Naturalization Through Military Service

Certain members of the U.S. military might qualify for U.S. citizenship based on their military service. People who have been recently discharged from the U.S. military might also qualify. You can be naturalized even while you are serving in the military abroad.

If you’re a current member of the U.S. military or a veteran of the armed forces and want to become a U.S. citizen, we can help you obtain naturalization through your military service.

military woman and daughter holding small american flag
A military woman and her daughter holding a small American flag. Find out how serving in the military could help you get naturalized.

How to Determine Whether You Are Eligible

To be eligible for U.S. citizenship as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, you must be a current or former member of the United States: 

  • Air Force
  • Army
  • Coast Guard
  • Marines
  • Navy

You can also apply for military service naturalization as a qualifying member of the National Guard or Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve.

People who served honorably as a non-citizen in the U.S. Armed Forces at any time after September 11, 2001, might qualify to become U.S. citizens.

People who served in the Armed Forces during peacetime might qualify to become U.S. citizens if:

  • They served honorably for at least one year
  • They became lawful permanent residents (green card holders)
  • They applied to become U.S. citizens while still serving in the U.S. Armed Forces or within six months of ending their service

In addition to the above, you will have to meet the general requirements for naturalization that apply to all applicants. You will have to show that:

  • You have good moral character
  • You understand the English language
  • You have knowledge of U.S. history and the U.S. government
  • You have an attachment to the U.S.

Good Moral Character

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will look at a person’s past criminal convictions (if any). Certain types of criminal convictions could make it impossible or difficult for you to prove that you have good moral character. People who can’t show good moral character will not be allowed to become U.S. citizens.

Understanding of the English Language

Before you can be granted U.S. citizenship, you must pass an English test (unless you qualify for an exemption from the English requirement).

Knowledge of U.S. History and Government

You must pass a civics exam before you can acquire citizenship. You will be asked to answer six out of 10 questions correctly. These 10 questions will be picked from a list of 100 by the USCIS officer who gives you the test. The USCIS publishes study guides with all 100 questions that you can use to prepare.

Attachment to the U.S.

You must make an Oath of Allegiance where you promise to be loyal to the U.S. and the U.S. Constitution. You will pledge this oath at a citizenship ceremony after your application has been approved. Then, you will receive a Certificate of Naturalization and officially become a U.S. citizen.

Applying for U.S. Citizenship

To apply for citizenship, you will need to fill out two forms and send in supporting documents with these forms. Each military installation has a person to help service members file these applications if they have trouble getting or completing the forms. You can find out who that person is by contacting the Judge Advocate General’s office at your military installation.

The two forms you will need to complete are:

People who are no longer in the military can submit an uncertified Form N-426, along with DD Form 214, discharge papers, and separation documents.

Once you have prepared all your forms and supporting documents, you will need to mail them to the USCIS.

Family Members of U.S. Service Members

Naturalization through military service isn’t only for active personnel. Certain family members of qualifying U.S. service members might also qualify for U.S. citizenship. This includes the husbands or wives of service members.

Becoming a U.S. Citizen After Death

Service members who served honorably during combat and died as a result of their service might qualify for U.S. citizenship. The closest family member would need to apply for this benefit within two years of the service member’s death. This could allow the service member’s family members to take advantage of certain immigration benefits.

History of Non-Citizens in the U.S. Military

The U.S. has a long history of recruiting non-citizens to serve in the military. The United States Armed Forces have had a large number of non-citizen members since the Revolutionary War. The expedited path to citizenship that the military makes available to those who qualify has served as a highly effective recruitment tool.

Year to year, there are around 24,000 active members of the military who are non-citizens with about 5,000 new recruits. While the reasons for enlistment vary, one of the top factors for most is the potential path to U.S. citizenship. 

The Immigration and Nationality Act

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) was enacted in 1952. It contains many of the most important provisions of immigration law. Since the INA first came into effect, it has gone through many changes, with several amendments altering the specifics of immigration law.

It is through Sections 328 and 329 of the INA that military members can expedite the process of attaining citizenship. Section 328 governs the acquisition of citizenship during peacetime, while Section 329 is used to naturalize service members during times of war. 

The number of non-citizen military personnel naturalized through this process can vary greatly from year to year. Generally, numbers are much higher during times of conflict than during peacetime.

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