member of the U.S. Congress in a letter issued to military chiefs (PDF). We don’t yet know whether the Navy and Marine Corps will change policies. Please contact them to inquire about enlistment.

Call for Assistance — If you have a family member who entered the US illegally and want to join the military to help your foreign spouse or children become legal.


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